In my opinion, one of the best features of any mobile accessory is versatility. I spend a lot of time on the go during the day, and do a fair amount of travelling for work, so earning a place in my gear bag is a badge of honor, and it usually requires a certain measure of versatility. The more bases a device or accessory can cover, the better the chance that it holds a spot there.
In the past, versatility was a given with headphones and earbuds. You plugged them into a jack and they just worked. With Bluetooth headphones, there came more freedom of movement, but with the conditions of only being compatible with certain devices and limited battery life. Now, iOS users are faced with even more complications with the removal of the iPhone’s headphone jack going forward, with several other smartphone manufacturers now making the same move right behind them. If you own both an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus and an iPad, complications with earbuds or headphones will ensue.
Beacuse of the growing fragmentation in mobile technology, especially at Apple, I have grudgingly been carrying around 3 pairs of earbuds since I got my iPhone 7 Plus. This isn’t the end of the world, but at the same time it’s still pretty ridiculous that I have to. One pair is the set of EarPods with Lightning plug that came with my iPhone. The second is an older set with the traditional headphone jack, which I keep to use with my iPad Pro and an LG Android tablet. I also have an inexpensive Bluetooth set that I keep in my bag for when I am running errands, exercising or practicing on my drumset.
I’ve been on the lookout for solutions to to cut one or two of these sets of earbuds out, so when I read the description of the iFrogz Impulse Wireless headphones, I was very intrigued. Here was a set of headphones that could be used both wirelessly or wired, through the use of a 3.5 mm aux cable. These headphones have the ability to work with virtually any device, and because using them with the cable doesn’t require battery power, you aren’t limited by the battery life of other exclusively wireless sets. Let’s take an in-depth look at this intersting hybrid.
Build Quality and Form Factor
The Impulse headphones come in black with red accents or white with tan accents. I reviewed the black and red model, and it has a stylish but subdued look. This isn’t just another set of Beats knockoffs, either. ZAGG did a nice job designing a clean look that isn’t just derivitive of other major headphone brands.
The Impulse also feel solid in the hands, without being too heavy to be comfortable to wear for an extended period. This is good, because they aren’t exactly small. They do fold up, making carrying a little more convenient, but they still have some bulk. However, the positive side of this tradeoff should be added durability. One small disappointment was that the Impulse don’t come with any kind of carry bag or cover. However, in this price range, that is forgiveable.
A big plus that I appreciated while wearing the Impulse was that they are quite comfortable. They have ample padding on both the headband and the earcups. During my testing, I wore them for all but a minute or two here and there for over 4 hours, and didn’t have any issues with discomfort.
The sides also both flex outward and extend downward to give ample room for even quite large heads. Mine isn’t exactly small, but with the sides fully extended, I can fit a hand between my head and the headband. Finding a comfortable fit shouldn’t be an issue.
The only negative I found in wearing the Impulse was that the paded AeroFoam cups can get a little warm on the ears after having them on for 30 minutes or more. However, it wasn’t unbearable by any means. I didn’t really notice while wearing them, but rather after taking them off. However, the thickness of the pads actually does serve a purpose, as ZAGG claims that they offer “Passive Noise Isolation.” Normally I would suspect such a phrase to just be marketing-speak, but in this case, there is something to it. More on that in a bit.
A set of headphones can have the best design, fit and finsh in the world, but what really makes the difference is what they sound like. I’m going to preface my comments here by saying that I’ve been a musician for 30 years, and I listen to a lot of different styles of music, so I may be pickier than the average bear. Also, there is a difference between the quality of the sound, and how the headphones are tuned and that sound is balanced. All that said, I like the way the Impulse sound for the most part, and think they perform very well considering the price range. They are not going to satisfy hard-core audiophiles, but frankly, nothing in this price range will. As for the balance of the sound, like most consumer-grade headphones these days, they are tuned to favor bass. Frankly, it’s a bit much for my personal taste, but based on the popularity of Beats and other similar brands, the balance will probably be great for most people.
I actually do like beefier than average bass, but the Impulse just go a bit beyond that at the expense of some definiton in the mid range. If you listen to music with a wide dynamic range, you will notice that some parts of the music may not stand out as much as you might prefer. However, in my testing, I found that using the Treble Boost under the iOS EQ settings actually does a suprisingly good job of balancing the highs and punching up the mid-range definition just enough.
With this on, I found myself much happier with the balance of sound. Bear in mind that audio balance is a very subjective thing, so your mileage may vary. To me, the quality is more important, so ZAGG got it right where it really counts. Also, while I focused on music while demoing the Impulse, I also tried them with plenty of shows on Netflix and listened to several podcasts. The sound quality of movies, TV, and spoken word content is great, as well.
