The House of Marley Smile Jamaica Headphones Review
One good thing about these earbuds? When you buy them, you feel no pain
We’ve all been there before: Your headphones just broke and you’re at the store looking for some replacement in-ears. You just want good, basic earbuds and the salesperson seems only interested in pushing the $200 models. Ask about the $20 'buds on the lower rack and you'll probably be told something along the lines of "you get what you pay for."
But while that's true most of the time, the House of Marley Smile Jamaica (MSRP: $19.99) in-ear headphones are the exception to that rule. Available in a broad variety of styles/colors, and equipped with decently durable—if not exactly indestructible—materials, the Smile Jamaica in-ears may just have you (and your wallet) wondering, "Is this love?"
Marley delivers nine solidly-built and colorful options
While in-ear headphones don't get the same attention as the big over-ears when it comes to design, the Smile Jamaica do a decent job balancing form and function. Available in nine different styles, we particularly enjoyed the complementary color schemes, the FSC-certified wood pegs (on certain styles), and the 4.5-foot, tangle-resistant braided cable.
Regardless which style/color you go with, the Smile Jamaica in-ears are surprisingly comfortable. Unfortunately, there’s only a single extra silicon tip included in the packaging (beyond the default), so listeners with ears that are larger or smaller than average may be unable to get a perfect fit.
Still, we think that most people will find these to be perfectly fine. We had five of our coworkers try them out for an hour or two each and they all found them to be acceptable earbuds. If you know you hate earbuds these certainly won't change your mind, but for most people they'll get the job done.
Get up, stand up—these Marleys sound awesome
Super cheap in-ear headphones are a dime a dozen, and most people have pretty low expectations of their $20 headphones. Fortunately, these Smile Jamaica buds are something of a redemption song for cheap in-ears everywhere; they're not audiophile quality, but they're exceptional performers for this price range.
When we test headphones, we generally find they fall into one of two camps: flat studio headphones that don't emphasize or diminish any part of the frequency range and consumer-friendly headphones that boost bass slightly and try to provide rich, clear treble response. The Smile Jamaicas, like most low-cost headphones, opt for the latter. They're a little more bass-heavy than most, but nicely follow an equal loudness contour (the blue line in the graph below) matching the natural sensitivity of your ear in the mids and highs.
Out of the lab, we put the Marleys through the ringer with a wide variety of genres. Everything from Anamanaguchi, to Beethoven, to Mr. Bob Marley himself sounded excellent, and the extra bass emphasis didn't crowd the rest of the landscape. It's a great result, and far above what we expect from affordable in-ears.
From a practical perspective, in-ears like these do the best job at silencing the outside world; after all, squeezing a 'bud into your ear canal does a wonderful job of dampening higher-pitched sounds like chatty commuters. Deeper, rumbling bass sounds—plane engines, truck horns, and the like—will still cut through, but your music should drown those out just as well.
The Bottom Line
A boon companion for navigating the concrete jungle
In-ear headphones can't quite hold a candle to the plushy, high-performance over-ears that dominate the headphone market. But when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, earbuds are where it's at. And if value is your top priority, the Smile Jamaica in-ears are a superb choice that combine comfort, durability, style, and performance for less than $20.
The Smile Jamaicas aren't perfect, but their consumer-friendly sound profile will reward all sorts of popular and classical genres. Best of all, the design is both fetching and functional, with a braided cable and properly shielded connection points that should ensure your modest investment lasts as long as you need it to.
If you like the idea of the Marleys but want just a little better performance, the MEElectronics M9P 2nd Gen. are a great alternative choice. They start closer to $40, but they're on sale so frequently we gave them our Best Headphones Under $25 award this year.
No matter which way you go, however, in-ears like these show that you don't have to pay a lot to get what you want. Both pairs are comfortable, perform well, and should last a long time—just what every shopper needs to satisfy their soul.
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