Review: 2021/22 Headphone Roundup – Your Music Never Sounded Better
As we emerge from our collective COVID slumber and feel the warmth of the sun on our skin again, it’s a perfect time to update your portable audio solutions.
Thankfully whilst we have been entombed in our homes, engineers across the globe have been hard at work refining their headphones and earphones.
We’ve gathered together six recent entrants and given them a thorough test. This is not a competition however, there are clear winners in our ears.
Six Great Audio Products
|Huawei FreeBuds 4i||JBL LivePro+ TWS||Jabra Elite 3||Bowers & Wilkins PI5||Yamaha TW-E3B||JBL Tune 760NC|
|Playback||10 Hours||7 hours||7 hours||4 hours||6 hours||35 hours|
|Dynamic Range||n/a||20Hz – 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz||10Hz to 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz|
|Water Resistance||IP54 (1m)||IPX4||IP55||n/a||IPX5||n/a|
|Voice Assistant||No||Google & Alexa||Spotify & Alexa||Google & Alexa||Google & Siri||Google & Alexa|
|Battery Case||20 hours||28 hours||28 hours||20 hours||18 hours||n/a|
|Charging||USB-C||Wireless + USB-C||USB-C||Wireless + USB-C||USB-C||USB-C|
|Connected Devices||1||Up to 2||Up to 6||Up to 2||Up to 3||Up to 2|
|Colours||Black or White||Black, Pink, White, or Beige||Lilac, Dark Grey, Beige, or Navy||Black or White||Purple, Green, Grey, Black, Pink, or Blue||Black or White|
|Weight||5.5g (x2) + 36.5g for the case||11.3g (x2) + 48.2g for the case||4.6g (x2) + 33.4g for the case||7g (x2) + 47g for the case||5g (x2) + 37g for the case||220g|
Huawei FreeBuds 4i
Looking like earphones that Austin Powers would use, the FreeBuds 4i from Huawei have I think found a perfect blend of form-factor and performance at a very reasonable price.
The smooth white packaging is a none-to-subtle nod to Apple’s AirPods. The other challenge with the FreeBuds 4i is that you really need to pair them with a Huawei Smartphone or SmartWatch to get the most from them.
Interestingly, the FreeBuds 4i may be the cheapest wireless earphones in this collection however, they have the longest playback time at 10 hours. The ANC is not as sophisticated as others in this review and the sound range – particularly the bass – is lacking compared to the Jabra Elite 3 for example – which will also cost you $120.
The pass-thru sound/microphone is excellent although it does struggle in noisy environments. In summary – the Huawei FreeBuds 4i are very good value for money if you’re looking for this style of earphone on a budget. If you’re looking for great sound – you can do a lot better for not much more money.
JBL LivePro+ TWS
JBL is very well known for their portable speakers that we recommend very highly. More recently we have been exposed to their true wireless earphones and headphones, which like the portable speakers, perform incredibly well for music, phone calls and Zooms.
A small, clamshell form factor works really well for these high-performers. Like the Huawei FreeBuds 4i, the JBL LivePRO+ TWS true wireless earphones use the ‘bud on a stalk’ design although on the JBLs the bud is more tactile and the stalk a little shorter which for my ears, means a better fit.
Qi wireless charging of the case is a big tick from me – so too I must say is the sound performance. It’s like having a couple of JBL speakers in your head! The ANC is superb and even behind a lawn mover on a hot day, these earphones power on and perform!
The JBL Headphones app adds a further dimension to the LivePRO+ TWS earphones experience with sound and function customisation features.
They may be cheaper than a lot of other wireless earphones that you can buy – but these are the earphones that I would happily put down my hard-earned money to have.
Jabra Elite 3
Jabra have been a favourite of ours for some time now. The Elite 75t and Elite 85t were standouts for us when we reviewed them. The new 2021 Elite range builds on the exceptional audio experience that Jabra has built from its Danish origins.
