You should also know that there's a good chance the controls won't work with non-Apple smartphones. For instance, I tried the vPulse with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and had no luck. It's also worth noting that while music and movies played fine through the headphone on the Samsung phone, I could barely hear callers. On my iPhone 4S, by contrast, everything worked fine.
The sonic emphasis here is on bass, but the key is that the vPulse delivers quality in addition to quantity -- the low-end is deep, full, and tight, motivating you to seek out tracks in your library with potent bass lines that lesser headphones can't handle with as much aplomb. I meandered through a variety of music, from the Chemical Brothers to the Black Keys to Drake, Flo Rida, Eric Dolphy, and the David Byrne/Caetano Veloso Live at Carnegie Hall album. The earphones even helped to give a punchier bass response to a remix of Fun's hit pop tune "We Are Young."
I can't say it was love at first listen with the vPulse, but they definitely grew on me and the sound improved with time. CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg echoes the sentiment, and he wrote about the vPulse in his Audiophiliac column early in 2012, with a follow-up in a later column to say that they'd become a favorite for subway travel (he didn't mind the overabundance of low-frequency energy in the subway but in the quiet of his own apartment he preferred a flatter, more accurate headphone).
"Listening to a great live recording of Jeff Tweedy singing 'Jesus, Etc,' I heard the vPulse projecting a big, wide-open soundstage, bigger than most in-ear headphones," Guttenberg wrote. "The stereo imaging is closer to what I get from full-size headphones. But the bottom-heavy bass balance is impossible to ignore, so other in-ears sound puny by comparison."
The visceral "pulse" of these earphones does come at a cost to their overall clarity, which is good but not great (the Klipsch S4 or S4i remain solid choices for those looking for balanced, detailed earphones in this price range). For most people, particularly bass lovers, it will be a small cost, especially considering the fact that the vPulse sounds better than some earphones selling for twice as much.
In the final analysis, the vPulse manage to do something many headphones that accentuate bass fail to do: sound pleasing. That said, if you're a non-Apple smartphone user who's looking specifically for a set of earphones that can be used for making calls, I'd pause before buying the vPulses. But I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to users of iOS products. They fit fairly comfortably and sound excellent for the money, particularly if you're a bass lover.
Editor's note: The score on these earphones was originally 4 stars but was lowered to 3.5 stars on March 22, 2013 due to increased competition for earphones in this price range.