Finally, Bluetooth Earbuds that Don’t Suck!

I’ve never written about bluetooth headphones here, and for good reason…they suck. (At least in my experience). I’ve tried quite a few, everything from the super cheap to the higher end. So far my reaction to them has been “meh”. They just don’t sound good enough or work reliably enough to justify the additional cost.

Think about the purpose of bluetooth earbuds; headphones without wires. It seems simple enough, but like so many other things today (smartphones, for example), in order to get one convenience, it seems like you have to give up a bunch of features.

You’d think when designing bluetooth earbuds, one of the goals would be to make them sound fairly good. Sure, you’re going to lose a bit of sound quality to get rid of those pesky wires, but they should be close, right?  Well, not so much. Most of the wireless buds I’ve tried have been tinny, noticeably lacking in bass, and much quieter than standard, wired headphones.

Which brings me to CES. I was walking around, taking in the insanity of it all, looking for products that piqued my interest. I happened upon a booth with the tag line “Wireless Headphones Reinvented”. The brand was crazybaby, and the claim got my attention. So I listened in while they showed off some of the headphones for a few attendees.  After noticing the universal “Wow!” faces on everyone who tried them, I stepped up and started asking questions. I spoke with “James”. James knew his product.  I had many questions, and I liked the answers I was getting. Then, he let me try them (after wiping them down, of course). The first thing I noticed was the fit. You insert each bud as you would an earplug, then turn it until it “locks” into position. Both buds had a perfect, secure fit.  Even in the middle of the chaotic noise of CES, they did a great job of blocking everything out. James played some music for me, and I had to admit they sounded fantastic. Plenty of bass, clear sound, and no hiccups. My last pair of bluetooth earbuds had suffered from pretty much no bass, tinny sound, and regular interruptions. Nothing like that here.

James gave me the skinny on everything from how they made them sound so great (blah, blah, carbon nanotube tech gobbledygook…whatever, dude, I heard it on Star Trek), battery life, retail pricing, and even color options.

air-sound
Tell me that doesn’t look like the inside of a phaser.

After a little more conversation, he decided he could spare a pair for me to test (handing out samples isn’t something they do commonly) and we agreed I’d give them an honest testing and review.

Out of the Box

The buds I received are the “Air” model, which I was told are the higher end ones. They come in black or white with a silver case, and have the superior bass capability (as well as the superior price tag). The less expensive “Air-nano” apparently are almost as good (but don’t have quite the same bass), and come in your choice of 10 cool colors (with a white case).

The box is reminiscent of an iphone box; white, sleek, and simple. Included are the earbuds in their case (which is also the charger…more on that later), a getting started pamphlet, a bunch of different sized rubber buds (for pretty much any size ear), and a USB-C cable for charging.

The Case/Charger

Ok, let’s get this out of the way right now; the case is a bit…risque. I showed it to several people and the initial reaction to the case ranged from “um, that’s kinda dirty looking” to “That looks like a…(let’s just say ‘adult’ toy)”. Not sure if that was planned, but the result is definitely a conversation starter.

IMG_20180121_165951303
I mean…what would YOU say that looks like?

I was a bit hesitant to take these to work, if only for the fact that anyone seeing me with the case might have some questions, and I didn’t feel like explaining to HR that no, really, they were just headphones.

The case has a built-in battery, so you can charge your earbuds a couple of times in it without plugging into a USB port.  It charges through a USB-C cable. The buds fit snugly in their charging positions, thanks to a magnetic connection, and they flash blue while charging.

An LED at the end of the case lets you know the status of the internal battery.

air_charger

Getting Started

Once the buds are charged, you hold down the button on each one until the light comes on (as they’re completely separate, they’re powered separately). It’s difficult to tell when the light does come on, though, since your finger is covering the button.  That’s something I’ve come across in other products too; the LED is on the button that you use to turn it on, so it’s a little hard to tell when it’s lit.

IMG_20180121_170109170
“Um, I’ve been holding this button down for ten minutes and I still don’t see a light”

Each bud’s LED button gives some control. Obviously, a single button on each side doesn’t give you much to play with, but you can play/pause by tapping the right button, and skip by tapping the left one.

As I mentioned, the fit is flawless. I used the default rubber pieces and they gave a tight fit in my ears. The buds blocked out everything.

Pairing

Once they’re powered on, you just go to your device (an Android phone in this case) and look at the available devices.  They show up as “Air by crazybaby” so they’re easy to find. I’ve used bluetooth headphones in the past that are listed by their model number, which is annoying. It’s nice to have these listed with an obvious name.

That’s all there is to it. From this point on, you just use them as you would any headphones.

The Audio Book Test

For the first test, I decided to look at both sound quality and battery life. So I chose an audio book. This particular audio book had a run time of over eight hours, so the buds would be dead long before the end.

