This is our first review of a product from Munitio, a fresh face on the headphone scene. The San Diego, CA-based earphone company might never have appeared on our radar had these special-edition 9mm Billets not arrived to correspond with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
If you aren’t already familiar with Munitio, here’s a quick primer: The company makes earphones shaped like bullets. It’s a pretty clever idea, considering earphones tend to take on a bullet-like shape naturally and, as reality TV shows like Sons of Guns, Top Shot, and American Guns are a testament to, guns and ammo are all the rage right now. Thanks to TV shows like that and the increasingly realistic nature of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, it’s entirely possible the 12-year-old kid down the street knows way more about the PM-63 RAK than you ever will.
So, it makes sense that these special-edition 9mm Billets wouldn’t be targeted at audiophiles or anyone over the age of 30, really. Rather, these earphones are going to appeal to younger listeners who are probably more interested in brands like Skullcandy and Beats by Dr. Dre than they are in Shure and Sennheiser. We can dig it. That’s why we approached the 9mm Billets from the perspective of an avid gamer or frequent electronica listener in an effort to determine if they deliver the sort of sound that younger listeners want to get out of their headphones. We also compared them to similarly voiced headphones on the market as well as some of our reference in-ears. Read on to see how Munitio stacks up.
Out of the box
One piece of information that seems to need more prolific clarification than the tiny print on Munitio’s product packaging provides is that these earphones are not intended for game console use. It’s totally fair to assume they might be, considering Call of Duty: MW3 is plastered all over the box, so considered yourself notified: These are standard earphones for use with mobile entertainment devices like iPods, MP3 players and portable gaming systems and will not work with consoles like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
Pulling the red ribbon from the bottom of the high-quality box reveals a slide-out that contains the earphones and accessories. The earphones and additional ear tips are nestled in a molded piece of grey foam under which we found a sturdy black carrying pouch and two ear-hooks.
The provided ear tips come with black and “COD-green” cores finished with smoky grey flanges, each in small, medium and large sizes. The presentation is pretty nice. We think these will make a sweet gift come Christmas time.
The housing of each earphone “bullet” is said to be machined from single piece of lightweight, aircraft-grade aluminum. Subtle striations in the housing reinforce the bullet effect, as does the high pitched “clink” you get when the earphones strike each other. The rubber cables are reinforced with Kevlar for added strength and feel smooth to the touch.
About six inches down from the left earphone is the in-line mic with a single-button control. We’ve made our disapproval of single-button controls well known, so we won’t belabor the point. We’d just prefer to see a three-button remote, that’s all.
Further down the cord, where the cable splits into a Y, is a machined aluminum cylinder stamped with the COD:MW3 logo. Like the earphone housing, it has a solid feel and adds to the over-all cool factor of the ‘phones.
The 9mm earphones use, wouldn’t ya know it, a 9mm driver with Neodymium magnet. [Pro tip: Neodymium provides more magnetic force with less material and, therefore, less weight. The use of Neodymium rare earth magnets has been popular amongst headphone and speaker makers until recently when soaring prices earned it a bad rep and caused it to fall out of favor with much of the industry.]
These earphones sport some with some pretty typical specs: Frequency response is rated at 20Hz to 20kHz, impedance is 16 Ohms, sensitivity is 101dBat 1kHz at 0.1v. The cord for these headphones measures in just shy of four feet. Weight comes in at 22g.
The test bench for this review involved an iPhone, Dell N5110 laptop, a NuForce uDAC-2, HeadRoom Micro Amp and Micro DAC, Cardas USB and interconnect cables, and a collection of music files including MP3 (128k – 320k), WAV, 96/24 FLAC and 96/24 DVD-Audio.
We gave the 9mm Billets a good 50 hours of break-in time before we started listening, then we gave them another 20 hours. These earphones benefit a great deal from an extended break-in period. Out of the box, the only thing apparent about the 9mm was that they were capable of producing a lot of bass. Our gut told us there was more to them than that, so we gave them a little extra break-in time. Seventy hours may seem like a lot to ask but, hey, sometimes that’s how it goes with this stuff.
