I like it or hate it, like nothing else, the Apple AirPods are an icon in the true segment of wireless audio playback. Of course, the unique design and styling was imitated by many companies, although most of them were lesser known or unknown brands. Today we're testing a pair of real top brand wireless earbuds that are more like AirPods than anything we've seen before.
The Realme Buds Air is the fourth headphone from the Chinese smartphone and accessory manufacturer and the first real wireless model. Price at Rs. 3,999, the Realme Buds Air look and feel very similar to the Apple AirPods and AirPods (2nd generation), but have a fraction of the price. However, do these affordable AirPods sound as good as the actual AirPods? Read our report to find out.
Realme Buds Air design and specifications
When we said that Realme Buds Air looked very similar to Apple AirPods and AirPods (2nd generation), we meant it that way. From the charging case to the headphones themselves, everything is heavily inspired by Apple's popular real wireless headphones, and the white version is hard to distinguish from the Apple product. You get the same fit for the outer ear, the same capsule shape and the same general aesthetics.
The earplug stems are flat and not rounded like the AirPods, and the Realme Buds Air is available in three different colors – white, black and yellow. Therefore, there are different ways of differentiating the two products at first glance. We had the black version for review, but we think the white option is best if you want people to think you have a pair of AirPods.
The Realme Buds Air has fewer sensors. Only one on the inside of each earbud detects when one or both have been removed to automatically pause music. The charging case is slightly shorter and wider than that of the AirPods and has a pairing button on the front. The bottom of the charger has a USB Type-C port for charging. The earphones have no power switches and are automatically switched off and charge when they are placed in the charging cradle.
Realme has the same minimalist look as the AirPods and there are no logos on the earbuds at all. The loading bag has the "Designed by Realme" lettering on the back. This is the only trademark that can be seen on the product itself. Pairing the headset works similarly to the AirPods. The button must be pressed while the earphones are in the case. Once paired, they automatically connect to the source device when the case is opened.
We found the headphones very comfortable, but like the AirPods, passive noise isolation was poor and there was too much outside noise even at high volume. While the fit is not as secure as with real in-ear headphones, it is adequate for normal use.
The charging case has an LED display on the front that shows the approximate state of charge. Green means everything from 67 percent to full, yellow means 33 percent to 67 percent and red means less than 33 percent. In addition to charging via USB Type C, the housing also supports wireless charging using the Qi standard. You will need to buy a compatible wireless charger for it, or use something you already have. Realme has announced that it will soon launch a 10W wireless charger that will be compatible with Buds Air.
The headphones themselves have no buttons, but do support touch gestures. These were somewhat complicated and difficult to remember and did not always seem to work. Tapping the left earbud three times to skip to the next track often didn't respond, although the same worked better on the right. We often had to try twice or three times to get the desired response from the headphones, which quickly got annoying. The wear detection that stops the music when one of the headphones is removed and continues to play when the headphones are put back on has largely worked well. The volume cannot be adjusted with the headphones and has to be controlled via the source device, which was a little disappointing for us.
When it comes to technical data, the Realme Buds Air is impressive. The earphones each have a dynamic 12 mm driver and Bluetooth 5 for connectivity with support for the Bluetooth codecs SBC and AAC. Realme uses its so-called R1 chip, which is said to improve connection speed and stability. There is also a game mode (which is activated by long pressing on both headphones at the same time), which is said to reduce connection latency at the expense of sound quality. Voice assistants on your phone are also supported. We have found that this works for both Google Assistant and Alexa as well as iOS with Siri on Android.
Realme Buds Air's battery life wasn't as good as we hoped. The earphones ran for about three hours on a full charge, and the case could give them another four full charges for a total of 15 hours of use per charge cycle. Similarly affordable options in the segment offer longer battery life in the case, but the cases are bulky.
Real Buds Air performance
The Realme Buds Air mimics the popular Apple AirPods in many ways. Does it come close to the sound quality? The simple answer is no. While there are a lot of things about this pair of real wireless earbuds that suggest it should cost a lot more than Rs. 3,999 asking price, sound quality is not one of them. We have found that the sound is at eye level and in some cases slightly below average compared to others that sell for about the same price.
We used Realme Buds Air for much of this test with an Android smartphone, although we also tested it with iOS devices and a MacBook Air. The sound quality was the same for all source devices and corresponding music sources. Of course, the best performance was with high-resolution audio tracks, but we didn't see a big loss in quality when using streaming services like Spotify and YouTube Music.
The earphones can be quickly paired, keep a stable connection and can be very loud. The noise, on the other hand, was a bit boring and clear for us. The headphones didn't sound bad, but they weren't particularly good either. There weren't many details to be heard, and the soundstage was two-dimensional and narrow. While certain elements were heard with a certain sense of direction, the sound was simply not enough to emphasize the Realme Buds Air.
The weak noise isolation greatly disturbed the sound quality, as there was always a hint of background noise via the music being played. Increasing the volume when listening to the bass-heavy Flux Pavilion drowned out some noise, but over time this was a bit too loud and too tiring for us. High volumes also tend to highlight part of the drive in the low-end range, which will appeal to bass fans, but not too many others.
That said, the Realme Buds Air have an acoustic signature that is tuned for the most common music nowadays and increases the low and high frequencies with a moderate dip in the middle. When we switched to the lively Hold Back Love by Kraak and Smaak, we enjoyed the sound, but the lack of anything special beyond the punchy bass hits made for a normal listening experience. There was nothing to complain about here either, but nothing worth praising either.
Listening to a high resolution version of Azari's Reckless With Your Love has improved the listening experience a little more detail than we had when listening to songs on Spotify and YouTube Music. However, this still made Realme Buds Air not as engaging and appealing as comparable products like the Leaf Pods. Basically, there is bass and harmless sound, but not enough detail or character.
As a hands-free headset, Realme Buds Air does a great job, and we had no problems with voice calls when we used it. There are two microphones on each earphone that can be used to record the wearer's voice. With most calls we were able to hear and hear clearly. We could only use one of the earphones at a time, with the other in the case. This is a useful feature for voice calls. We also tested the low latency mode with PUBG Mobile Lite. While this reduced the delay in sound somewhat, it was still not as good as with wired headphones.
The Realme Buds Air are designed with a specific aesthetic and function in mind, and there's no denying that these headphones are heavily inspired by the Apple AirPods. This is reflected not only in the design, but also in many functions such as wireless charging, the use of a special wireless chip for connectivity and stability, and touch control. When it comes to sound, Realme Buds Air disappointed us.
The sound is best characterized as boring and simple with very little detail. The sound really doesn't have much to offer, except that the basics are right. What you get is a perfectly normal listening experience, which is not the best thing you can get even at this low price of Rs. 3,999. Realme Buds Air is more about design and functionality than sound quality.
Price: Rs. 3,999
- Good design
- Wireless charging via USB Type C and Qi
- Fast and stable connectivity
- Strong bass
- Dull sound stage, not very detailed
- Touch controls do not always respond
- Average battery life
Reviews (of 5)
- Design / comfort: 4
- Audio quality: 3
- Battery life: 3.5
- Value for money: 4
- Overall: 3.5