I must admit that I went into this review thinking “oh great, another Bluetooth in-ear with a consumer signature that I am just going to love.” I’ve done way too many reviews at this point and admittedly become a little jaded along the way. The 1More Comfobuds Pro retail for $95 on Amazon and use a lot of verbiage that sounds familiar in their advertising copy. The mere use of the phrase “Pro” has become something that triggers a “this is going to be lousy” response. Toss in “Deep Bass,” “ANC,” and “Extra-Large Dynamic driver” and you have all the buzzwords to drive home that feeling.
Consumers have an endless list of options right now in the headphone category and brands need to do a better job differentiating their products. Lazy marketing copy isn’t the solution.
In audio circles, saying something has a “consumer-friendly signature” is often a euphemism for not being very linear or reference quality. A consumer signature typically has added emphasis to the bass and lower treble that makes music sound a bit livelier and more impactful. Most people today want a boosted sub-bass as electronic music, movies soundtracks, and subwoofers have changed their expectations.
If you add just bass, it quickly overwhelms the rest of the tonal balance and presentation, so some additional emphasis at the top end is required to balance things out which results in a V-shaped frequency response.
None of that sounds bad right? The fact is that extremely linear tunings also tend to be a bit lifeless and boring but If we want to hear music exactly as the artist intended, we can’t have the headphone adding its own tweaks to the mix.
So, you see the dilemma. The V-shaped frequency response is more energetic and often preferred by consumers, but they don’t accurately present the music as the artist intended. Most manufacturers target either one end or the other of the spectrum with audiophile models touting their neutrality while consumer models use terms like “Explosive Bass” and “Big Sound.”
The other consideration is the size of market; the audiophile slice of the pie is very small, while the mainstream customer base is in the hundreds of millions. Most Bluetooth earphones target that larger audience and have a pronounced sonic signature that is likely to sell better.
That leaves audiophiles in the position of wanting the convenience of wireless and the accuracy of wired—but finding an in-ear with both is extremely hard to do. One possible solution has been to use adapters to convert wired in-ears to wireless.
While it works, it’s a clunky solution that involves over-ear hooks with heavy battery packs and the hassle of charging issues. Others seek out models with the shallowest “V” response possible and then add EQ to help balance it out. Again, it works, but it is not a very elegant solution.
So this is the point at which the 1More ComfoBuds Pro enter the discussion and the reason I am somewhat less than enthusiastic about their possibilities. Buzzwords overwhelm their marketing and their industrial design screams Apple AirPods wannabe.
They come in a white egg-shaped case with USB type-C charging port on the rear and a single LED indicator lamp on the front. The earpieces themselves are stick type models with LEDs embedded in the tip end of the stick to indicate pairing and connection state. 4 tip sizes are provided for easy fitting so after finding the right tip size and charging them it was time to start listening.
I downloaded the 1more app to my Xperia 1 and paired the 1More ComfoBuds Pro. Pairing was straight forward although I did have to take the phone off “prefer LDAC” in order to get the earpieces to pair.
When set back to default, the earpieces paired to the phone using Bluetooth AptX. I could also force the pairing to use AAC by forcing the phone into that mode and tested using both AAC and AptX. The app is a little underwhelming and hopefully is a work in progress as I think a lot more could be done with it.
Right now, the sole functions of the app are to enable and set the ANC mode, and determine the charge status of the case and earbuds. You can’t play music through the app; it offers no EQ, and It doesn’t really help you change any of the default settings on the earphones.
Not a great start.
1More ComfoBuds Pro Are All About the Sound
I started my listening tests with lower expectations after my experience with the 1More app. Shame on me for thinking that this brand that has delivered some excellent affordable headphones over the past 5 years would disappoint. I was immediately and pleasantly surprised by what they were doing. The 1More ComfoBuds Pro sounded quite good but perhaps it was just the specific track.
Nope. As I moved from one track to the next, I realized that 1More had not engineered a Bluetooth in-ear earphone that was tuned to resemble the Grand Canyon in terms of its frequency response. With some degree of disbelief, I inserted the 1More ComfoBuds Pro into my L&D test rig and began running frequency response plots.
The measurements illustrated what I was hearing; 1More had engineered a pair of earphones that were far more linear sounding than the models they compete with below $150.
My curiosity was certainly piqued after my measurements and initial listening session.
The answer falls in the design philosophy behind the product.
1More contracted Luca Bignardi to do the tuning for their in-ear models. If you are not already with his work, he has mastered most of Andrea Bocelli’s recent albums along with some other names you would probably recognize. A list of some of his projects can be found here. Grammy Awards don’t guarantee anything, but this very accomplished engineer clearly had the technical experience to design earphones for 1More that had the potential to be very good performers.
But before you think these are tuned to be studio quality earphones that are on the sterile side, be aware that they are not.
There is still a sub-bass emphasis here so movie buffs and EDM fans will find enough slam and rumble to keep them happy. Aside from the sub-bass emphasis, the tuning is quite linear all the way through the treble range. The mid-bass is kept in good proportion without a lot of thickening to the sound. There is some minor mid-bass bleed that contributes some warmth to the overall tonal balance.
Guitar solos sound nice and crisp with the ragged edges one expects; and the mild upper-mid/lower-treble lift does help move vocals out in front of the rest of the instruments. The ComfoBuds Pro do roll-off a bit early with a distinct step back in treble above 8 kHz which is likely a conscious choice to prevent fatigue.
There is a fine line to be walked between providing enough extension to keep a headphone or earphone from sounding closed-in and cramped and providing too much and creating a product that is very fatiguing and impossible to use for extended sessions. I found that the ComfoBuds Pro did a good job of walking that line and while I personally would have liked a little more treble energy, I can’t fault 1More for going with a safer tuning.
While fiddling with the 5 ANC modes, I did find that the sound was altered somewhat by the choice of ANC and the best sound was produced with ANC off (not surprisingly). The ANC modes offer good noise reduction, but the lack of isolation in the earpieces themselves somewhat limits its effectiveness. Only 2 of the modes can be enabled by tapping the earpieces, the other two require the app to access. I did find the wind reduction setting that is only available on the app was a help when outdoors.
1More rates the ComfoBuds Pro at a little over five hours of battery life on a single charge and the case is capable of recharging the buds roughly five times before having to find a place to recharge the case. My own testing came in at 4.5 hours listening time on a single charge and roughly 90 minutes to completely recharge the earpieces once run to cutoff. The case does offer a quick charge function and will recharge the earpieces enough to use for an additional hour to 90 minutes in roughly 15 minutes charging time.
So I came away from this with a new hope for Bluetooth in-ears. The 1More ComfoBuds Pro offer a more reference signature than most with mild elevations for the sake of engagement with the audience and enough detail to make tracks interesting. I can see a ready use case for the ComfoBuds Pro for runners and people working out. The overall design just works on a lot of levels and the price is actually on the low side when considers the price of the Apple AirPods. An excellent product that you need to put near the top of your audition list below $150.
Related reading: 1More Triple Driver In-ear Headphones Review