The Good: Looks, durability, everyday usability, sound (particularly bass).

The Bad: Only three sizes of earbud tips, iOS-only controls.

The Bottom Line: Quite simply, a brilliant all-round investment in slimline, portable music.


If awards for engineering were handed out to in-ear headphone manufacturers, Atomic Floyd’s trophy cabinet would be full by now. The company’s stainless steel earbuds are known for their outstanding durability and craftsmanship.

Sound is a slightly different issue, though. Atomic Floyd does everything it can to convince potential buyers of the audio quality inside the packaging, smothering every surface in slogans like, “The New State of Sound” and “World Class In-Ear Acoustics”. However, my previous experience with Atomic Floyd’s Superdarts didn’t quite live up to that kind of hype.

This time around, I’m testing a different model from Atomic Floyd’s range — the HiDefDrum earphones. These unusually shaped ‘buds are claimed to provide a “gut-grabbing deep bass”, and they are on sale at £50 less than the SuperDarts (£149). To be honest, I have no idea what to expect.

Design

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Earbuds are made of injection-moulded steel.

Unsurprisingly, there’s no visual cause for concern with the HiDefDrums. That familiar injection-moulded steel is beautifully textured, almost resembling jewellery, and the weightiness of each ‘bud is a reassuring suggestion of quality. Of course, they are also unusually shaped. As each narrows to deliver sound into your ear, it stoops around forty-five degrees.

This design makes room for a highly visible grill of sound vents, but it also has a noticeable effect on the stability of the earbuds in your ear — more on that later.

Durability

As far as one could expect with such a delicate form of technology, the HiDefDrums do not seem to have a weak spot. Those metal ‘buds aren’t going to capitulate under any normal stress, and neither are the other solid-metal parts here — namely the remote, splitter and jack. Each ‘bud has a detachable silicon tip, but these stay firmly in place, and feel durable, too. The cord is reinforced with Kevlar, so even when it thins above the splitter, it still feels unbreakable.

This is the kind of ruggedness that you’d rely on when slinging your earphones into a carryall. You just know they are going to be okay.

Usability

The excellent build quality noted above translates to a happy experience in use. While the supplied selection of three ‘bud tip sizes is far from ideal — there’s a real possibility of falling in between these options — the shape of the HiDefDrums makes them stay firmly in place. After a few hours, the inevitable earplug ache begins to bite, but the tips are soft and it’s a comfortable fit.

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The HiDefDrum’s inline controls.

As the music flows, the in-built remote comes into its own. There are only three buttons here, but multiple taps trigger unseen controls — tap the Play/Pause button once to toggle, twice to skip to the next track, and thrice to skip backwards. In addition, the remote has a mic for iOS handsfree calling, and it captures commendably clear sound.

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Atomic Floyd throws in some accessories for the HiDefDrums.

Just to sweeten the deal, Atomic Floyd also includes a few accessories. In the box, there’s a semi-rigid carry pouch, along with a DJ (3.5mm) jack and a flight adaptor.

Sound

Bass is such a lovable section of the acoustic spectrum. When recreated with the highest technical quality, it is simultaneously a rhythm, a harmony and a melody. So to lose it would be a blow — a blow so often struck by in-ear headphones that are incapable of generating the required physical thunder.

I’m happy to report no such problems with the HiDefDrums. The 13.5mm drivers on each side produce a rich tone, with just enough kick to satisfy those who like to feel the impact of drums and pounding basses. Which is not to say they are unpleasant for the average listener. Keep them at a moderate volume, and they simply provide a meaty sound.

That richness really needs to be balanced by a crisp upper register. According to the blurb, Atomic Floyd superheats the steel used in the earphones to 1300ºC during manufacture in order to create a thinner skin, which should equate to the desired clarity. Well it does. As synthesizers are pushed to the highest points of the range, these ‘buds manage to match the audio altitude, and the often muddied mid-tones have genuine detail. Even speech sounds superb.

This really is musician-quality sound.

Verdict

If this is the first of my reviews you’ve ever read through, firstly, greetings. Secondly, you may be thinking that I’ve gone over the top on these earbuds. Incorrect — I never offer praise where none is due. The HiDefDrums really are this impressive. The sound alone is a clincher for me, but the build quality is the absolute standout feature here. It’s nice to know that your expensive audio equipment isn’t likely to break at the slightest stress.

Of course, you pay for all of that. £149 is plenty of notes for a pair of earbuds. It makes purchasing the HiDefDrums an absolute commitment to the in-ear style of listening. Plus, if you use devices other than those made by Apple, you’re suffering a significant loss of handsfree utility.

For the target user, however, the HiDefDrum headphones represent a brilliant all-round investment in slimline, portable music.

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