When you crack open the package holding the Smile Jamaica in-ear headphones from the House of Marley, it’s hard not to like the earbuds. I mean at this price point (Rs 1999 or about $30), I have seen few earphones that look as good as these ones. Image

A nice earpiece made of beech wood (with 8mm moving coil drivers), colourful ear-tips and a fabric-covered cable in the Rasta colours of red, gold and green – if nothing else, these earphones are gorgeous.

The sound, however, is another matter. More on that later in this review.

The earphones were burnt in over a period of about three weeks by playing a wide range of music before I got down to some serious listening.

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The earphones were mainly tested with my Samsung Galaxy S3 with a bunch of MP3s, all ripped at 320 kbps and playing through the Poweramp music player, and with my main music system that has FLACs and high-res files played by a HP ProBook 4530s laptop through a Micromega MyDAC to a Denon PMA 717 amplifier.

And this is where everything seemed to go south. Every musician, from Tony Bennett to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, seemed to be afflicted by a chest cold on these earphones. The music seemed to be behind a veil, overpowered by too much muddy bass, gasping for air and life.

During critical listening late at night on my main rig, I struggled hard to find something redeeming about the Smile Jamaica and usually gave up in frustration.

Even a hi-res FLAC of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” at 24 bit/192 kHz, played back on the laptop through Foobar with WASAPI came across as dull and lifeless.

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Just about the only time the Smile Jamaica sounded good was during my daily commute on Delhi’s Metro, when its strange sound signature helped overcome all ambient noises and the earbuds managed to sound decent. But even then, the highs sounded recessed.

On the plus side, the sound isolation with the ear plugs supplied with the earphones was rather good.

I truly wanted to like the Smile Jamaica – it has its heart in the right place, what with its use of recyclable aluminium and plastic and it has one of the most tangle-free cords I’ve ever come across – but it’s let down by its sound. For about Rs 2,000, there are far too many other better options.

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