Of course, there is a high price to pay for secretly listening to NOFX while your unsuspecting mother yells at you for skipping school: bass. In order for listeners to hear outside noise and enjoy tunes simultaneously, earHero strips away bass, leaving you with a mere musical phantom. If this doesn't spook you, read on.

Safe, secret listening

Let's get right to the big questions first: Why are these in-ears designed to let outside noise come in, and how do they do it? When we wear headphones, aren't we trying to block the world out? Most of the time, yes. But think of the exceptions:

The earHero doesn't offer the flexibility of a microphone or remote.

For safety, when you're on a bike, you need to be able to hear motorist horns. If you're staggering home alone at 1 a.m. (don't do that), you need to be able to hear nearby footsteps in case someone is, oh I don't know, stalking you. Accounting 101? Waiting tables at 3 o'clock on a Tuesday? Babysitting? The earHero assists you in all of these scenarios. The speakers? Tiny, so as not to seal your ear canals. The cable? Flesh-toned, to camouflage use. And bass? Gone baby gone, so that music and outside noises are both audible. Editor's note: "Dr. Dre will be rolling in his grave."

As for the fit, the earHero in-ears aren't exactly plush, since the tiny speaker heads are hard plastic, but extended listening is certainly feasible. They stay in place, too, thanks to the clear ear locks that fold into your outer ear. My least favorite omission? The earHero doesn't offer the flexibility of a microphone or remote, so you'll have to reach for your phone to deal with calls and music while on the go.

Bass burglars

The earHero in-ears rate poorly because they really don't fit the standard by which we measure performance. You can take the score with a big ol' grain of sea salt, but let me be absolutely clear: These headphones sound absolutely nothing like what you're used to, and the performance results are far from great. It's like the earHero murdered your music and resurrected its hollow ghost. In any event, you can listen to your favorite songs while remaining aware of your surroundings, and that's very unique.

It's like the earHero murdered your music and resurrected its hollow ghost.

So you want to listen to music while you're on your mail route, but you worry you won't hear Fido tearing out from around a house, ankles in his toothy crosshairs. What's the tradeoff? Bass, for one. Loud bass would block outside noise considerably, so earHero pretty much strips it right out of the picture. So much for Snoop's boom, boom, boom. Thus, music loses much of its foundational weight, but most of the midrange and all of the highs are still intact; middle and high notes sound loud and clear.

The second tradeoff is distortion—audible distortion. The earHero alters notes considerably in select areas of the midrange. I'll say it again, you can listen to music and be aware of your surroundings, but your tunes are the worse for wear. As for isolation, the earHero effectively invites outside noise in; listeners will be able to hear noise that other headphones would normally silence, such as nearby conversations, traffic, and passing pedestrians.

Captain Safety approves.

Though they lack bass and they suffer some distortion in the midrange, the earHero in-ears nevertheless fill an interesting gap in the market: The be-safe-while-listening-to-music-and-rollerblading gap. I jest, but I really do appreciate the innovation. Will music sound anything at all like you're used to? No. So the choice is yours: A) Listen to better headphones while cycling and maybe get hit by a van because you never heard it coming B) Don't listen to music while cycling C) Listen to a lamentable version of your music while safely cycling with the earHero.

This concept is most likely too specialized and too expensive for most of us, but if you're a body guard and you want to sneak some Beyonce on the job, the $149.99 earHero might be your only solution.

The earHero flunked test after test, but all in the name of safety. Safe public listening comes with costs: The frequency response is essentially devoid of bass, for starters. Distortion is problematic in certain areas too.

At the end of the day, these headphones produce very troublesome sound, but at least they offer a safe way to listen.

A farewell to bass

If you want to bicycle to Biggie's booming bass, you'll have to do it haphazardly—and on a different set of headphones. In order to admit outside noise, the earHero obliterates bass, leaving listeners with mid and upper notes largely unsupported by low frequencies of 20Hz-500Hz. In fact, even part of the midrange is underemphasized; notes in the 500Hz range are about 10dB below where they ought to be, in the traditional sense. Of course, earHero minimizes this area on purpose, to let in that outside noise.

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As for the rest of the response, from 700Hz to 10kHz, sound mostly falls within our accepted limits. But the response is far from flat; music in the 1kHz to 3kHz range and notes at 8kHz (high mids and uppermost notes on percussion, some woodwinds, and vocals) will sound twice as loud as those in the 4kHz to 5kHz range (upper mids on strings, vocals). Honestly, though, the main point and the only thing you're going to notice is that without bass, your music sounds extremely unnatural. The rest of this seems like nitpicking next to that glaring, inescapable fact.

Honk, bark

Most people put headphones on to block noise out, but what if you're heading home after dark? You don't want to wander around unawares—best to know what's happening around you and enjoy some Zeppelin. To put this function into perspective, many consumer headphones block out more than an average of 10dB of outside noise; the earHero just blocks an average of 2.9dB.

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Thus, low frequencies like that of a careening Greyhound bus are not reduced at all, and high-pitched noises like beeping and nearby conversations are reduced by roughly half. Again, many headphones reduce high-pitched sound to 1/16 its original volume, so this noise-blocking is really very mild.

Altering the sound signal

Unfortunately, obliterating bass isn't the only way in which your music will suffer with the earHero in-ears. Of course, what you see on the graph is not as dramatic as it would normally be: Yes, sub-bass distortion rears its dreaded head at upwards of 90% in the sub-bass range—but you don't hear the sub-bass! Remember?

Let's look at the portion of the frequency response that matters: Unfortunately, from 600Hz to 900Hz, there is still a measure of audible distortion—as much as 7.5%. So on top of bass-less tunes, expect to hear distorted mids, too. And the max sound pressure level? Most of the time, this measure lands around 100, but in this case it's 68.41dB, so listen on low to keep distortion below 3%.

Other tests...

Meet the testers

Virginia Barry

Virginia Barry

Former Managing Editor

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Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.

See all of Virginia Barry's reviews

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