Arriva, a small start-up in Telluride, Colo., is trying to make a name for itself by developing uniquely designed "sport" headphones. The company's first product, simply called Arriva Sport Headphones, featured a springy, squiggly shaped coil that wrapped around the back of your head to create a secure fit. At the time those headphones came out, Arriva told us that it was in the process of developing its real killer product, a set of headphones that offered a similar design but incorporated an iPod Shuffle dock. Obviously, the advantage to having the iPod connected directly to your headphones is that it cuts the headphone cord out the equation, effectively making them cordless--pretty cool if you can do it right.
Arriva's iPod Shuffle headphones ($40) come in several versions, all of which are only usable with Apple's entry-level music player. You'll need to supply a second-generation or third-generation clip-on version of the Shuffle (not the original "pack of gum" version). There's a black model with in-ear earbuds (the noise isolation-style models that you jam into your ear canal) and a white model with the hard plastic earbuds (similar to those found on the default iPod headphones) designed to rest gently on the outside of the ear canal. Each of those models is available in "small" or "regular" sizes. The former is for youth and anyone else with a smaller than average cranium: "If in doubt, get the regular size," according to Arriva's Web site. There's also a third design, called either the "Extreme Active Wear," "Funkenhead," or "3 Wave" (Arriva hasn't quite nailed down its naming convention). Those models are basically the Sports Headphones with a built-in iPod Shuffle connector--available in either black (in-ear phones) or white (iPod earbud-style), in a one-size-fits-all configuration that's "not recommended for very small heads."
It should be pointed out that we received all six headphone style/size combinations, so I had the opportunity to pick out the one that fit me the best. That's really the key to this product. If you find one that really fits well, you'll probably come away thinking that it's one of the best (and most liberating) solutions to listening to music while you work out. If not, you may end up writing a nasty user opinion on this review.
Here's the deal. After you slip the Shuffle into its dock and snap it securely into place (it takes a little finessing), you need to do some tinkering to get the coil bent just right so the 'buds sit in your ears well. I personally prefer the smaller, soft, in-ear buds on the black models--the bigger plastic buds on the white 'phones simply don't fit my ears. And while both the regular size and smaller headphones fit me all right, I found myself gravitating more toward the smaller headphones (shorter coil) because they held the Shuffle a little tighter to the back of my head, which kept it from jiggling up and down when I was running. And while the Shuffle certainly isn't heavy, it's not quite light enough for you to completely forget it's there.
Unlike with the Monster iFreeplay, the Shuffle isn't upside down, so the navigation buttons aren't reversed. Compared with the Monster product, Arriva's headphones are a lot more stealthy and don't make you look like a dork. Also, they're slightly easier to navigate blindly. It helps that with the Arriva headphones the Shuffle ends up sitting squarely in the middle of the back your head as opposed to living in the left earpiece on the side of your head.
As far as the sound goes, Arriva has managed to improve the sonics over its earlier model (at least when it comes to the in-ear 'buds). They may not sound great, but they sound fairly decent. So long as you don't expect too much and think more in terms of $20-$25 earbuds, you won't be disappointed. That said, the key to getting better sound (with the in-ear 'buds) is to make sure the buds are jammed into your ears snugly. The snugger the fit, the more bass you'll get. But if you lose that seal, the sound starts to thin out quite a bit. It should be noted that they play plenty loud.
Summing up, the Arriva iPod Shuffle headphones are a unique product that's tricky to review. You may be disappointed if you pick a model that you can't get to fit quite right. But if you do get the right one, you'll be rewarded with a set of sport headphones that will help you realize your dream of cutting the cord to your iPod. They may even make you want to buy a Shuffle just so you can use the headphones.Editors' Note: This review has been changed to correctly indicate that the Shuffle is not upside down when plugged into Arriva headphones.