The Elite 3 sit towards the bottom-end of the Jabra range with a $120 RRP and passive noise impression and quad-microphones for improved call quality and hear-thru performance.
A more tapered design ensures a conformable fit in your ear that really maximises sound performance in any environment. Trademark Jabra features such as the tactile button on each bud means you always get the function you are after when you skip a track or answer a call. Superfast Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity is also carried through the Elite range.
The case is the usual shape and although wireless sharing is not available on the Elite 3, the USB-C port is super easy to locate even in the dark. Integration with Google Assistant and Spotify is a doddle to connect via the Jabra Sound+ app.
The sound quality of the Elite 3 belies the price-point with a lovely range of audio quality including chunky bass sounds for the gym.
Bowers & Wilkins PI5
Bowers & Wilkins are typically more at home providing numberplate rattling sound-systems in McLarens, Volvos, and BMWs. B&W now have two premium wireless earphones in their range – the PI7 and the PI5.
Bower & Wilkins PI5 is a premium set of wireless earphones that provide an unparalleled level of audio quality. Engineered with precision, these headphones have been carefully designed for audiophiles who demand the highest degree of accuracy and precision from their listening experience.
With a super-cushioned noise-cancelling sound, sleek aesthetic exterior design, compatibility with smartphones and audio devices thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, it’s easy to see why people are moving towards Bower & Wilkins as they discover these luxurious new earphones. True Wireless design with Qualcomm aptX technology matched to 4 microphones and backed with Google & Alexa Assistant integration.
The pop-top case has Qi wireless charging and combined with the 7g earbuds, gives up to 24 hours of rich and clear audio on the go. Very comfortable to fit in your ear, although they can be cumbersome to extract from the case as only 8mm of the top of the earphone sits out from the case to maximise space.
These are extremely high-quality wireless earphones that will stay with me for some time.
A late entrant in this mega-review, the Yamaha wireless earbuds slot very nicely into the upper sub-$200 price range with a feature-set to match from a brand that has genuine bona fides in the audio sector.
Much like the Bowers & Wilkins PI5, the Yamaha TW-E3B wireless earbuds are petite in-ear portable audio with the added flexibility of Siri and Google Assistant integration and Qualcomm aptX technology.
IPX5 water resistance and voice prompts in your ear let you know the battery level and connection status when your pop them in your ear. And when you do, the quality of the sound is what you would expect from a company that has been making musical instruments for over a century.
Four LED lights on the case let you know precisely how much battery is left in the case meaning you will get every minute out of the 24 hours of portable battery life. The Yamaha Headphones Controller app like those from JBL and Jabra further ensure that your listening experience is perfect just for you.
The Yamaha TW-E3B truly wireless earbuds are an ideal purchase if you are looking for robust portable music and crystal clear calls for a not unreasonable price.
JBL Tune 760NC
The JBL Tune 760NC take a more business-like approach to noise cancelling headphones. JBL listened to the feedback and developed the JBL Tune 760NC, the cleanest pair of headphones to date. They are lighter, more portable and easy to handle for those who want the premium features of the 500 series but with more comfort and clarity for long listening sessions.
The JBL Tune 760NC are versatile and offer effortless to wear even when you’re running or commuting. The JBL Tune 760NC come with a detachable 3.5mm cable that gives you the option of using the cord to connect to your Mac or PC for gaming.
I really like the little bit of bass that JBL has managed to keep to stay true to their classic sound signature but stay edgy enough to offer a good pop or punch when you want it to. Once the headphones are connected to your device, they automatically switch to active noise cancellation (ANC) mode which is activated by pushing a button on the right earphone.
There’s no doubt that JBL has stepped up to the plate with the new Tune 760NC which delivers a vast improvement to the battery life, sound and design.
The JBL range of headphones are always aimed at everyday consumers rather than the entry-level of the market but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a comfortable, robust feel to them. The black and white colours give off a premium vibe and the sound quality is superb.