The House of Marley Smile Jamaica Headphones Review
One good thing about these earbuds? When you buy them, you feel no pain
The House of Marley Smile Jamaica in-ear headphones (MSRP $19.99) are surprisingly good performers for what you're paying. Regardless of which (of nine) color/style options you choose, you can expect a crisp, consumer-friendly sound, good isolation and leakage, and very low levels of THD (distortion).
The Marley's sound describes what is typically known as an equal-loudness contour, or ELC, wherein the listener perceives a "constant loudness" across the frequency spectrum, from the deepest bass to the tinniest treble. While this is undesirable in a few cases—especially for studio-level sound engineering, or at-home equalizing—it's a trend that most affordable, mass market headphones follow.
The Jamaica Smile in-ears don't quite reproduce the ELC, which normally puts a lot more emphasis on hard-to-hear sub-bass/bass frequencies from 20 to around 200Hz, and extra oomph in the upper treble range around 5.5–6.5kHz. This isn't a bad thing: the less overt over-emphasis or de-emphasis on those frequencies make for a slightly more balanced sound overall. But otherwise, the Marley's stick quite vehemently to the expected emphasis/de-emphasis in an ELC.
The Marley's tested very handsomely in terms of distortion, or THD (Total Harmonic Distortion), a measure of unwanted mechanical or signal noise present during the operation of speakers. Ideally, headphones will produce less than 3% THD across the majority of the audible spectrum, though many headphones exhibit a higher amount in the lowest sub-bass ranges.
Not only do the Marley's exhibit >3% THD in the 100-10kHz range where it's expected, but they maintain a very low THD even in the more difficult (and more forgiving) sub-bass range. This is an awesome result, especially for $20 headphones.
Like most in-ears, the Marley's do a good job shutting out higher pitched (treble) and some midrange sounds, look footfalls and nearby conversations. But likewise, they don't do much to reduce lower, sub-bass and bass frequencies. Testing revealed that up to 20 dB of sound are reduced for midrange sounds, and a healthy 30–35 dB of higher-pitched treble sounds.
Tracking refers to the relative volume between a set of headphones' right and left channels. While major discrepancies in tracking are rare for midrange and high-end headphones, they do tend to crop up from time to time in the deep budget range, such as with these Marley's. Fortunately, testing revealed very minor aberrations—less than 5db volume shifts—from balanced tracking into the right speaker. At such low volumes, you'd be hard-pressed to notice these tracking errors.
Get Our Newsletter
Real advice from real experts. Sign up for our newsletter
Thanks for signing up!