Are Earbuds The Most In-Demand Accessory Of The Year?
Wires are passé. That might be the one thing you’ve gleaned after months of COVID-induced online meetings and school reunions. While the cameras on our devices are often angled to bring background bookshelves (with hand-picked books that you may not have read yet) or cleverly placed objets d’art into Zoom screens, the one visible prop that has become almost ubiquitous in video calls is a pair of wireless bluetooth earbuds. Gentlemen who pair designer jackets with “out of frame” boxers have discovered that even a vivacious pocket square may not distract from a clumsy set of wires.
Not everyone has chosen to make the switch, however. Delhi-based Divya Dureja, a spoken word poet and psychologist, likes to steer clear of trends. She still clings to her first-gen iPhone SE and her wired accessories. She prefers padded over-the-ear headphones for music and uses conventional wired earphones for calls. The pandemic hasn’t changed her preferences; she’s run over 30 live webinars with her wired headphones and doesn’t mind being judged. “The best part – I don’t have to worry about charging them,” she says.
It’s fair to say that Apple’s AirPods were the catalyst for the rise of Bluetooth earbuds. In 2016, many were initially miffed by the decision to omit the 3.5-mm headphone socket from the iPhone 7.; AirPods instantly became one of the most trolled devices, sparking a wave of displeasure and memes. But as more brands began ditching the conventional headphone jack and more users discovered the convenience of these featherlight earbuds, we’ve almost forgotten our entanglements with wires – even if we were first caught off guard when they swiftly fell into the pile of outdated (though not yet obsolete) gadgets.
Film critic Mayank Shekhar was among those who weren’t pleased with this trend. Seen doing video interviews with his wired earphones firmly in place, he finds it cumbersome to charge multiple devices and also believes that tiny earbuds are easy to misplace. But Shekhar feels the extended WFH scenario has now made it easier for users to keep their earbuds charged, compared to a time when we were always on-the-go.
Kolkata-based drummer-producer Jivraj Singh, one half of dream pop duo Parekh & Singh, switched over to wireless headphones early on. Noise cancellation is a key purchase driver for the musician; Singh invested in Bose’s over-the-ear headphones for music and the AirPods for calls. He’s recently upgraded to AirPods Pro and uses them to check out his band’s newest tracks – “It’s something I do because I know most of our music will eventually be heard on earbuds”.
Aside from convenience and great sound quality, battery life has seen big leaps too. All reasons why these have gone from a non-essential to a no-brainer in 2020.
How to pick the earbuds that work for you:
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Design: there are two things to bear in mind here: the case and the earbuds that sit in your ears. Look for a case that slips easily into those pant pockets or a small-sized bags when you’re headed out. You can choose between buds with stems and without silicon tips (like the second-gen Apple AirPods) and buds like the AirPods Pro or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless that come with removable tips (in different sizes) that offer better insulation.
Power management: battery life is a key consideration, especially if you’re in back-to-back online meetings. Look for earbuds that offer at least 20 hours of battery life (with the case). Also, consider the charging cycles of the case or how quickly you can power up your earphones. Wireless charging is a handy feature. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers a feature called Wireless PowerShare or “reverse charging feature” which you can use to charge devices that support wireless charging.
Call quality: if you’re more likely to use your earbuds for calls (over music) look for ones that offer active noise-cancelling microphones or dual mics that deliver better call quality.
Sound quality: there are two elements to this variable – active noise cancellation (ANC) and the actual audio experience. Bluetooth earbuds from Sennheiser, Bose and Apple (more specifically, the AirPods Pro) score on their acoustics while quite a few brands like Apple, Sony and Huawei offer active noise cancellation that cuts you off from external sounds. Just what you need to immerse yourself in your playlist.
Apple AirPods Pro
The first prompt you’ll see while setting up your AirPods Pro is to take the “fit test”. Thankfully, this one doesn’t involve a treadmill; it tests the ear tip seal and also identifies the best ear tip size (you can choose from small, medium and large), to provide the perfect fit. The AirPods Pro handles calls and the deep bass notes from your playlist with equal aplomb. Apple has also added a cool new “spatial audio” feature in a recent update; it’s just what you need when you binge watch Dark on your phone or tab. We’re hoping that Apple will bring the Apple Engraving service (that allows you to add your initials or even an emoji to your AirPods case ) to India soon. (Rs 24,900)
Sennheiser CX 400BT
In terms of sheer sound quality, Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 are probably the earbuds to beat. The CX 400BT delivers the same stellar audio quality as the Momentum thanks to Sennheiser’s 7-mm drivers with deep bass, natural mids and very detailed treble. They miss out on a couple of features like ANC but deliver an audio experience that most audiophiles will approve of at a price tag that’s lower than its older sibling. (Rs 16,990)
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
This one wins my vote for its funky, almost audacious design. In a world full of very similar looking earbuds, Samsung’s 2020 buds – that might remind you of jelly beans – chart a new design course. They rest securely inside your ears and are comfortable to wear for long durations. These earbuds ace calls thanks to a dual mic system with noise cancellation. (Rs 14,990)
Huawei FreeBuds 3
These AirPods lookalikes come with marginally longer stems but sit easy in your ears. The pebble-shaped case is a nice design touch and stands out in a world full of square and rectangle earbuds cases. The headline feature of the FreeBuds 3 is noise cancellation. (Rs 12,990)
Skullcandy Indy Fuel
The design language makes a connection with Skullcandy’s sporty origins in the ski slopes of Utah, USA – the rubber accents on top of the buds are a cool element. Wireless charging is a useful feature at this sticker price and so is the built-in support for Tile (via the companion app, that allows you to track your earbuds in case you lose them under a cushion. (Rs 6,999)
The brand’s first-ever true wireless earbuds deliver great value and punch above their weight and price tag in terms of sound quality. The refined matt finish of the charging case and the funky blue colour variant, along with the 30-hour battery life, are other big pluses. (Rs 4,990)
Ashwin Rajagopalan blogs at ashwinpowers.com
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