One more point on the balance of the Impulse. While the bass may be boosted a bit too much for my taste, it still sounds great. I listened to some music that would push the bass a bit to see if any distortion occured, because that is common with many consumer-grade headphones. Some examples were the Tron: Legacy soundtrack (not only heavy on bass in many areas, but amplified bass with a full orchestra) and a few dubstep and rap tracks that I knew would test the limits of the headphones a bit. The bass didn’t distort or crackle, no matter what I threw at it.
As mentioned previously, ZAGG claims that the Impulse have “Passive Noise Cancellation” via the padded AeroFoam ear cups. Believe it or not, this actually works quite well. The Impulse do a great job of isolating you from the outside world and immersing you in what you’re listening to. This pays off in terms of sound quality, as well. One thing I noticed when listening to a few more intricate tracks is that the background details and sounds that often get lost using consumer-grade earbuds are REALLY present. I noticed an example yesterday was while listening to Tron: Legacy. During the quiet beginning of the track titled “Finale,” you can hear the breath sounds of the orchestra’s wind players as they prepare to play several long notes. This is a sound I remember well from many years spent on stage playing in concert bands and orchestras. I went back and listened again with my earbuds, and you can hear this if you know its there, but with the Impulse, these sounds details are really up front and present. I’m actually a big fan of these kinds of “environment” sounds on recordings, such as the sound of piano pedals being moved, as they add an element of depth and realism to a recording.
I’ve been using earbuds almost exclusively lately, so re-listening to some music that I like with the Impulse headphones and hearing new and interesting details was welcomed. I will say this in closing here- they may not have Active Noise Cancellation, but they actually do a better job than a $100 pair of Sony headphones that do that I’ve had for the last 6 years. Not only do the Impulse block out almost as much sound as my Sonys, but the I also found the clarity at the high and low ends to be far superior. Despite my music snobbery getting in the way a little when it comes to balance, I really came away a fan of the sound quality.
Going hand in hand with noise isolation is volume. This is definitely NOT a problem with the Impulse headphones. They can deliver more than enough, whether via wired or wireless connection. I think the level of noise isolation helps reduce the need for pumping up the volume, but whatever the reason, I rarely got above halfway on the iOS volume level bar.
Another item to be aware of in terms of sound quality is that using the 3.5 mm aux cable for delivers slightly better sound quality than Bluetooth, in my opinion. This isn’t surprising, as a wired connection should always deliver more fidelity than wireless. However, I wasn’t sure if it would be the case here since these are clearly billed as Bluetooth headphones first. Other things I noticed were that the bass is a little less inflated in the mix through the wired connection, and that the volume is about two clicks higher than the same level using Bluetooth. This is probably because whatever signal processing the Impulse are doing when connected through Bluetooth is turned off when the cable is in use. However, I woundn’t say the difference in sound quality either way is extreme. It was just enough to notice, but the Impulse sound good via both the aux cable and Bluetooth.
Controls and Operation
One of the typical drawbacks of giving up wired headphones or earbuds for wireless is the loss of the easy to use controls that Apple always includes on its EarPods. Thankfully, ZAGG has included easy to use on-ear controls for Play/Pause and Volume Up and Down, in addition to the obligatory Power Button.
Play/Pause is on the bottom of the right earpece, with the Volume Up and Down buttons on top of the same. The buttons are large, and easy to find by feel, making them easy to use. It was particiularly smart to have the Volume Up and Down buttons on opposite sides of the headband, making it virtualy impossible to confuse them.
The Volume Buttons double as Track Forward and Track Reverse with a long press, which keeps you from having to go back to your device to manage your music.
The Play/Pause Button also doubles as an answer button for phone calls. This is definitely not the primary function of a set of headphones, but most wireless sets do include this as a feature these days to do away with the hassle of having to take them off to answer a call. The call quality didn’t blow me away, but it is perfectly functional, and I didn’t get any complaints from people on the other end of the line.
The one disadvantage I found here was that there is no way to trigger Siri using the Play/Pause Button. This is an odd ommission, considering that ZAGG added the ability to make phone calls. It is also interesting that you CAN trigger Siri using the included Play/Pause Button on the 3.5 mm Aux Cable.
The Power Button is on the bottom of the left earpiece. As well as powering on the Impulse for Bluetooth listening, a long press when powering on will trigger Bluetooth pairing. I know Bluetooth has earned its bad rap for connection and pairing issues, but the pairing process here was seamless on every device that I tried it.
The Impulse charges via a standard Micro USB port, making it easy to share chargers and find cables. According to the specs, it takes 60 minutes for a full charge.
