The two budget true wireless (TWS) earbuds that we have for review today are a testament to how the category has evolved over the past twelve months. Their performance is almost neck-and-neck with their wireless neckband counterparts. A lot of the initial flaws like the inferior sound quality and inter-buds latency have been ironed out. Let’s take a closer look at what the latest TWS earbuds from Skullcandy and OnePlus have to offer and how they perform.
Skullcandy Spoke is a simple-looking pair of truly wireless earbuds made of good quality plastic. Though the design isn’t striking, they fit nicely into the ear and don’t stick out much, which for me, is more important than a fancy exterior. The buds are quite light, and you barely feel their presence after a while. They are IPX4-rated water-resistant. That means you can take them to the gym with you, but not in the shower.
You get a good seal with the right sized silicone ear-tip from the three pairs bundled in the package. They stay put in the ear during a workout or a jog. One typical design error is the placement of the physical multifunctional button. It is placed right on the exposed surface of the buds. That’s a fine spot for touch controls but not for a physical button. Every time you push it without remembering to hold the bud with two other fingers, it gets pushed deeper in the ear, causing the sound to distort in addition to the discomfort.
Thankfully, the button is not too stiff and can be pressed with minimal force. The multifunction button lets you perform all key tasks: adjust the volume, jump to the previous or next track, play/pause the audio, and answer/end calls. You do not have to pull out the phone to do any of that. You get a neat little rectangular case to store and charge the buds. However, it has a micro USB charging port and not the newer Type-C variant. The necessary cable is bundled in the package in case you do not have one at home.
Each earbud is fitted with a 6mm driver. The Bluetooth 5.0-compliant Skullcandy Spoke supports SBC and AAC codecs. No support for Qualcomm’s aptX codecs here, but I wouldn’t hold it against TWS buds priced under 3K. There was no issue pairing them with the phone or with the wireless range that spans close to 10 meters with a clear line of sight, and half of it with a concrete wall in between.
The sound output of the Skullcandy Spoke is pretty good for this price class. The sound signature is noticeably bass-heavy; however, the bass is fairly tight. Though the vocals are reasonably clear, the overall midrange response feels a bit recessed, often the case with a typical V-shaped sound signature. The highs are quite sharp and lend the necessary edge to the overall sound to balance the extra bass. There’s a little trick that I happened to stumble upon. If you find the bass excessive, switch off AAC (HD audio) from the Bluetooth settings. It tones down the bass a bit, and the mids sound a lot crisper.
Given its price tag, I would say that the sound quality is perfectly acceptable. However, these aren’t the loudest earbuds around. I had to boost the volume up to 90 percent for normal loudness that other earphones achieve around the 60 to 70 percent mark. Speaking of loudness, the buds’ volume control does not sync with that of the source device. I had to adjust both separately, something I am not fond of.
The call quality is perfectly acceptable when indoors, with both parties audible to each other. However, they do pick up a lot of buzz in noisy environments outdoors, and the person on the line had a tough time grasping what I had to say. The battery life is below par here. The company claims 4 hours for the buds on a full charge and 14 hours overall with the charging case. In reality, the buds managed to last just under 3.5 hours, and the case could charge them two and a half times over, thus giving you a total battery backup close to 12 hours. That would have been fine in 2019, but not now.
All said and done; the Skullcandy Spoke is a decent pair of TWS earbuds for Rs 2,999, as far as sound quality goes. A two-year warranty is a bonus. They are dragged down a bit by some dated features like micro USB charging and below-par battery life. Still, they are comfortable to wear, give you ample control over audio playback, offer splash resistance, and most importantly, sound good. If you happen to buy them, you won’t be disappointed. But if you want something better, move on to the next product.
- Lightweight and comfortable to wear, easy to use
- Good sound output for the segment
- IPX4 water-resistant
- Playback and volume control on the buds.
- Two-year warranty
- Battery level indicator on the charging case
- Multifunction button placement isn’t ideal.
- Below-par battery life
- Micro USB charging port
- Buds’ volume control doesn’t sync with that of the source device.
