Will.i.am's "i.am+ EPs." Bluetooth Earphones: A Mixed Bag

Music mogul Will.i.am has produced a new earphone, the "EPs.", inspired by the look of vinyl, launching exclusively online at Apple.com and in select Apple stores. At a time when “Made in China” might not seem all that cool, the EPs proudly boast that they were designed in Los Angeles, and produced in China, with glamour shots of the factory included. They also boast that they’re for the dope. We’ll see about that. With rumors swirling around that Apple might be eliminating the headphone port on the next gen of iPhones, is it any wonder they’re the exclusive retailers of these wireless earphones?

The included quick start guide for the EPs says it all. “We envisioned and conceptualized the EPs in Los Angeles, & then we hooked up with our peoples in Shenzen, China to bring the EPs to life… & you know what happens when dope motherf****** from L.A. hook up with cool peoples from China??? Dope sh** happens.” EPs. For the dope.

The EPs ($230) are rather large in-ear earphones featuring 14mm drivers and large round discs mimicking the look of their namesake vinyl albums. They are available in black or gold. (Can’t help but wonder how many gold records will.i.am has hanging around his house?) The housings have magnets that firmly attach both sides together so you can hang them around your neck when not listening to them.

They feature A2DP and Siri voice control with the microphone integrated into the inline remote with volume controls. Surprising for an Apple-exclusive product, they also have aptX along with Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR. Pairing is simple, and voice prompts from will.i.am himself let you know you’ve powered up or down.

The earpiece itself is a hard plastic that is not quite an earbud, not quite in-ear. Some people might find them uncomfortable. It took a bit of fiddling for me to get them to feel okay. They also don’t provide a really secure fit—these wouldn’t stay in through a workout or run. This affects the sound quality too—bass response isn’t as tight. Another problem is that anyone sitting near you can hear them quite clearly, and they don’t block out very much outside noise. Both of these could be a problem in a work environment. Overall, they’re made from plastic, and don’t convey that sense of luxury or quality that you would expect from a pair of $230 earphones.

The EPs do have a really nice fabric-coated cable, and the included USB charging cable has the same covering. A generic satin carrying bag is included. The EPs have a built-in battery capable of up to 6 hours of playback. Not exactly stellar battery life, but sufficient.

With a 14mm driver, the sound quality is good. I was expecting a much boomier bass, but it is rather restrained. In fact, I ended up playing around with the position of the EPs in my ears to get just a bit more lower octave response. The treble is very clean, with only a slight harshness in the upper-midrange on female vocals. Adele’s “Send My Love (to your New Lover)” was open and bright, and the guitars on the opening were very natural and clear, but cranking it up loud during the chorus revealed problems in the high end. At modest listening levels, it was smooth.

The i.am. technology brand is struggling to get a hit product. Do the EPs finally break through? It’s hard to say. Given how much the product brochures talk about how they were produced in Shenzen, perhaps they’ll be a hit in China. I’m keeping mine around for when Apple does pull the plug on the headphone jack. Because, well, I.am.dope like that.