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When the Oculus Rift launched this March, one of our favorite qualities was its built-in audio. The integrated headphones, hanging from the headset band, gave the Rift a unified simplicity: Put Rift on head, start playing. Oculus' new earphones add only a tinge of complexity, but more than make up for it with enhanced audio presence.
I was hesitant to meddle with the Rift's audio setup. I never had a problem with the sound quality in the stock headphones, and messing with its simple put-on-and-play formula seemed like fixing something that wasn't broken.
But the company made big promises about the audio quality in its new Oculus Earphones, with CEO Brendan Iribe saying their "advanced noise isolation and drivers are optimized for VR," that they provide "an even deeper sense of presence" and "sound as good as some of the highest-end earphones in the world."
Considering the pair of earbuds rings up for US$50, those are some lofty claims.
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe unveiling the Oculus Earphones in October
I wouldn't be so bold to equate them with nearly-$1,000 audiophile gear, but the Oculus Earphones sound great. I noticed audio detail that I never noticed with the stock headphones.
In Lucky's Tale, I heard the fading buzz of enemy bees off in the distance, as the protagonist scampered away. In The Climb, the "chunk" as glove hit rock was crisper, as I traversed a dangerous cliff. In Edge of Nowhere, the guttural noises of lingering monsters added to the tension.
Good audio enhances a sense of atmosphere, peeling back another layer in the suspension of disbelief.
The rewarding sound of collecting coins in Lucky's Tale gets cleaner and perhaps more Pavlovian with the new Earphones
There's no active noise cancellation with the earphones, where opposing audio signals digitally mute background noise, but the earbuds created a tight-enough seal in my ear canal to adequately shut out real-world noises. Certainly better than the stock headphones, which just rest on the outsides of your ears.
I found the earbuds to be comfortable with the standard tips, but Oculus includes two other sizes in the box to accommodate different ear sizes.
The Earphones are a cinch to install: Use the included tool (though Rift owners should already have one, which came in the box with the headset) to unscrew the original headphones from inside the headband; screw on the Earphones in their place. It's a less-than-one-minute process.
Stock Oculus Rift headphones (left), Rift with $50 Oculus Earphones (right)(Credit: Will Shanklin/New Atlas)
I wouldn't say the Oculus Earphones dramatically change the VR experience, but audio is an often-underestimated piece of the virtual reality puzzle. A crisper, better-separated soundscape adds just enough to the sense of presence, or feeling like you're someplace else.
If I weren't reviewing them, I probably wouldn't have bothered ordering the Oculus Earphones. But now that I've used them, I wouldn't want to go back. And the tiny bit of extra work you have to do when you put on the headset, plugging the buds into your ears, is inconsequential.