Since the Impulse use Bluetooth 4.0, you get both the connection status and the battery level displayed on the status bar of your iOS devices.
Another feature that I found very handy is that, not only do the Impulse store connections to multiple devices, but they will also alow simultaneous connections to both the iPad and iPhone. I can watch Netflix or listen to music using my iPad Pro, but still take a call using my iPhone.
While you can use any 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm aux cable to connect a device to the Impulse, the included cable has a couple of nice features that I appreciated.
First of all, I like the fact that ZAGG included a Play/Pause button, as none of the headphone’s controls work with a wired connection since they aren’t powered. The only drawback is that you lose your volume and track controls, but something is better than nothing. You also get a mic for calls and Siri that is closer to you on the back of this button, helping in both cases.
The second thing I like about the included cable is the integrated cord manager. This is a small thing, but its a small thing that someone took the time to design well. Plenty of cables come with a velcro or plastic strap to keep it wound when not in use, but the one included here is actually molded around the cable, so it doesn’t move. It also comes with a magnetic closure, so it’s quiet and it won’t get matted or wear like velcro. Again, this is a small detail, but part of what separates good design from great design is how you handle all the small things and bring them together.
Last, and most definitely not least, is the combination of Bluetooth range and battery life. Both are exceptional. I did a test in my 2000 sq ft house, placing my iPad Pro in my bedroom in one corner of the house and walking away from it slowly to see how far I could get before running into issues. I never completely lost the connection, but it did start to fade in and out a bit when I got to the kitchen on the opposite side of the house. I then had three walls and more than the specified 30 feet in between me and my iPad, so the test was successful in my book. This was very impressive to me, because I have a couple of Bluetooth 4.0 headsets that won’t hold a connection that same distance.
As for battery life, I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of this yet, but that’s a good thing. I have been testing the headphones on and off for a week, including a couple of long stretches of multiple hours. I have only charged the Impulse once in that time, and after intermittent use through the week and extensive use yesterday and today, I am still showing around 50% on the iPad’s status bar. The specs state 5 hours of working time on Bluetooth, and based on my experience, I don’t think that number is inflated.
There is no shortage of options for Bluetooth headphones on the market today. However, there are very few others that give customers the choice between wired and wireless use. At $59.99, the iFrogz Impulse Wireless headphones are a solid value considering their balance of versatility, features, and good sound quality. I have personally found that the even though the balance of sound isn’t what I would subjectively choose, I’m sure the majority of users will likely be just fine with it. Still, this doesn’t detract from the quality of the sound, which I think is very good in comparison with other, even more expensive competitors.
- Very good sound quality, whether using Bluetooth or wired connection
- Easy to find and use on-board controls
- Great versatility, with the ability to listen from any devices via wired or wireless connection
- Ample volume
- Better than average noise isolation without active noise cancelling
- Battery life is very strong
- Wired use bypasses any concerns with battery life
- Connect to multiple devices via Bluetooth
- The balance of sound is skewed toward the bass end, especially using Bluetooth
- Your ears can get warm during extended use
- Even folded, they are a little bulky
- Not able to trigger Siri via Bluetooth (works via the included aux cable button)
Apple got everyone thinking about headphones last Fall when they removed a jack we’ve all taken for granted in our mobile devices over the last decade. Between Beats and their AirPods, they certainly have their own solutions to the new problem of listening to music on their devices while charging. However, the problem of no headphone jack in one device also affects others by default. In this case, it’s the rest of Apple’s lineup and thanks to the wide reach of the iPhone, the rest of the mobile technology industry. If you are carying around the EarPods that come with the iPhone 7, good luck plugging them into anything else besides another iOS device, and even then, you can’t listen and charge on that device with them. And if you are using standard wired earbuds or headhones, you had better remember the dongle Apple included in the box for when you want to listen with your iPhone.
With the prices Apple and others are charging for their solutions to the removal of the headphone jack, there is ample room for other accessory manufacturers to offer more afordable solutions. Anywhere below the $59.99 pricetag of ZAGG’s iFrogz Impulse Wireless headphones, I would typically expect cheaply made knockoffs with marginal to poor sound quality. I was honestly surprised that the Impulse are as good as I found them to be at this price. They really deliver a high level of value, and in my opinion, punch far above their price category. I opened this review talking about the value of versatility, and the iFrogz Impulse Wireless Headphones have that in abundance. If you are in the market for a set of headphones that will work across all of your Apple gear, as well as other mobile devices, and don’t require audiophile-level sound quality, take a look here first.
The iFrogz Impulse Wireless Headphones are available from ZAGG for $59.99.
The iFrogz Impulse Wireless Headphones were provided for review on iPad Insight by ZAGG. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.