Sound check: Sony WF-XB700, Realme Buds Q and Oppo Enco M31 review
Audio gear is seeing a transformation as a category, not unlike what we’ve seen some years ago in the smartphone space. Brands are dropping hot new wireless audio products packed with features that were hitherto exclusively available at premium prices, only this time at prices you simply cannot argue with! This week, I take a look at three new offerings, each in a different price segment but offering super value nonetheless – the Sony WF-XB700 and the Realme Buds Q true wireless buds, and the Oppo M31. Let’s do a sound check, shall we?
Price: Rs 9,990
What it is: Sony does true wireless really well in the high-end WF-1000XM3, but it’s the WF-XB700 that takes the category into the sub-10,000 segment for the brand. Sure, these skip on active noise cancellation and gesture support but offer a mass-market-oriented, bass-first audio profile and a solid battery life at a price that’s quite nice to see for a Sony product. Time to drop that bass cash on the XB700!
Pros: There’s a familiar sort of feeling when you see Sony’s Extra Bass branding on a product, and the WF-XB700 delivers on that front. It accentuates the bass and gives the audio a pleasing bit of punch, while still keeping the low-end tight and restrained and not all-over-the-place or muddy. The sense of balance extends onto the mid-range and the highs, leaving you with audio that not only lets you hear the deep drums and percussion instruments without drowning out the vocals or the instruments. Great for Bollywood and rock, and equally at home for voice calls and movies. The soundstage, or the perception of the space in the audio, is decent as well. The design is rather unique – the earbuds are much larger than one normally expects from a true wireless pair, so they tend to stick out of the ears a bit, but they are surprisingly comfortable and balanced in wear for their size. The case is well built and has a satisfying feel to its operation. The bonus about the design is that these buds are IPX4 rated for water resistance, which makes these workout- and rain-friendly. Battery life is a stellar 9+ hours of use, and the case provides one additional charge.
Cons: Let’s be clear – the WF-XB700 are still in a lower-to-mid-premium price segment, so those looking at offerings from Xiaomi and Realme will find the asking price high. There are some compromises for the price – the headphones lack an equalizer or app connectivity to tune the audio to your liking, and codec support only extends to AAC and SBC, no AptX. No gesture controls or active noise cancellation either – the former is available on cheaper true wireless earphones, and you only get button-based controls on each ear. While fast charge is present – an hour of battery life with a ten-minute charge – a full charge takes well over 2 hours for both buds, and there’s no wireless charging for the case itself.
Realme Buds Q
Price: Rs 1,999
What it is: Realme is on overdrive when it comes to its ecosystem products, particularly its audio offerings. Close on the heels of the Buds Air and Buds Air Neo come the Buds Q, the first ‘non-AirPod-clone’ (yes, that had to be said!) true wireless earbuds from the brand, and its most affordable yet. The Buds Q scores high on sound quality and is a solid option if you’re looking for a true wireless pair without breaking the bank, even when compared to the insanely fierce competition.
Pros: Unlike the Buds Air that preceded it, the Buds Q take a fresh approach to design, in collaboration with industrial designer Jose Levy. Name dropping aside, the outcome is completely worth the tie-up – the earphones have this very ‘pebble-like’ quality about them and there’s a subdued sense of elegance that is rare in this price segment. That hint of the trademark Realme yellow on the inside of the ear tips is almost like an Easter-egg you discover when you pull these out of the box, but what’s super surprising is that each earbud weighs just 3.6g! Yep, that’s right – these things are so light you stop feeling the weight once you slip them on, and the in-ear-canal fit seals out the outside noise as well.
Slip these on, and the 10mm drivers pipe out clean, detailed yet incredibly balanced sound into your ears. The sound is better tuned than what I saw on the Buds Air Neo/Buds Air, and even edges past the Redmi Earbuds S true wireless pair alongside which the Buds Q is priced. SBC/AAC codec support is impressive for its price, as is the IPX4 water resistance for the buds.
Cons: Micro-USB port for charging case feels dated on a pair of earbuds that look so modern. Touch zones on earbuds are small and fidgety, so you’d be best advised to use the smartphone controls. Connectivity to the phone is via the Realme Link app but there’s only so much you can customize via the app – no equalizer as yet. No battery level indicators on the case, and battery life is middling at just under 4 hours of use (on low volumes, plus the case adds about 11 hours more of use), but it’s a minor niggle in something priced at under two grands.
Oppo Enco M31
Price: Rs 1,999
What it is: If true wireless is not your style, the Oppo Enco M31 are hands down the best sounding neckband style Bluetooth earphones you can buy on a sub-2,000 budget, even handily displacing my current recommendation (OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z).
Pros: Slipping these on, you’d do a double take (as I did) for the sound you’re getting for the price. The M31 operates in the audio quality territory that one would expect from cans three times as much – the audio signature is balanced and there is a lack of distortion at high audio levels, but flick the switch and you can enjoy the deeper beats and added punch courtesy the bass mode. What’s even more interesting is that the M31 supports LDAC audio, a rarity at this price point where SBC/AAC rule the roost. Design too is premium, but you have to want the neckband style form factor – some love it, others don’t. The benefit, as with most neckband style earbuds is that switching off the earbuds is as easy as taking them off and magnetically attaching the two buds together, a rather popular way of wearing these when you’re out and about. And if you get caught in a spot of rain, the IPX5 rating is a welcome bonus.
Cons: The M31 are light at 22 grams and can be easily stowed away and carried around, but there’s no carrying case for added safety. Occasionally latency issues while gaming on the phone. Battery life is a good 10+ hours on a single charge, but the nearly 20 hours one saw on the Bullets Wireless Z still stands as the gold standard.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar