Ever since I saw the movie, Her, wherein the earnest, mustachioed Joaquin Phoenix has a romance with a Siri-like voice assistant, I’ve wanted one of those earbuds. In that universe, the earbud and voice commands were the primary way to interact with a computer. The tiny earbud in Her contained seemingly infinite computing power and battery life by today’s standards, but realistically, I just wanted a dumb bluetooth version of that.
I’ve been into cheap, sub-$30 bluetooth headphones and earbuds even before the untimely death of the headphone jack. I built up a small collection of them over time, purchasing about a pair or so each year. Every year the offerings would steadily improve battery life, sound quality, and size. With each iterative purchase, I refined my personal rubric for a great bluetooth audio device.
Great bluetooth earbuds, for me, would have to fulfil the following requirements:
Enter the MPOW EM1. This inexpensive single earbud can be had for about $17 on Amazon, has decent audio quality for what I use it for, and has surprisingly good battery life of about 6 hours. It charges through a magnetic USB adaptor (of which they include two) and comes in case I never use – I just slip it in my jeans’ watch pocket. Three different rubber tips are provided, so it’s easy to get a good fit – I never feel like it’s going to fall out even when riding my bike or running around. Listening to music on it is also surprisingly decent, loud, and bassy. It’s certainly not the first bluetooth monobud, but it checks all of the boxes and works for me.
Any wireless bluetooth earbud article in 2018 would be remiss if it didn’t compare it to Apple’s Airpods. Now, I like the idea of Apple’s EarPods, I really do, but I just can’t get over the cost. I understand that it has plenty of subtle, well-designed features, like automatically pausing when you remove them, touch sensitive controls, a charging case so you end up getting 24 hours of listening time, ergonomic (but ugly) stems to help with insertion and removal, and the ability to switch between multiple Apple devices seamlessly. With all that, I still can’t bring myself to spend 10 times what the EM1 costs.
Here’s the breakdown, keeping in mind my own personal use-cases and the fact that I’ve never actually used the Airpods myself.
Pros of Mpow EM1 vs. Apple Airpods
Cons of Mpow EM1 vs. Apple Airpods
There you have it – an unnecessarily lengthy and detailed love letter to my favorite audio gadget of recent memory. If your needs match mine, you’d probably love them too.
Update 2018-08-28: Looks like the Mpow EM1 is no longer sold, but there's a newer version (EM13), that's cheaper and synchronizes with audio with video.