Powerful bass response. Secure fit. Water-resistant design ideal for exercise.
Bass-heavy sound signature not for those seeking high frequency clarity or overall balance. So-so microphone intelligibility.
- Bottom Line
The exercise-focused, wireless Kicker EB400 earphones deliver some seriously powerful bass response that will be too much for some listeners.
Kicker is known for its contributions to the car audio realm—and notably, the car subwoofer realm. So it's no surprise the company's latest Bluetooth earphones pack a serious bass punch. At $99.95, Kicker's EB400 earphones also feature a water-resistant design geared toward the gym crowd. The in-ear fit feels very secure, and if bass helps motivate you during your workouts, you won't be disappointed. If you want a little more high frequency definition with your deep bass, or just a somewhat even balance between lows and highs, however, this is probably not the pair for you.
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The EB400's design is largely a success. The matte black surface is coated in Liquipel and is IPX7-rated, so the earphones can be submerged up to one meter without issue, and they'll definitely be able to handle rain, sweat, and being rinsed off. The earpieces are rather large, but lightweight, and this serves to make them fit more securely during exercise. The band is also rigid and moldable around the ear, making a secure, stable fit even easier to attain, while the included cable cinch allows you to adjust slack so it's not bouncing around while you exercise.
The inline remote control and mic compartment is located closest to the right earpiece. It has three buttons—a central power button that also controls playback and call management, and plus/minus buttons that control volume (the volume levels work in conjunction with your mobile device's master levels) as well as track navigation (if you hold them down). This is not our favorite layout for controls, as it increases the chance of accidentally skipping a track when you meant to adjust the volume.
Three pairs of silicone eartips ship with the earphones, color-coded for small, medium, and large sizes. A short micro USB cable connects to the inline remote control compartment, with a snap-shut cover to protect it from moisture. The cover can be a pain to close at times, but it's necessary for it to be fully sealed in order to ensure water resistance.
The mic offers mediocre intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we were able to understand every word we recorded, but the overall quality was weak, with audio artifacts making consonants fuzzy. This is more or less par for the course with Bluetooth mics on earphones, but we've heard better.
Kicker estimates battery life to be roughly eight hours, but your results will vary based on your volume levels.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver thunderous, boosted deep bass. At top volumes, the lows do not distort, and at moderate volumes, they still pack some serious punch. This is a very boosted sound that will likely appeal to bass lovers and scare off purists.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. The drums on this track get an extra helping of deep bass, giving them a thunderous quality that isn't the most intense we've heard, but is firmly rooted in the bass-forward category. Callahan's baritone vocals also get a pronounced bass boost, which pushes their richness and depth up a level. Everything could use a little more high-mid presence—from Callahan's vocals, to the percussive attacks and guitar strums. Things aren't so bereft of high-mids that they sound muddy, but there's a lack of crispness here, and when you combine that with heavy bass response, things can sound unbalanced.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop's attack could definitely use more high-mid edge; instead, it's the loop's sustain that gets a heavy dollop of added bass depth, emphasizing the thump of the loop and toning down the attack's treble presence. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate this beat are delivered with serious bass depth, though they actually lack the oomph we hear in the drum loop's bass response—so the boosting is happening in the lows and low-mids more so than the sub-bass realm (though it is still quite boosted there). This makes for a difficult backdrop for vocals to thrive over. The three vocals on this track aren't lost in the mix, but the brightness and clarity that they often get from crisper sound signatures feels suppressed.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound almost comically bass-boosted here. It's unlikely Kicker had classical music in mind when designing these earphones, so we won't linger on this too long—but even if you like a little added bass depth when listening to orchestral tracks, this is pretty intense.
So, who is Kicker's EB400 earphones for? I'd say exercise-focused bass-lovers—particularly those motivated by some added bass thump while working out and don't need it to be matched by crisp high-end definition. In this price range, however, there are plenty of excellent, exercise-friendly options that offer a bit more high frequency clarity and still deliver some serious bass punch. Consider the JBL Reflect Mini BT, the Jam Comfort Buds, the Skullcandy Method Wireless, or the less expensive 808 Audio Ear Canz. Kicker gets the gym-friendly design right, and the sound signature will work for booming bass aficionados, but anyone seeking accuracy or balance will want to look elsewhere.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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