There’s no denying that this is a straight-up copy of Apple’s Airpods, albeit with a cheap and plasticky feel to it. Despite realme's audacious proclamation on the charging case that this is “designed by realme", there’s really nothing original about the design.
But the design is what makes these worth covering after all. Without that, they’re just another pair of affordable true wireless earbuds and have all of the issues that others in this price segment face. So, what you really need to ask yourself is what you want a wireless pair of headphones for.
Like most headphones in this range, the Buds Air also have a slight bias towards the bass end of the audio spectrum, weaker in producing mid-frequencies but arguably able in the high frequencies.
However, the overall range is weak. Headphones at this price should be able to cover 20Hz to 20KHz, which is the audible range for the human ear. But the Buds fail in higher frequencies.
In real world terms, that means you will miss the distinct twang of Joe Satriani’s guitar in Flying in a Blue Dream. Indian artists like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and many tracks from Coke Studio also sound sub-par. Basically if you most of your playlist is guitar and lead solo driven, these aren’t the right headphones for you.
Similarly, it’s particularly weak in reproducing mid-frequencies. So, vocals driven songs like Jenny of the Oldstones from Game of Thrones (episode 2, season 8) have a low but audible grumble in the background. You can also hear this in the guitar segments of Mr. Big’s To Be With You or the chorus of Amy Stroup’s In The Shadows.
Another great example of this is Perfect Day by The Constellations, which has a grunge effect in the background and Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, which has a lot of instruments and detail in the chorus — it sounds muddy. That means instrument separation is sub-par and so is the overall audio experience.
The Buds Air also have a problem common to affordable headphones, called sibilance. This is where the letter S sounds like it’s being hissed. It’s very evident in songs like Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley on the Buds Air. It’s quite jarring and very evident at high volumes. Something that you can’t unhear once you’ve heard it.
It also buzzes a bit in the sub-bass frequencies, but that makes very little difference in practical terms. While I could hear this in frequency tests, it’s tough to differentiate in real music tracks.
That said, the opening sequence of Disturbed’s Down With The Sickness, which is fully bass driven, sounds punchy, energetic and fast.
In fact, punchy bass and energetic sound is a great way to describe how audio feels on the realme Buds Air. It works well for fast EDM tracks, music from Salman Khan movies, like Pandeyji Seeti and other similar forms. But, if you’re looking to enjoy the melancholic feel in Simon And Garfunkel’s Dangling Conversation, this isn’t the right pick.
But is this “good" audio?
The short answer is yes. The realme Buds Air do enough to qualify as good headphones. Most of its weaknesses are typical of cheap headphones, albeit cheaper headphones than this. On the other hand, it suits the usual bass heavy preferences of most mainstream listeners. Essentially, it’s not something that punches above its weight.
Cheaper wireless headphones like Sony’s MDR-XB510AS and WI-C200 are good alternatives. OnePlus’ Bullets Wireless 2 are also cheaper and have better audio range too, especially in the high-frequencies.
So, the question really is what headphones do you want? If you want a wireless headphone, there are certainly better options. You’re paying the extra Rs. 1000 or for the Airpods cred and gesture controls.
Does it have the “it just works" thing going?
Apple has certainly designed some iconic products, but what most copies of those products miss is the seamless connectivity and easy usability they come with. Today, realme joins that infamous league. There are ample examples to show that realme’s R1 chip inside doesn’t hold a candle to Apple’s H1 and W1 chips, which run on its various Airpods.
Our first review unit of the Buds Air didn’t connect to any phone (we tried a Pixel 3, iPhone 11 Pro and Redmi K20) at first. When it connected, only the left earbud worked. It took two more resets of the device to get both buds to connect. We then got a second pair of the Buds Air which connected fine.
Both versions though dropped Bluetooth connectivity intermittently. In the Airpods, this is one of the things that the H1 and W1 chips handle.
The Buds Air have gesture controls too, which work once you’re used to them. But there’s a distinct lag between the double tap on the headphones and the music going off/on.
Imagine you’re getting into a cab with the headphones on. Your cabbie says something and you proceed to double tap the buds to pause the music. But in the second it takes to pause, your cabbie is staring at your face awkwardly. The experience is unintuitive. The taps also seem to work in a precise area where the Buds curve between the earpiece and the stick below it.
Lastly, the music should pause when you take the buds off, one or both. Instead, I often found that the music paused for a few seconds and came back on while I had one bud in my hand and the other in my ear. This is most likely due to improper calibration of the accelerometers inside.
The only seamless thing about the Buds is that once connected, they connect with your phone almost as soon as you pull them out of the charging case.
You could say these things can be ignored for the price, but gesture controls etc. are an integral part of true wireless earbuds. Without them, they might as well be just wireless headphones. And while no true wireless headphones in this price range get the seamlessness right, the verdict for this remains as it was for those, buy regular wireless headphones instead.