Ameya DalviDec 31, 2020 11:00:49 IST
This was the year the budget True Wireless (TWS) earphones truly evolved. The TWS revolution started with Apple launching their first Airpods at the end of 2016, and capturing people’s imaginations. As with all Apple products, the price tag was beyond the reach of the majority, and as expected, there was an attack of the clones soon after from various brands. Despite being more affordable, most of those products were too nascent to spend your hard-earned money on. In fact, even at the start of this year, I remember suggesting buying a wireless neckband instead for better sound quality. But not anymore!
From limitations on sound quality to latency issues to insufficient battery backup, everything seems to be a thing of the distant past. We now have products under Rs 7,500, and all the way down to less than Rs 2,000 that can go neck-and-neck with their wireless neckband counterparts, and also give the Airpods a run for their money. We happened to test dozens of TWS buds this year, and after factoring in performance, features, battery life and other aspects, we have shortlisted a select few that we believe are the best TWS earbuds under Rs 7,500 this year.
Before we proceed, a quick word on how we go about objectively evaluating something that’s largely subjective — sound quality. There is generally no one-size-fits-all solution in audio products. Some may prefer bass-heavy sound, while others may give vocal clarity and detail in audio a higher preference; nothing wrong with either. What we as audio reviewers look for in these products, is the capability to reproduce each of the three frequency ranges (lows, mids and highs) with a good degree of clarity, along with a good balance between the three to make the sound output enjoyable for the listener. Now, let’s see who made the cut this year.
Best TWS Earbuds of 2020 under Rs 7,500
The Lypertek Tevi (Review) is probably the only pair of TWS earbuds that manage to produce close to a neutral sound signature in this budget. The mids and highs are handled wonderfully well with great detail in sound, and the lows aren’t boosted like in case of most earphones. The soundstage is quite good too, and so is the instrument separation. These earphones are not meant for those who like thumping bass, but crave sound clarity and finer detail.
These TWS earbuds are well-built and IPX7-rated water resistant. The call quality is pretty good too. But their best feature is the battery life. On a full charge, they go on for a shade over 8 hours at 70-75 percent volume level on Qualcomm’s aptX codec. What’s even better is that the accompanying case can charge them 6 times over, taking the overall battery backup in excess of 55 hours, which is outstanding. With so much going in its favour, it wasn’t too hard to pick the Lypertek Tevi in our list of best budget TWS earphones of 2020.
Soundcore Liberty 2
It was an extremely close contest between the Soundcore Liberty 2 and the Creative Outlier Air, with fairly similar sound signatures. They are evenly matched when it comes to sound quality, battery life, IPX5 rating and support for Qualcomm’s aptX codecs too. What eventually tilted the scales in favour of the former was better design, ergonomics and call quality. The multifunction button is placed at the side, and doesn’t push the buds into the ear when you press it. 90 percent of wireless earbuds with physical buttons get this part wrong.
The sound output is pleasantly warm, with a good amount of bass that’s tight and doesn’t overshadow the mids much. The vocals are clear, most instruments can be distinctly heard, and the highs are sharp enough without causing fatigue. There is good detail in sound with a fairly broad soundstage. Battery life is good too, with the buds clocking close to 7.5 hours on a full charge and about 30 hours with the case. The Soundcore Liberty 2 covers most of the bases, and its sound is bound to impress a broader audience looking for a good balance between thumping bass and sound clarity. Hence, one of the best TWS earbuds of 2020 in our opinion.
Amazfit PowerBuds (Review) are the most unique and innovative TWS earbuds of 2020. They don’t just capture the beats in your audio but also of your heart. In other words, these IP55-rated dust- and water-resistant earbuds come with fitness tracking features thanks to a built-in PPG heart rate sensor for monitoring your heart rate during workouts. The information is relayed to a smartphone app that then calculates fitness stats like intensity of workout and calories burned. Music and fitness activities often go hand in hand, and it was a great idea to combine the two in one tiny package.
Extra features aside, the primary job of an earphone is to sound good, and that they do. The sound quality of these buds is quite lively, and though not perfectly neutral, it is quite enjoyable in a wide variety of music genres. All three frequency ranges are reproduced pretty well with no particular range given undue boost. The bass is punchy, there’s good clarity in vocals with decent instrument separation, and the highs have sufficient sparkle without sounding sibilant. There is ample detail and good balance in the overall sound output. If you do not like the default sound profile, the Zepp app provides you with a 10-band equaliser to finetune it further.
The battery life is impressive too, with the buds clocking over 8 hours despite the fitness tracking, while the case can charge them twice more taking the total battery backup close to 25 hours. The buds are comfortable to wear and have touch controls that can be configured from the app. You can assign up to two different tasks for each bud to be performed when you double or triple-tap them. The Amazfit PowerBuds are loaded with features and have a well-rounded sound output to go with it; a sure-shot winner.
Creative Outlier Air
Best TWS Earbuds of 2020 under Rs 5,000
Oppo Enco W51 and Realme Buds Air Pro
If the choice between the Liberty 2 and Outlier Air was tough, the one between Oppo Enco W51 and Realme Buds Air Pro was even tougher. Their feature set is evenly matched offering functional active noise cancellation, touch controls and wear detection. The Oppo pair goes a step further with support for wireless charging, but the Realme buds have better battery backup. While there is more detail in the sound output of the former, the overall sound is a tad too bright for comfort. In case of the latter, despite slightly lesser detail, the overall sound signature is a lot more pleasant, and will appeal to a much broader audience looking to buy TWS buds in this budget.
The Oppo Enco W51 are certainly more comfortable to wear and have better call quality, but the Realme Buds Air Pro have lower latency, much better controls and customisation, courtesy of the Realme Link app. They sport a similar price tag too, and depending on your needs and taste in sound, one of the two will appeal to you more than the other. As you can see, it is still hard for us to choose a clear winner between the two. Hence, we decided to call it a tie, and include both the earbuds in our list of best TWS under Rs 5,000 this year.
OnePlus Buds Z
After two rather underwhelming audio releases this year, OnePlus pulled an ace out of the pack towards the end of this year. The OnePlus Buds Z are not just loaded with features that you don’t expect to see for a selling price of Rs 2,999, but also have the performance to match, and even exceed their higher-priced siblings, the OnePlus Buds. These IP55-rated TWS buds are extremely comfortable to wear with an excellent fit. You get wear detection and limited, but responsive touch controls for audio playback.
The sound quality is excellent for the segment, with tight and punchy bass, sharp vocals with more than decent instrument separation and detail. There is sufficient sparkle in the highs to lend a nice balance to the overall sound output. The call quality is quite good too, and the overall battery life stands close to 18 hours with the case. All this translates into excellent value for money, and hence, a well-deserved spot among the best of this year.