Forbes - Mark Sparrow
Another week and another pair of earbuds to test; but waiting for me when I returned from my recent vacation was a pair of what has to be the most unobtrusive earbuds yet to reach the market. The Erato Apollo 7 earbuds are water-resistant and have no wires at all. That’s right… no wires; not even a wire connecting each earbud. These earbuds just consist of two stylish little capsules with earbud tips that you pop in your ear like a hearing aid and then you can sit back and enjoy great sound without any strings attached.
For those of you who are a bit sceptical about the whole Bluetooth wireless revolution, please don’t be. The latest generation of Bluetooth earbuds and headphones really have the problem of background hiss and limited dynamic range licked. Frankly, unless you’re using a hi-res music player, the quality of audio from a Bluetooth stream is more than adequate. If you’re lucky enough to have a phone that supports the newish aptX codec, then you’ll get very good audio quality. Sadly, Apple still hasn’t caught up with aptX wave, but the quality from SBC and AAC codecs on most Bluetooth headsets is still excellent.
The Erato Apollo 7 earbuds actually function as two separate earbuds with the left and right channels operating independently. Many Bluetooth earbuds are joined by a wire and a remote control and operate as a single entity. Not so the Apollo 7 which registers each earbud separately on the list of Bluetooth devices. There’s no remote control but tap commands on each earpiece can pause the music, skip tracks and enable you to make phone calls using the inbuilt mic with just a few presses. You need to pair each earbud separately when you first get them but once that’s done then connection is automatic as soon as you turn the earbuds on. One press on one earbud powers up the other earbud.
With a battery life of just three hours between charges these earbuds are better suited for gym use than transatlantic flights, but if you’re thinking that three hours per charge is a bit stingy, then don’t worry as the Apollo 7’s come with their own charging case which has its own power bank onboard so that every time you slot the earbuds back in their exquisite aluminium charging nest, they have their charge topped up. Thanks to a 360-degree charging backplate, you don’t even have to put the earbuds in their case in a special way, they just pick up the charge via two connectors and start charging. There’s enough juice onboard to recharge the earbuds for two full three-hour charges so you could just leave them in your gym bag. You can also connect the case to a charger using the supplied Micro USB cable and the clever charging circuitry will charge the earbuds’ batteries first and then top up the reserve power bank in the case.
Next we come to fit: my first concern was that the earbuds at just 4g in weight might fall out and, without a wire to tether them, they could get damaged, especially if you’re jogging. Fortunately the Apollo 7s come with a range of different-sized ear tips and I had no trouble getting a snug fit. They were certainly a lot smaller than the excellent Under Armour JBL earbuds I reviewed a few weeks back but they felt just as snug and as secure.
The preview pair of Apollo 7s that I tested had a wonderfully balanced sound. There was no hint of background hiss and the bass was solid and controlled and very fulsome for a micro-driver that’s only 5.8mm across. The treble was clear and not tinny, while the midrange was superb with a really silky and fulsome presence that seemed to suit most music. For such a small pair of wireless earbuds to produce such a well-rounded sound is an astonishing feat and partly reflected in the relatively high price tag. There are earphones that sound as good for less money but I can’t think of any that offer the wire-free experience with such poise and style. If you think about how many times you might have thrown away wired earbuds because of fraying leads and poor connectors, the idea of going wireless really can make economic sense. And if Apple AAPL +0.61%decides to go socket-free with the launch of the iPhone 7, these beauties are going to prove really popular.
The Erato Apollo 7 earbuds are a revelation. They totally free you up from wires and they sound really good despite only weighing 4g each. They’re definitely not cheap but you can get your hands on some if you sign up to the Apollo Kickstarter campaign. The styling and the very clever carrying/charger case make them a delight to use and I have no doubt they’ll be appearing at a gym near you in the very near future.
Bluetooth Profile: Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP 1.2, AVRCP 1.4 HFP 1.6, HSP 1.2 support Supported Audio Codecs: Full support for aptX, AAC and SBC
Driver Specifications: 5.8 mm Micro Driver, 100 dB/mW sensitivity; 20Hz – 20KHz frequency Microphone: MEMs Omni Directional Type input sensitivity at -42dB (+/- 2dB)
Dimensions: Headset: 15.4 mm x 22.2 mm; Charging Case: 62.5mm x 40mm x 25.5 mm: Weight: Headset 4g x 2, case: 52g
Waterproof: Headset’s nano coating offers water-resistant protection
In addition to the headset and charging case, the Apollo 7 package includes a set of accessories and a USB cable for charging.
Apollo 7 is available on Kickstarter for $289 with a limited amount of early bird specials at $249. Following the Kickstarter launch, Apollo 7 will retail for $299. Shipping is expected to begin in June 2016. For more information on Apollo 7, visit www.eratolife.com.