There is no time better than today to be alone in a crowd. One can be on a bus, metro, or train, waiting at an airport or just wading through a crowd, and all one needs to do is simply plug in their wireless earpieces and switch off from the reality that surrounds you.
A survey recently highlighted that no other feature has found more takers than just this one: Active Noise Cancellation. Even more than waterproofing, longer battery life, size, fit or functions, people are lining up quickest for something that immerses them in impenetrable silence. Can’t blame them really, considering how the world today is nothing but a cacophonous cauldron and one often pays top dollar to escape to the serenity of the hills or the beaches all in an effort to drown out the humdrum of quotidian existence. ANC, by contrast then, is not only cheaper, it is also more practical.
But it is an expensive tech, not to mention complicated and not everyone gets it right. Also, a mention must be made for passive noise cancellation where, unlike ANC which uses a contrasting wave to negate the background hum, just the fit and closure assist in killing a significant percentage of the background noise.
Without further ado then, here are a few Headphones/Wireless earphones/Truly wireless earphones (TWE) that I have been toying with over the past few months and found worthy of sharing with you.
A caveat before we start, I know there is no upper limit to how much audiophiles can shell out on such gear but to me, that limit is very clearly defined by two factors: the size: (A) the size of my wallet and (B) the size of my audio files for if they are highly compressed formats, then beyond a certain amount of spend, I am only going to hear distortion and racket.
Master & Dynamic MW60
Possibly the most impressive set of cans I own and definitely the most expensive. A contemporary yet retro take on things, they manage balance and range only too well. What they lack in size – being somewhat chunky and heavy and large to accommodate – they make up in comfort; I have had them on for hours on end sans complaint. Bluetooth connectivity with minimal loss, audio-sharing and noise isolation might seem all standard but it’s their design, quality of material and finish that truly knocks it out of the park.
V-Moda Crossfade 2
This used to be my favourite pair at one point as also with some of the top DJs around the world, and it remains the statement piece that carries even more cred than a pair of Beats by Dre. The sound signature was crisp with a rich bass-line, the isolation was good enough for the mixing table in a large club and the connectivity was pretty reliable, but their iconic hexagon shape which made them instantly recognisable was also, for me, a source of long-duration wear discomfort.
Marshall Major II
They keep launching a new iteration with minimal changes (or so it seems) but if you like good, old-school rock, then these babies are tuned in to deliver the best experience. From their looks to build quality, it is all about the retro-rock era. The speakers are admittedly better engineered than these but for the price, I think they are a great set of headphones which marry looks with sound. Black ones with pale gold trims always look the best.
Skullcandy Crusher ANC
This pair is somewhat bizarre. They have decent sound but almost no bass, that is, until you realise there is a physical slide switch on the cans which not only induces mind-thumping bass, but even notches it up to a point that he headphones start vibrating like a PS4 controller. Maybe I am out of touch with what music heads want today but this was definitely not my idea of bass-head gear. They pack in all the expected features in a fairly slick lightweight (but plastic-y) package albeit at a slightly hefty price.
Jabra Elite 45e
The wired version of one of Jabra’s first Bluetooth earphones has a double mic system and is one of my favourite performers for calls when on the move. All others mentioned here come a distant second to this pair in that regard. The sound otherwise is pretty clean, the highs are crisp, and the lows are deep even if not entirely distinct. Durable setup, non-tangling wire, an absolute workhorse for the price.
Optoma Nuforce BE Sport4
This is my go-to set for all sporty activities. I sweat a lot and somehow have ears built to make all sorts slip out after the first kilometre. These ones stay put and isolate noise brilliantly. They are also sweatproof which really helps. And they have super performance on the music front (Graphene drivers), loud and generous with rich highs and lush lows. A great battery which has lasted me entire marathons makes them the best pair for sports earphones I have tried.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
These have been the best all-round TWEs I have used this year. Ticking all boxes from a snug fit, decent battery life, and balanced sound to even wireless charging, they are simply unbeatable for the price.
Jabra Elite 65t Active
Another popular TWE set but they run a bit big in size so someone with small ears may find them a bit bulky and unwieldy. Also, their sound signature was almost too bright, as if saccharine sweet. While the Jabra app allows you to tune the sound, as also control the amount of background that it lets pass through, it was still not entirely ideal. Mic quality on calls is average and the protruded shape of the buds which houses the mic doesn’t do much to improve that. The controls on the buds aren’t touch-sensitive so a bit tawdry to use. Apart from that, they pack in good battery and noise isolation, fairly sturdy in build quality and connectivity.
These are a modest set, decent sound, good battery, easy to pair and a small footprint. The battery indicator strip on the case is a nice touch. They even have some controls on the panels but they aren’t haptic and require physical pressing which can be a bit of discomfort. Overall, not bad for the price.
Riversong Air X5 Plus
These are indistinguishable from Airpods unless you are holding both in your hand simultaneously for comparison. That said, the similarities don’t extend much further. For one, these are much more affordable (and definitely work better with an Android phone than Airpods would) but their sound quality isn’t all up there. The touch controls are over-sensitive and a bit of a nuisance at times as even if one gently brushes past, the music stops abruptly. But for that price tag, their performance is more than satisfactory. Definitely not one for the audiophiles but rather for someone who wants a set of decently performing TWEs without dropping serious dosh on them.