Can 300 yen (US$2.26) headphones actually have enough difference in sound quality to be distinguished?

Daiso is one of our favorite 100-yen shops, where you can get just about anything, from kitchen items to storage to beauty products and more, for less than 500 yen (US$3.76). But did you know they even sell electronics? Our Japanese-language reporter and resident 100-yen shop tester Go Hatori happened to be browsing the headphone section of Daiso when he found a bunch of different colored earphones that look similar but claim to have slightly different functions.

Go, ever doubtful, had a hard time believing this claim, because, truly, how much could 300-yen earphones really differ? Naturally, he decided to buy five of them and test them out on the same song to see how they compare.

Each color purported to have a different function. Black had “impressive low-frequency sound with a prominent bass”, gold was the “almighty balance type”, red could “play music with ambiance”, blue had “powerful bass and comfortable vocals”, and orange boasted “a pleasant mid-to-high range”. There were more colors and varieties at the store, but some were just color variations, and some were just smaller than others, so they didn’t seem to affect the sound, which is why Go picked these five.

For his test song, Go picked Funkshone’s “It Ain’t Never Gonna Work”.

▼ It’s a funky, jazzy tune with the right balance of treble and base as well as vocals, perfect for Go’s experiment.

Go started off his tests with the gold earphones, the “almighty balance type”. The first thing he noticed was that the sound quality was slightly muffled. However, as soon as the song began to play through them, he could tell they that had put some effort into centrally tuning the speakers. It was about the same experience as sitting at the back bar of a concert hall.

Go really liked the black ones! Despite its packaging emphasizing the strong bass, they seemed to play both the high and the low notes well and had a pretty balanced tuning. The sound was also distinct and super clear. If Go were to compare it to seeing live music, he’d say it was similar to standing near the front, where you’d be dancing. The sound produced through these phones was definitely good for dancing!

The blue’s “powerful bass and comfortable vocals” actually did have impressive bass! They were even better than the black earphones. Plus, the angle of these earphones was really good. They produced a really impressive replication of the experience of being at a concert. Such a clear base had Go feeling like he was in VIP seats, right in front of the stage. Personally, go liked these ones the best.

The orange ones, which boasted “a pleasant mid-to-high range”, were interesting. They felt as if you were listening to music through a wall or something; in a club with a live band, it’d be like being in a dressing room or back office while the show was on. Still, the sound was really quite refreshing, almost transparent. As stated, the mid-to-high sounds came very clearly, and it was gentle on the ears. Go supposed these might be good for classical music.

Lastly, the red earphones had about the same balance as the “almighty” gold, which was nice. But the sound actually sounded much clearer through these earphones, so Go liked the red ones better than the gold. The sensation was of being in the center of the audience at a concert hall. However, they did receive minus points for the left and right buds being nearly indistinguishable from each other, making it hard to tell which one goes in which ear.

Surprisingly, these 300-yen earphones from Daiso actually had pretty decent sound to them! He was especially impressed by the potential of the blue earphones with the “powerful bass and comfortable vocals”. If he were to put the colors in order of preference, he’d pick blue first, then black, red, orange, and, lastly gold. 

Even more to Go’s shock, they were not, in fact, all the same. Go never would have guessed they would produce such wildly different sounds. “I’m sorry for doubting you, Daiso!” Go said, and he meant it. Truthfully, he really should have known better, considering his experiments have led to many important discoveries at Daiso. For example, he was the one who learned you can get just about everything you need for an overnight camping trip from there!

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