Sound Check: OnePlus Buds, Amazfit PowerBuds, Vivo TWS Earphone Neo Review
Fun fact: the first true-wireless headphones weren’t the AirPods, but the Bragi Dash earbuds all the way back in 2015. The AirPods launched in 2016 and brought the concept of snapping all wires into the mainstream, but it’s really in 2020 that we’re seeing the coming of age of the category, with options starting as low as Rs. 2,000 all the way up the price segment to premium options like the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3 which we reviewed recently. This week, I take a look at three new true wireless earbuds in the mid-range segment – OnePlus Buds, Amazfit PowerBuds, Vivo TWS Neo Review – and find out if they should catch your fancy. Let’s do a soundcheck, shall we?
Price: Rs. 6,999
What it is: Amazfit’s fast carving out a niche for itself in the wearable space, and their debut in the true wireless space by way of the PowerBuds shows a fair bit of promise. While they seem like a pair of fitness-oriented earbuds - IP55 water resistance, magnetically attaching ear hooks and all – the PowerBuds reveal an ace up their sleeve in the form of a heart rate sensor to measure your activity levels during workouts. Add to that decent battery life and sound quality, there’s little to fault with these, particularly at the price.
Pros: Fit and finish is impressive, given this is Amazfit’s first crack at making truly wireless earbuds, and I liked the subtle mesh pattern on the touch control surfaces. The design is slightly bulbous to accommodate the heart rate sensor, but the 6g weight doesn’t sit heavy on the ear, even over extended periods. IP55 water resistance is a welcome addition. Four sets of ear tips are included to get the fit you need, and if you’re looking at more strenuous exercise, there’s a magnetic hook stowed away within the case that can provide a more secure fit. Powered on and paired, the PowerBuds connect to your phone and pause/play music when it senses the bud being taken out of (or placed in) the ear. Used with the companion app, you can change equalizer settings to tune music to your preference, update the firmware and set up gesture control for each bud and a Thru Mode to hear ambient sounds without taking off the earbud.
For a fitness-focused pair of earbuds, the PowerBuds sound pretty decent with a remarkably balanced audio signature quite unlike the bass bias typical of workout headphones. Vocals are clear, as are percussion instruments and the high notes. The key differentiator, of course, is the heart rate sensor located on the right earbud. You should ensure a snug fit, since the sensor relies on contact with the skin to read your heart rate. Accuracy is good, consistent with consumer grade trackers like the Fitbit or the Apple Watch. You’ll have to enable heart rate monitoring in the app first, and the data stays on Amazfit’s app, as one would expect. The sheer convenience of not having to wear an additional accessory (fitness band) is the reason you’d want this pair over competing TWS earphones.
Cons: Pairing the PowerBuds for the first time isn’t particularly intuitive, and the case is on the larger side, likely to allow storage of the ear hooks within the case. The size affords two charges for the earbuds, which takes the over 7-hour battery life per bud into the 20-22 hour territory with the case. No charge level indicator on the case, only in the app. Microphone is strictly average for phone calls.
Price: Rs. 4,990
What it is: Launched alongside the OnePlus Nord, the OnePlus Buds were the missing piece in their successful accessories portfolio. At Rs. 4,990, they’re a no-brainer for OnePlus owners looking for a pair of TWS earphones that play well within the OnePlus ecosystem. For everyone else, their benefits are somewhat less attractive.
Pros: Talk about making a first impression! With the charging case sporting the attractive Nord Blue color (don’t miss the lime green on the inside!) that we saw on the Nord previously, there’s a bold sort of character that’ll certainly stand out in the crowd, although there are the staider white and gray variants for those who want something a little more discreet. The AirPods-inspiration is evident in the general design, albeit with OnePlus’ little touches – the anti-slip matte finish of the case, the flat end of the stems for gesture controls and the satisfyingly firm click of the case courtesy its metal-reinforced hinge. Each 4.7g earbud has the stemmed, semi-open design that is good to stay aware of your surroundings but has its impact on comfort and audio quality (more on this later). If you’re the sort for whom this design doesn’t work – AirPods, the Realme and Vivo TWSs all have a tendency to be too loose for comfort in my left ear – there are no ear tips to improve the fit.
Now, while you could connect using Google’s Fast Pair feature, the ease of connectivity on OnePlus’ OxygenOS phones is the best, as it to be expected. You get automatic ear detection on each bud, so play/pause on removing the buds works reliably across all devices. Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity is somewhat more stable on the OnePlus 8 Pro that I tested compared to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. As far as sound quality is concerned, the Buds offer 13.2mm drivers that deliver a decent amount of bass, in a bid to compensate for the external sound that invariably leaks in on a semi-open design such as this. Mids and highs aren’t too bad, but clearly the bass dominates the audio discussion here. You should tune your expectations about the sort of music that truly will shine on such a pair of TWS, but Bollywood, pop and most mainstream stuff should do just fine.
Call quality is excellent, with the triple microphone setup for environmental noise cancellation, and listeners couldn’t tell I was calling from a TWS. Battery life is good, at well over 6 hours per bud at moderate listening volumes, but typical OnePlus, the Buds charge really fast with 10 minutes of charge giving you an hour and a half of music. The case charges the buds thrice over.
Cons: Onboard touch controls are a bit limited, with the ability to take/reject/end calls, skip tracks and switch between devices, but you’re going to want to connect these to a OnePlus phone to be able to push new over-the-air (OTA) updates to the device as and when OnePlus upgrades the functionality. Latency is decent for gaming, but the lower Fnatic Mode again is available only on OnePlus devices. AAC is the only high-quality Bluetooth format supported, with no aptX unlike the OnePlus’ earlier Bullets Wireless 2.
Vivo TWS Earphone Neo
Price: Rs. 5,990
What it is: Vivo’s entry into the TWS segment looks and feels AirPod-inspired, but there’s more to the Earphone Neo than meets the eye. They cover all the regular bases, and add in IP54 water and dust resistance, good battery life and a balanced sound signature, but the pricing and some Vivo-exclusive features might limit their broader appeal.
Pros: The design is a familiar one, one that we’ve seen on several true-wireless earphones before it. Pick up the Starry Blue variant and at least you’ll avoid the obvious comparisons to the now-bog-standard white capsule case of the AirPods and many others. They’re light, at 4.7g weight, and the plastic build has a one-size-fits-all approach, with the open-air design allowing external sounds to creep in and affect the audio quality. The large 14.2mm drivers produce a fair amount of thump, and the AAC and aptX support is a big tick in its favor. However, a lot of the features I tested with the TWS paired with the Vivo X50 Pro are enabled due to the Vivo phone, such as the low 88ms latency for gaming, the ability to switch between audio profiles, or fast pairing. One understands the ecosystem play, but an app that allowed similar features on other devices would have broadened the Earphone Neo’s appeal. Battery life is decent, with the buds plus the case giving you well past the twenty-two-hour mark, with each bud lasting a shade under five hours. Touch controls were on par with the segment, but I liked the slide-up/down volume control on the buds. Good in-call audio as well.
Cons: Due to the half in-ear design of the buds, and the fact that you can’t attach silicone tips for a custom fit, not everyone’s going to get a perfect fit. For me, the left earbud kept falling off, a problem I’ve seen on the OnePlus Buds as well, but your mileage may vary, and this may be a complete non-issue with most ear types.