Note 2 compatible earphones with fully functional volume controls!
For someone coming from an iPhone to the Note 2, one of the most distressing things is the lack of earphones with functioning volume buttons. I say this because everyone with an iPhone is used to having a big selection of working headsets that have these controls. Because of the wide variety of android phones and their conficting standards, manufacturers have evidently decided it not worthwhile trying to make android compatible earphones with volume controls since they have assumed they'd have to be device specific, and instead opted for a few single button ones. I found this amazing, incomprehensible and unacceptable. You see, I live with my earphones. Besides listening to music or streaming podcasts, I take all my calls with earphones so that I can keep my hands free, and reaching constantly into my pocket to change the volume won't do.
After a laborious search, I've found earphones that work with my Note 2 (ie 3 button ones with volume controls as well as the pause/play button), but they all have issues or problems from my point of view. Nevertheless, the simple answer starts with looking for ones made by HTC or Samsung. Unfortunately, the ones I found from HTC have really cheap speakers and place the mic/controls near your belly button! They also place the mic at the point where the speaker wires branch rather than the typical spot 6" from the right earpiece on its own wire, so winding up the extra wire is an awkward solution at best (I tried it, ughh!) The Samsung OEM ones that should have come with the phone (I'm on ATT and as everyone knows, they didn't include them in their packaging), are fine with respect to the placement of the mic, but the sound may be iffy for some and I find the volume controls too small and poorly placed - I'm often hitting the wrong button. For me though, there was also another worse problem. I know I'm in a minority here, but I can't stand in-ear sound isolating earbuds. (Note: by in-ear, I mean the type that have flexible plastic tips that snug down into the ear canal a bit.) I find them uncomfortable after a very short time, and when I take calls, I feel like I'm speaking under water, or like I have my fingers in my ears. I actually prefer hearing the environmental sound a bit rather than cutting it off. Stupid me, I just prefer the plain old iPhone earphones (not the new earpods). They're cheap, have ok sound with moderate bass, and do what I want. All you others who don't agree with me, don't despair since what I propose applies equally to you.
My final solution to this nasty impass was to clip off the HTC or Samsung earphones and solder on my old iPhone earpieces. I'm writing all this because I know there are a lot of people more or less in my situation, and I just want to encourage people that it really is not hard at all to do this if you're able to solder at all. And afaik, the same applies to people who prefer in-ear buds, or even hi quality ones. Most earpieces are pretty easy to disassemble - one might have to score/lever the joint a bit, but basically you just give a twist with a pliers to the piece nearest your ear that has the grill or holds the in-ear piece, and the speaker and its wired connections can be pulled out of the housing and have its connections exposed. I was confused at first by the iPhone earphones since when I clipped the wire and examined it, there seemed to be four wires going to each earpiece. I spoke to an audio engineer for advice (who designed circuits, cables etc for the audio industry for 40 years) and his basic take on it was the quality is all in the speakers not in the switch, so you really can just swap them, and the extra wires are just twisted around to support the functioning wires structurally - each speaker really has two wires.
Luckily for me, it cost me nothing extra to try this as I had already bought three different working sets off eBay at $5 - $8 each and I had my old iPhone ones (actually two broken sets - I just used the good speaker from each). Anyway, if anyone's interested below are pics of the three Note 2 compatible types I bought (use them to find ones to buy since links change). Remember, in the end I only needed them for the plug, working switch/mic, and wires - the speakers are thrown away. And also pics of a disassembled iphone earpiece as well as a finished hybrid. The one I did uses the white HTC earphones as a base. I of course shortened the wires going to the earpieces. I don't mind the Samsung one once in a while, so I plan to order another and when it arrives, alter it as a spare hybrid like the other - with iPhone earpieces.
There are several other ones out there that would probably do as well as the ones I bought, but they all have in-ear type earpieces so I didn't order them, and I can't vouch for their volume controls working. I'd guess several will. Sometimes android earphones apparently use the outer buttons to advance or rewind (next track/previous track) so watch out for those. I don't see the point of them since double click/triple click does that for me with all the audio players I've tried (Walkman, PowerAmp, Player Pro) and the volume controls are more important to me anyway. It's also difficult to tell from the eBay pictures if the mic/controls are near the belly button or not, and after buying two that had this design, I didn't feel like trying more at random. If anyone has ordered other ones and found the buttons work (FOR VOLUME CONTROLS!) and especially if they have the better, single wire mic layout, I'd be interested if you'd post the name and pics of what you've tried and found works.
Soldering tips: dip the wire ends in a tiny bit of alcohol and briefly burn off the nylon support strands and coating with a cigarette lighter before tinning the ends and then soldering. If you are timid, cut the wire near the speaker (1") rather than desoldering it. You can then test the whole thing out by twisting wires together rather than straight away soldering your new wires to the speakers. The joint can still be coiled up and hidden in the earpiece housing. It will also keep clear what color wire goes where and if you aren't good with soldering (like me) that also has the advantage of not risking making a total mess of the contacts on the speakers straight away! The "standard" earphone color code is Red pair on Right channel, Blue or Green on Left.
On a related issue on audio on the Note 2, I'd like to mention that I had to use the volume mod (I edited my own default_gain.conf - root required) so that the phone call volume, as well as streaming audio such you get with news apps, was high enough for me - though I also increased the volume for music as well. Also, I recommend using the Equalizer app from the Play store rather than Beats Audio to add some extra bass etc to the earphones since unlike Beats, it is a system wide EQ, so you can improve the sound of podcasts and phone calls as well as your music! Using it necessitates disabling all other EQs.
Love the Note 2 and this forum! Good Luck and I hope this helps someone!