September 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

Why Would Apple Poke Holes in EarPods? A Triple-Pronged Theory

apple earpods

We’ll get back to the music app coverage shortly. First: One More Thing about yesterday’s Apple keynote.

A mere half hour before Apple’s event started yesterday, we posted a tutorial on how to wear in-ear headphones properly (since been picked up by Lifehacker). Little did we know that Apple had been thinking about in-ear headphones — and, likely, the big problem with them, which is that they introduce a thumping sound to your music every time the headphone cord slaps against your chest as you walk — for approximately three years, according to Apple senior vice president of internet software and sales and overall music dude Eddie Cue.

Its solution: Apple EarPods, which form a seal with the ear canal and yet have little holes poked in them, breaking the seal. Apple EarPods will ship with every new iPhone and iPod Touch going forward. Based on our understanding of physics, the holes should obviate the need for the wraparound-the-outer-ear technique, although it still comes in handy for all these high-end models.

So, why would Apple poke a hole in its headphones, after three years of deliberation? Three reasons:

apple earbuds three years reasons

1. According to Apple, the holes enables the tiny little speaker diaphragms in these headphones to move back and forth without a vacuum impeding their outward progress.

2. The holes obviate the need for tolerating a thumping sound every time the headphone cord “thwaps” against your chest or wrapping the cords around your outer ears.

3. The holes also allow you to make phonecalls more naturally, because your voice won’t sound weird. As I know all too well, having used several models of in-ear headphones with an inline microphone for making calls without exposing my brain to unnecessary radiation or using my hands, when you make phonecalls using in-ear headphones that form an airtight seal with the ear canals, you can’t hear your own voice as you normally do. It can be disconcerting, and you don’t want to be disconcerted when you’re having a conversation. Apple’s new design solves this problem.

Apple’s purported reason for poking holes in the EarBuds (better bass) makes sense. Indeed, some speaker manufacturers say the same thing about bass reflex speakers (while others say that a acoustic suspension leads to tighter bass response).

However, in-ear headphones that do form an airtight seal with the ear canal sound amazing, and their bass response is excellent, which is why Apple must have had more reasons for adding these holes, and we think they’re the ones listed above.

 Top image courtesy of Apple; bottom image adapted from that by

  • Cheshire Tigger

    The is just one problem. Vacuum does not transmit the sound.

  • Don Gateley

    Got a pair yesterday. Apple still seems to think that bass is an entirely unnecessary part of the audio spectrum. How can a supposedly great company be so utterly stupid. Really, it’s not just weak compared to the awful Beats and their ilk, there is simply nothing at all below 250 Hz. They sound like a ’50s GE 3-transistor radio. (Guess who was the first kid in town to have a portable battery powered “transistor radio”. It was a small town.)

    This fail has to be by design because there are way too many earphone precedents (Phillips EB SHE2650-28 for example) that have a full and balanced bottom end.

    You will think after hearing them that they were designed to pull a vacuum on the back side rather than port it as they claim. I’m not sure what these are for but it’s not music.

  • College_League

    It does make it cleaner though.