All of us really hated wires it seems, because ever since Apple introduced the AirPods back in December 2016, it has been raining true wireless stereo (TWS) options in the market. Unlike headphones or earphones where the basic structure of the device remains the same and the real distinguishable factor is sound and price (and maybe the odd design nuance), there are a number of aspects that differentiate one pair of truly wireless earbuds from another.
This can make selecting the right TWS a real challenge because there are so many options in the market at the moment and each pair is completely different from the other. And of course, many of them come with their own sets of headaches and shortcomings (check our piece). So, if you are someone who has not boarded the TWS train yet and needs some help in selecting the right pair, here are eight things you should keep in mind. Audio quality and price, of course, are the two most obvious parameters while selecting any audio product, but these eight criteria will help you make a “sound” decision regardless of what your budget is. We are assuming that you want the best sound in that price bracket (safe assumptions to make always).
1. Design: On the ear or in the ear…get that fit right
One of the things that separate the mighty TWS from routine earphones is that they come in various different shapes, sizes, and designs, something that does not happen very often in case of other earphones. This is why whenever you are shopping for truly wireless earbuds, you should always consider whether the design of the buds suits your lifestyle or fits your reason behind the buy. There are buds like the AirPods 2 and Realme Buds Air that just sit in your ears, then there are the ones that go deep into your ear cavity and get settled like the Jabra Elite 75T and the AirPods Pro. There are still others or the ones that come with hook support to keep your buds in place like the PowerBeats Pro and the Bose SoundSport Free.[techcntentad name=”box”]
You have to keep in mind that the buds that just hang in your ears like the AirPods 2 are more comfortable to wear over a prolonged period of time but fall out very easily while doing anything remotely fast-paced. On the other hand, the ones that fit deep into your ears or come with ear support might start hurting your ears if used for long intervals but have a better chance of staying put if you are looking for an audio partner while gyming or going out for a run. If you go for buds that fit into your ear canal, make sure you choose a set with eartips of different sizes.
2. Case: Carrying your sound…and charging it too
It is not just the design of the buds that matters when it comes to TWS. The design of the case is just as important because, in most (read ‘almost all’) of the cases (pun so unintended), the case is not just used to carry the buds along but also acts as their charger. If the case is big and bulky, it might be able to offer you more battery (more of that later) but portability will definitely take a hit.
You have to choose a pair of buds that come with a case that you can easily slip into your pocket, else you lose out on the convenience factor that is a key component of the TWS experience. This is important because true wireless earbuds, as the name suggests, have no wires connecting them with each other or with your device, which makes them really susceptible to getting lost. And if you lose one of the buds, the other pretty much becomes useless, so keeping them in that case and keeping that case handy is of paramount importance.
You also have to pay attention to how well the case houses the buds and whether or not they fit right in when you put them in. You cannot have a case where you have to precisely put the buds back every time because that increases the chances of the buds falling out if you have not placed them correctly even once or their not getting charged! The best ones hold the buds in magnetically which ensures that the earbuds do not fall out even if you have left the case open by mistake. Some cases flip open, some slide open – what you choose depends on your preference. Whatever you opt for, try to make sure that the case is relatively easy to open without too much effort (classically, being open to flip it open with one hand is best).
3. UI: Pairing, tap, buttons, gestures
UI is a factor that separates a good pair of TWS from a bad one. You could have the greatest sound, a terrific form factor, and the snuggest fit but if you do not have a clean, user-friendly interface, it can all go down the drain pretty easily. How easy it is to pair the buds, how they connect to a paired device, how clean are the gesture controls, if there are any…everything that helps you use the buds matters. The pairing process and the connecting process has to be easy. You cannot have a pair of truly wireless earbuds and still be struggling with the pairing – after all, TWS buds exist to make life easier.
There are earbuds that have a master-slave relationship where one of the buds is the brain and gives orders while the other one just follows its lead. In such cases, you have to see how well the buds communicate with each other and not just with the device they are paired to. Then there are the controls themselves – some TWS come with tiny buttons all over them, some have a single touch button while others have a touch panel and support gestures (swiping, tapping, etc.). There is no single system that works best – a lot depends on the implementation, so keep in mind where you will be using the buds and how often you will need to reach for the controls!
Remember, the earbuds with the best UI will make you more independent of your phone and will allow you to do more with the buds themselves. If you have to reach out to your phone every time you have to skip a track or customize volume then the purpose of having truly wireless earbuds is truly lost. Some TWS also come with apps that help you manage the buds or customize the sound – you can consider those if you like to personalize your sound and make it your own.
4. Calling: Mic check…1, 2, 3…
For most people, TWS is not just about how well the earbuds handle bass and treble but also about how well they handle calling. So you have to consider the calling aspect of the earbuds – and remember that along with the audio coming in, the audio going out is just as important. If you are investing in a pair of truly wireless earbuds, they have to have microphones that are not only good but are also placed in the right position which does not make it struggle for the other person to hear what you are saying while on call. Generally, the closer to your mouth the microphones are, the better you are likely to sound to whoever you are conversing with.
Also, the more microphones you have, the merrier. Many TWS also come with environmental noise cancellation (nothing to do with ANC, which we will tackle later) which can minimize external noises during phone calls, but a lot depends here on how it has been executed -just the presence of environmental noise cancellation does not guarantee clear calls!
5. Dust and water resistance: Get ready to not be sweated out (at least)
You should consider getting a pair of true wireless buds that at least come with sweat resistance and basic dust resistance. And that is not just because you might wear them to the gym or on the road, but for the simple reason that all true wireless earbuds fall out (yes, they do, live with it). Some more than others but they all do and because they do, it becomes more need than greed that they come with some sort of resistance against dust and water – else every fall will spell doom.
6. Battery life: Charge and recharge…out of the box and in the box
To live the wire-free life, TWS come with battery life of their own in order to stay alive and connected to our devices. The battery life on both, the earbuds and the case is obviously very important. The buds’ battery life will decide how long they can stay alive while going through an audio session and the case’s battery life will decide how often you can charge up your buds again before you have to plug the case itself back to a wall.
Brands have also been including support for fast charge and wireless charging feature when it comes to the case and while fast charging is always a major plus, wireless charging is often slow which might make you want to switch back to wires, making the feature more of a futuristic one than a present one. Just remember that having a lot of battery in the buds is important but the more battery they have, the longer they take to get charged. And you know the funny thing about TWS? You cannot use them while they are charging (they are in the case!).
7. Bluetooth connectivity: Overcoming distances and walls
With no wires in the picture, Bluetooth connectivity becomes the top priority for any TWS earbuds to get right. While most buds come with Bluetooth 5.0 support, we have noticed that many buds have a better, stronger connection with the device than the others. While choosing a pair of TWS, do try and find out if the connection is strong between the buds and device and that it does not drop abruptly or because walls come in between them and the device. This can really make or break the deal for anyone looking for a decent TWS experience – what’s the point of having a wireless device if you are going to have to end up sitting close to the device?
8. ANC: To cancel or just keep out
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is the fancy feature that everyone wants but not everyone needs. And if you are someone who does not really need it (read our piece to find out if you do need it. Or not), steering clear might help you save some real bucks. The feature not only costs money but also drains the battery. Because many TWS fit in your ear (apart from the ones that just hang in), they generally offer good passive noise cancellation (if they fit really well) and block out most ambient noise as it is. But if you are someone who would want to enjoy their music even in the noisiest environment then we would suggest you get the buds with ANC support. But if noise isolation works well for you, we would suggest you save the bucks and go ahead with the ones that fit snugly in your ears.