OnePlus had two rather underwhelming audio releases this year with the OnePlus Buds and Bullets Wireless Z neckband. But as they say, the third time’s the charm. Enter OnePlus Buds Z! We got the white variant for review with a smooth piano finish on the body and a bit more gloss on the touch-enabled zones at the back of the buds. The same finish extends to the capsule-shaped charging case with a USB Type-C charging port and a camouflaged button.
Though the buds are quite light, the build quality feels sturdy, and they are IP55 rated dust and water-resistant. Thankfully, the company has opted for silicone tips here rather than hard shells on the prior OnePlus Buds. As a result, they are comfortable to wear, and the fit is excellent. With the right sized silicone tip, they offer better passive noise isolation than some entry-level TWS buds with active noise cancellation switched on. One can wear them to the gym without worrying as they don’t come off while working out or during a jog.
These too are Bluetooth 5.0 compliant and support SBC and AAC codecs; no aptX support here either. The earbuds have touch controls that are sensitive enough. Still, the playback functionality is minimal, just one function on each bud—a strange and questionable decision on the company’s part. If you own an OnePlus 6 or better, you get to choose from four options (Play/Pause, Voice assistant, Previous track, Next track) the functionality that you wish to assign to double tap on each bud. There is no option for volume control on the buds.
By default, a double-tap on the right bud lets you go to the next track, while the left one lets you summon the voice assistant. For all other phones, you either live with that or install the HeyMelody app (very basic and only for Android) to configure the touch controls and update the firmware. You also get to see each bud’s battery status as well as the charging case on compatible OnePlus phones, or if you have the app installed on other phones. The OnePlus Buds Z support wear detection, which is rare in this price bracket. It means the audio pauses when you take either of the buds off and resumes when you put it back on. It’s a great option to have given the limited playback controls available here.
Pairing the Buds Z with an Android phone was a breeze, and they also support Google fast pair. If they don’t show up in the list of Bluetooth devices, you may have to press the pairing button at the back of the case for a couple of seconds with the buds in the case. They retain a solid connection up to 10 meters with a clear sightline and up to 6 meters with a concrete wall in between. I did not experience a single drop in connection during the course of my testing.
Each earbud is fitted with a 10 mm dynamic driver that delivers excellent output. The sound quality here is quite enjoyable, will appeal to most, and way better than one expects from a sub-3K pair. The sound signature is warm, with low-end frequencies getting a boost. However, the bass is tight and punchy and provides the right amount of warmth to the sound. The additional bass does impact the mids, muddling them a bit — especially in bass-heavy tracks – but otherwise, the vocals are crisp, most instruments are clearly heard, and there is ample detail in sound.
Unlike the Bullets Wireless Z, the highs don’t roll off too soon, and there is sufficient sparkle to lend a nice balance to the overall sound output. The soundstage isn’t too broad but par for the course. The OnePlus Buds Z are sufficiently loud at 60% volume, and I don’t remember going beyond 75% loudness even in noisy environments. The latency on this pair is low, and there was no noticeable delay in audio and video when watching content on OTT platforms.
The call quality is quite good, too, with both parties being properly audible to each other even outdoors, with just a small amount of ambient noise seeping through. The battery life here is average at best. The buds can go on for a shade under 4 and a half hours, and the charging case can recharge them thrice more, taking the total battery backup close to 17.5 hours. When the earbuds run out of juice, putting them back in the case for ten minutes gives you close to an hour and a half of playtime. But if you charge the case simultaneously using a fast charger, the buds last for a claimed close to 3 hours on a 10 minutes charge, which is pretty neat.
The OnePlus Buds Z sell for Rs 2,999 with a one year warranty. They are easily the best sounding TWS earbuds I have come across in the sub-3K segment. Their overall sound output is better than the aforementioned OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z and the higher-priced OnePlus Buds. With the OnePlus Buds Z, you easily get more than your money’s worth, and I have no hesitation in recommending them to anybody looking for a sweet-sounding pair of wireless earphones on a modest budget, despite its average battery life and limited playback controls.
- Best sounding earbuds under Rs 3,000 at this time
- Lightweight and comfortable to wear with a great fit
- Wear detection
- Touch controls
- Good call quality
- IP55 dust and water-resistant
- Excellent value for money
- Limited controls on the earbuds
- Fewer configuration options on non-OnePlus and older OnePlus phones
- Battery life could have been better.