Once you dip below the $50 mark in the portable headphone market, you're generally going to be looking at a noticeable drop-off in sound quality. That's why we're always pleasantly surprised to come across a pair of earphones that manage to provide good audio at a low price--even better if they're comfortable, as well. The Yamaha EPH-30 is one such set, and though it's not without its pitfalls, we have no qualms about recommending these $40 earbuds.
The Yamaha EPH-30 earphones aren't going to win any awards for quality in the design department, although we're willing to cut them a little slack because of their low price and solid sound. The cable is thin and tangle-prone and seems fairly fragile, and the earpieces are made of cheap-feeling plastic. On the plus side, you can choose from either white or black versions, both of which offer a splash of style with some chrome-colored accenting. This makes the earpieces slightly more jewelry-like, which may be more appealing to some than others. It's worth noting that the white version picks up dirt pretty easily. Also, these earbuds feature a staggered Y-cable with the right side longer than the left so that you may wear the cord behind your neck more easily--good for working out. The cable measures 48 inches in all and terminates in a gold-plated straight plug.
Despite the Yamaha EPH-30 headphones inexpensive feel, we're not without some praise for the design. The earbuds are teeny tiny, which allows an easy fit for small-eared users. Yamaha includes three sizes of silicone eartips, all of which tend toward the small side (those with larger ears should take heed). We found the earphones to be quite comfortable after more than an hour of wear. Even better, they offer some passive sound isolation, and there is no noise from the cable brushing against the front of the body.
The big surprise from these headphones is their efficiency and sound quality. It really doesn't take much to drive audio through the Yamaha EPH-30s, meaning these are a nice option if you're looking to conserve the battery life of your MP3 player (or if you like to listen to music really loudly, though we don't recommend that). Also, while these earphones don't offer the cleanest audio across all genres when compared with models twice their price, they do pump out surprisingly good sound for a sub-$50 set. There's plenty of deep, mostly tight bass, and the highs are nicely crisp and detailed for the most part. Mids are smooth and not too nasally.
We did notice some low-end distortion and a lack of warmth when compared with the Klipsch Image S4s, but again, those are twice the price of the Yamaha EPH-30 headphones. For those who are on a budget but are determined to replace their stock 'buds with something that provides a significant step up in terms of fit and sound quality, these are a great choice.