With a properly chosen ear tip, these earphones provide an excellent seal and just enough passive noise isolation to make moderate noise disappear when music is being played. The tight seal has a way of reinforcing bass frequencies, which we’ll get to shortly.
In terms of comfort, we’d have to give the 9mm Billets a 7 out of 10. Good, but not fantastic. The problem for us wasn’t a matter of weight, just that the ear-tip that provided the best seal and best sound for our ears also had a way of being felt constantly. Our ears never got fatigued, but we never forgot that we were wearing them, as we have with some other earphones like the NOCS NS400. The weight of the cord is generally not a problem, but moving around a lot did cause the earphones to break their seal with our ears and, eventually, fall out. Munitio provides some detachable ear hooks which help keep the earphones from falling, but didn’t do anything to help keep a tight seal. Not a huge problem, just don’t plan on going jogging with these.
As for sound: These earphones are unapologetically punchy and basscentric. Not only that, but the midrange and a good deal of the lower treble band seem rolled off. Then, in the very upper treble region, some of the sparkle is restored. The result of this kind of curve is a sound that will probably work best with certain types of music and suit a specific listener’s tastes. We can see the 9mm Billets working well for electronic music as they will bring out the bass in a big way, subdue the often super-hot upper mids and some of the treble, yet let just enough sizzle through to sound alive.
From the perspective of a 36-year-old audiophile, these are not a pair of earphones we would ever choose to listen to. The midrange is too recessed and the midbass is overwhelming to the point of being humorous. In general, there’s a lack of balance that’s just not going to satisfy, shall we say, more “seasoned” listeners.
But, as we mentioned before, these earphones aren’t geared to satisfy snarky audiophiles. They are meant for younger listeners and the music and games they like to listen to and play. How do you get a younger listener’s point of view? Ask one and hope they will pay attention and feign interest long enough to give you a qualitative answer.
We asked an 11-year-old gaming fanatic who enjoys listening to everything from Nickelback to Aretha Franklin on his iPod touch for his opinion (and he has plenty of them…trust us). For this little experiment, we had an 11 year-old test subject-we’ll call him “Josh” — compare the 9mm Billets to a set of t-Jays Three and the recently reviewed NOCS NS400.
First, we have to give credit to Josh for being genuinely interested in helping us out and offering a thoughtful opinion. Second, we want to acknowledge that, sure, we only polled one youth. However, this particular 11-year-old is the poster child for the 9mm Billets demographic: An avid gamer, extremely excited about the release of COD:MW3 and a big fan of music and technology.
Josh used the same three songs on his iPod touch as test tracks for his mini-review. We gave him no information about the earphones and offered no comments. He tried the NOCS NS400 first and noted that he liked the clear vocals and “amazing sounding snare drum” but wished they had more bass.
We then handed him the 9mm Billets. His eyes widened immediately as he took note of the bullet-styled earphones, then widened more so as he noticed the Call of Duty logo. “I’ve heard about these on YouTube”, he said. After a listen, Josh explained that he loved the bass response and thought it was much better than the previous set but that the vocals and guitars seemed like they were “covered up a little” Good ears, kid.
Finally, Josh tried the t-Jays Three. His opinion was that they were somewhere between the first two. He tried to care, but it was clear his mind was still on the 9mm Billets. “Can I try the bullets again?”
He tried the “bullets” again and soon after proclaimed they were his favorite. Even though he felt the vocals and guitar weren’t very clear, he was quick to point out that they sounded “good enough” and that he really, really liked the design. He then asked if he could get a pair for Christmas. Mission accomplished, Munitio.
Munitio’s special edition 9mm Billets are a well-designed, ruggedly built set of earphones that offer a distinct and robust sound, even if it’s a distant one from the accuracy audiophiles prize. While some of the “rugged” earphones we’ve recently tested just sounded cheap, the sound signature here seems thoughtfully conceived and executed. We think these headphones will be extremely popular with listeners age 10 to 20 and will likely be a prized enough possession to justify their $90 price tag.
- Rugged Design
- Good seal and passive noise isolation
- Huge bass output
- Plenty of punch
- Overbearing midbass at times
- Recessed midrange
- Occasionally brittle highs