As with the demo at CES, the sound quality was excellent. The bass was surprising and impressive. Billy Crystal’s voice (“Still Foolin’ ’em” is an awesome book) came through loud and clear. I listened in several different environments, and in all cases the buds did a great job of blocking outside noise.

As for battery life, at approximately two and a half hours the batteries gave out. I know this because Billy Crystal was mid-sentence when a loud tone startled me, and then nothing. In the past, my battery powered earbuds have either just stopped working, or as the battery got closer to zero, would have progressively worse performance. Not the case here. These buds were clear and strong, right up to the point where they just stopped. Not sure I love the loud tone, but it was nice to have them at full performance up to the end of the battery.

I removed the buds and popped them into the case, hoping nobody saw me with it so I didn’t have to explain what the case wasn’t. I came back to them later and started up again with the audio book. I got about two and a half recharges off the case’s battery.

I should make mention that it was during this test when I had my one and only hiccup with the headphones. I was standing next to some vending machines, with several people in the room, when the right bud lost audio for about one second. The audio returned and I had no further issues. I returned to that same location several times, but I couldn’t get the drop to repeat. I never did figure out what the issue was, but after several days I haven’t seen (or rather heard) it again.

The Music Test

Next I tried out the buds with music. I went through a playlist of everything from classical to The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. I used them at home, at work, and at the gym. In all cases, the music sounded exactly right; strong bass when it was needed, and crystal clear everything else.  These buds easily beat out the wired buds I normally use at the gym, and they did a much better job of blocking out external noise at the gym.

It’s been a while since I tried the Apple buds, but I’d say these sound and fit better.

The Audio Sync Test

Here’s the bread & butter for me. Audio books and music are great, but I wanted to know how they’d do watching video. How well would they perform sitting through a movie on a flight? Or even in your living room when you wanted to be the only one listening to the TV? One issue I have with an older pair of Bluetooth headphones is lag.  When watching video, I would hear the audio a fraction of a second after what was onscreen. It was pretty distracting to have the voices just slightly out of sync. I hoped these would do better.

I played a few clips off of Youtube first, and unfortunately these buds suffer from the same out-of-sync audio issue as the others I’ve tried. While the audio quality was great, it was out-of-sync with the video just enough to be distracting. This is just a bluetooth thing, apparently. If you Google “bluetooth audio out of sync” you’ll find a number of solutions, but out of the box the solution seems to be “don’t use bluetooth to watch videos”. There are players out there that let you adjust playback by tiny increments in order to sync the sound up, but I’m mainly looking at this from the perspective of someone who just bought these and doesn’t want to spend hours on Google finding a solution. So, again, I can’t blame the headphones as it’s a common problem.

Call Quality

I tested phone call quality by…well, by calling a bunch of people.  While all could hear me fine, several people complained that they could hear their own voice echoed back to them. I’d had this same complaint from callers when using other bluetooth devices (earbuds and headsets) in the past, so this may once again just be a bluetooth issue.

The caller came through only on the left bud. This is apparently by design. I was able to answer calls by tapping the button on the right bud, which is also the play/pause button for audio. So for phone calls, the buds (or at least one of them) work, with some common bluetooth issues.

The Price

One last consideration is the price. At CES I asked where these were available and I was told that the higher end pair (the ones I tested) are currently available for $169, with the less expensive model (which comes in several colors) to be sold soon for around $100.  As a “budget tech” kind of guy, those prices are pretty steep.  The last pair of bluetooth headphones I bought were about $20. Granted, they didn’t perform anywhere near as well as these. But jumping from $20 to $169 is quite a leap.  I suppose the old saying holds true; you get what you pay for. in terms of audio quality, design, fit, and function I can easily see where that extra money goes. Still, for the cost-conscious, these might be a tough sell.

Conclusions

If you’re looking for some sexy earbuds with high-end sound quality, and can afford the price, these buds are a great choice. For listening to music or audio books, it’s going to be hard to find wireless buds that sound this good. The on-bud controls are simple and functional.

I can’t fully recommend using them for watching video due to the out-of-sync audio issue. It’s common among bluetooth devices, and is fixable with various workarounds, but you won’t be able to enjoy a movie without some tweaking. If you don’t mind the tweaking to get everything synced up, you’ll be rewarded with some seriously great audio for your movie.

They do the job for phone calls, but only on one side, and you may find the person on the other end hears as much of themselves as they do you.

For pure audio goodness, these are fantastic. I’ve never heard bass like this from wireless earbuds.  Crazybaby did something very right with this design.

 

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I'm a self-described technology nut, as well as a writer. That means the only thing I love more than learning about and playing with new technology is writing about it! Techster means "one who techs", and that's me!

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