FORBES - Ben Sin
With Apple's AirPods delayed until who knows when, iPhone 7 owners looking for truly wireless earbuds have few options. The earliest releases (2015) from the likes of companies big (Samsung) and small (Earin) suffered from broken connections and inelegant designs. Bragi's Dash is probably the most famous one (I haven't tried those) but they're pricey due to its ambitiousness (it wants to be a fitness tracker too).
What if you want just clean looking wireless earbuds, and nothing more? Crazybaby's very cool looking Air isn't ready for release yet. But three start-ups from China and Taiwan have respectively released its own take. I got the chance to test all three recently, and they're all pretty good.
Let's start with the Erato Apollo 7, the best overall of the bunch and probably the best true wireless earbuds overall on the market right now. Several other reviews, including CNET and the Verge, have concluded that these earbuds have the strongest and most reliable connection in the industry, and my own testing came up with the same result. It took a few tries to connect both earbuds together (you start by turning on one to connect it to your phone/computer as the "master device," then you turn on the other to connect the two buds), but once it connected, I never came across problems again. The earbuds just worked every time: I take them out of its premium-feeling/looking metal charging case, turn on my phone's bluetooth and within a second the earbuds are paired.
Sound quality, obviously, falls short of any good set of wired headphones/earbuds, but it's great for wireless earbuds, and more than enough to probably 90% of the population. There's a lot of clarity during podcast sessions and the bass is strong -- very noticeable when listening to Nas' Illmatic -- on this, more so than on any other wireless earbuds I've tried. That's due to the Apollo 7's 5.8mm micro-sized dynamic driver, whereas most other wireless buds (including Bragi's and Earin's) use the weaker armature drivers. The mids are also very clear, but the highs come out quite muffled.
Speaking of muffled, though the Apollo 7 includes a mic for making phone calls, but unfortunately, the caller on the other end said she couldn't hear me clearly over several test calls using different smartphones. But I must conceded -- I have a deep and "mumbly" voice to begin with. Perhaps a better speaker wouldn't encounter these problems. I also did hear the caller clearly though.
Taking calls and pausing music are all done withe Apollo 7's multi-functional buttons. There's one on each bud, which seems overkill, but it's there because the Apollo 7 can work as just a single earbud if you so choose.
At 4 grams each, the Apollo 7 are considered light, but the bullet-shaped earpieces are quite big and the other end sticks out enough that I was worried about them falling out. The Taiwanese start-up does, however, offer additional earpieces, including one with a sport wing, that should hold them in place more securely.
Oh, and if they do fall out and, say, fall onto dirt. It's okay -- these earbuds are fully water resistant so you can rinse them off and it'll work fine. You can't wear them to swim -- but it's good to know sweat and rain and faucet water won't damage them.
The charging dock that comes with the earbuds, as mentioned earlier, is very well-built and feels very high-end, like something you store jewelry in. It offers two additional charges to the earbuds. The Apollo 7 lasted an average of three hours per charge, so you're looking at nine hours of use before you have to top up. The earbuds come in different colors (black, gold, pink, silver) and the charging dock matches the look. As always, I like black the best.
At $300 though, the Erato Apollo 7 is actually pricier than the AirPod, but these are truly wireless earbuds that offer arguably the best sound and connectivity on the market right now -- and it's not ugly like the AirPods.
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