A nice set of earbuds if you want to treat yourself to something better than what came with your phone
OnePlus is building its name in the world of smartphones, but the Chinese manufacturer has also started to grow its skills in making accessories. There's an increasingly large set of cases, cables and power banks available for its phones, but OnePlus is also expanding out into a new area with the OnePlus Icons earbuds — something everyone can enjoy whether they have a OnePlus phone or not.
The Icons retail for $49, which is a bit more than most will usually spend on a pair of earbuds, but those who are willing to spend the money will appreciate what they offer. For your hard-earned money you get a nice design, sturdy build, good sound and a neat little carrying case to keep them safe when not in use. Here's our review of the OnePlus Icons headphones.
Design and functionality
The OnePlus website paints a pretty picture of how wonderful the Icons look, and the actual end product does well to live up to the fancy marketing message. The Icons are amazingly solid when you pick them up, with the earbuds on one end and headphone jack on the other being crafted of hefty, solid pieces of metal. The actual driver enclosures are a hard black plastic, which I'm totally fine with, that nicely meets up with the metal portion thanks to two metal posts that serve as an optical illusion that the headphone portions are floating between them. You get your choice of a subdued silver finish, or a more bold gold finish if you're looking to stand out a bit.
The headphones are ergonomic, but still nice to look at
The headphones are angled inward for a nicely ergonomic fit into your ears without any twisting or prodding, and the speakers actually have an oval shape to better fit as well — our ears aren't perfect circles, after all. The standard rubber tips fit just fine in my ears, but there's a pair of larger and smaller ones in the box if you desire. There aren't any memory foam or fancy materials involved here in any case, just plain rubber earbud tips without any additional flair.
A majority of the Icons' cable is a sturdy braided nylon, keeping the wires inside safe from cuts, kinks and tears — it also has the added benefits of being tangle-free, and not transferring the noise of the cable rustling around on your clothes into your ears. The braided portion runs from the solid metal headphone jack up to the splitter where the individual earbuds come out, at which point it unfortunately switches to a more traditional rubber coating. The three-button remote and mic are found two-thirds the way up the cable to the right headphone, which is completely standard.
The in-line buttons are the most disappointing portion of the Icons' design. The buttons and their enclosure are made entirely out of plastic — a stark contrast from the metal bits for the jack and headphones themselves — and while the three buttons have a visual distinction between them with lines, the cover over the three is actually one solid piece of plastic. There are indeed three individual button switches underneath, but the cover design can make it tough to hit the play/pause button without also tripping the volume up/down buttons on either side. Individual buttons would've gone a long way to helping this. Thankfully when you work out how to click the buttons, the volume and play/pause (or answer/hang-up) functions work just fine with all of the phones I tested.
The in-line buttons are easily the biggest issue with the Icons' design
You'll find a pinhole microphone on the opposite side of the buttons next to a recessed OnePlus logo, and it sounds just fine for phone calls. As is the case for all wired headsets, you'll be best off holding the headphone cord to stabilize the mic and save it from brushing around on your clothes, but if you do that you'll be fine to take calls without lifting your phone up to your head.
When your Icons aren't in use you can wrap them up and stow them away in an included leather pouch with a microfiber lining on the inside, which is just big enough to fit them and closes handily with a set of magnets. The leather looks a whole heck of a lot better than your usual nylon or rubber cases for other headphones, and it folds down completely flat when not in use so it isn't in the way like some hard-sided earbud cases.
Considering the basement-level prices you can pick up earbuds at these days (if you didn't get your current pair for free with your phone), it's easy for people to expect a dramatically higher level of audio quality from a pair they drop a cool $49.99 on. Unfortunately for those who are looking to be completely astounded by their new headphones, the law of diminishing returns is in full effect in the Icons — they sound great, but they aren't going to blow you away with audio quality 10 times "better" than the pair you're sticking in your ears right now. This will be the case as you move up past the $50 price point as well, where headphones will of course increase in audio quality but at a diminishing rate, starting to instead offer other features for your money to sweeten the deal (see: above section).
The Icons sound great — just don't expect them to blow your socks off
Listening to a variety of music types as well as spoken word podcasts using a OnePlus X, Nexus 6P and MacBook Air as the source, I'm happy with the overall audio range of the Icons. And it isn't hard for me to say they sound better than the average pair of headphones I pull out of any smartphone box today. Everything sounds good and crisp, but just as expected for small in-ear headphones the bass leaves something to be desired (you'll need to move to on- or over-ear models for better bass). If you're so inclined to fine-tune your listening you'll be using some sort of equalizer on your device of choice, of course, but I never felt the need with the Icons in my ears.
Depending on which earbud tips you choose from the box you can get varying levels of passive noise cancellation out of the Icons, but the ones that were most comfortable to me didn't offer very much. They kept firmly in my ears, but the positioning that offered the best (and most natural) sound didn't necessarily block out the rest of the world. Of course if you need serious noise cancellation, you'll want to go with earbuds that have active cancellation built-in.
A good number of people out there have decided that either a set of earbuds aren't worth spending much money on, or if they're going to spend money there better not be cables involved at all. Both valid points, depending on how much you use headphones and where you intend to use them, but there are still plenty of folks in the market for a solid pair of basic wired in-ear headphones that will be a notable upgrade from the cheap pair they currently assault their ears with.
At $49 the OnePlus Icons are squarely aimed at this group of people that are willing to pay for a bit of quality, and these headphones deliver. They're built very well, have a sleek design, sound really good and won't destroy your bank account in the pursuit of serving you higher-quality audio.