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The era of cheap earphones sounding like garbage has swiftly become history. It’s now possible to recommend pairs around $50 or less now, when a few years ago I cringed at the thought. The Urbanears Kransen, at $39 (direct), is an in-ear pair with a smart, simple design and gobs of bass response. Typically, you’d expect earphones in this price range to either have no real bass or to distort the bass like crazy, but the Kransen brings the low frequency response and manages to avoid distortion. Purists seeking a flat-response or crisp sound signature should look elsewhere, though; this is an option for bass lovers, balanced out with just enough high-mid presence so that things don’t sound muddy. The Kransen doesn’t quite edge out the Editors’ Choice JLab Fit$29.99 at Amazon, but it’s a solid set at a good price.
Available in ten colors, the Kransen’s$40.00 at REI look is modern and simple. The plastic on the earpieces is a matte surface that matches the cable’s color, and the only deviation from the uniform color scheme is a small metallic panel on the inside of the earpiece (and hidden from view when the Kransens are in your ears) that has the logo and “L” or “R” etched into it. The fit is lightweight and secure.
An inline remote control and mic are located along the left ear’s cable at about chin level, and at about mid-chest the rubberized cables join into one cloth-lined cord. The single-button remote can play/pause music, answer calls, or skip tracks with multiple button taps, but it offers no way to adjust the volume. The Kransen is light on accessories, only shipping with three total pairs of eartips and no carrying pouch. At the bargain price of $40, however, a lot of accessories shouldn’t be expected.
Urbanears Kransen inlineThe Kransen is armed with some clever design aimed at helping you keep your earphones tangle-free when stowed in your bag. The two earpieces snap together when not in use, and the rubber area at the end of the cable has a hole that the 3.5mm connection can slide into after you’ve looped the cable, acting as a sort of twist-tie and keeping the cable from tangling.
My only fear here, and this is not something I can test in my relatively short time with the product, is that the cabling inside could snap. The connection point of the cables to the earpieces and the cable’s end are the two most likely places for a cable to break, meaning you’ll need to get a new pair of earphones. Adding pressure to the end, as using this loop feature does, makes me pretty nervous about the longevity of the KransenÖbut you can always choose to not use this feature, and there’s no way of being certain that my fears are warranted.
On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Kransen does not distort even at top (and unsafe) listening levels. These earphones also manage to push out a heavy dose of powerful low-end, impressive in this price range. The secure in-ear fit may help the bass response seem a bit more powerful than it is, but the drivers are still well-equipped to deliver deep lows. At more moderate listening levels, the sense of big bass is still quite present,
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his baritone vocals are given a bit of added low-end richness (which they hardly need), and the drums get an extra dose of low-end, too. This often kills the mix on bass-boosted earphones, but the Kransen combines the healthy lows with enough high-mid and high frequency presence to balance things out. Without a doubt, this is still a bass-lover’s earphone pair and not for anyone seeking a particularly crisp or flat-response sound, but it doesn’t eliminate the high-mids and highs to the extent that things sound muddy.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” which features some hefty sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat, comes off as another bass-forward affair. Those synth hits are delivered with almost subwoofer-like force, but the attack of the kick drum loop here misses its sharp edge that helps it slice through the beat. The vocals stay out in the forefront of this dense mix nonetheless, and the song remains balanced enough so that bass lovers can still hear the other aspects besides the bass.
Classical tracks like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” actually sound excellent on the Kransen. The bass boost lent to the lower register strings gives things a nice round sound, while the higher register strings and percussion already possess a natural advantage over the rest of the orchestra, so they’re less affected by the dialed-back high-mids and highs of the earphones. Again, purists won’t love this sound, but the Kransen delivers a nice balance of rich bass response with at least some crispness in the high-mids here that it can’t seem to attain on mixes from other genres.
If you’re looking for the big bass experience and have a bit more money to spend, the in-ear SOL Republic Relays$79.99 at Verizon Wireless delivers powerful lows and balances them, somewhat, with the rest of the frequency range. If you’re after a more balanced sound overall, with less booming bass response, the TDK EB950£22.49 at Amazon and Sennheiser CX 685 SPORTS$60.47 at Amazon both offer a solid, balanced listening experience. And if you wish to go even cheaper than the Kransen’s budget price, the Editors’ Choice JLab Fit offers solid audio and more accessories. For $40, however, the good-looking Urbanears Kransen is a worthy option that delivers distortion-free, thunderous low-end for the budget-minded bass lover.
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