The Apple AirPods 3 have already become a huge seller for the folks in Cupertino and you see people using them almost everywhere. Apple’s success in the wireless earphones category has been driven by excellent industrial design and world class marketing. Nobody throws a live product launch like Apple and every brand has been playing a losing game of catch-up ever since they jumped into the category in the post-Steve Jobs world. For those who want better sounding wireless earphones, there are plenty of excellent options from Bowers & Wilkins, Sennheiser, Sony, Klipsch, and Master & Dynamic. But what about those customers who don’t want to spend more than $50 for a pair of decent true wireless earphones? Enter the Soundpeats Air3.
Some Bruce Lee music would be cool right now.
Apple iPhone sales have hovered around 53% (U.S. 2021 domestic shipments) of the market here in America but that number is dramatically lower when you go overseas. It drops to almost 15% which means that there are a lot of people who can’t take advantage of all the features built into an iPhone or iPad and therefore don’t have a lot of use for $200+ AirPods.
Soundpeats (also known as Dudios in some markets) has been offering budget TWS models for the non-Apple crowd for years; even before the first AirPods were released in N. America and Europe.
Compromises? We Don’t Need No Stinkin Compromises
There was definitely a period when purchasing wireless IEMs in the $50 range came with some serious compromises; and some of those issues in regard to battery life, sound quality, and robustness are important regardless of price.
The Soundpeats Air3 have a familiar AirPod shape that will be obvious right away. You could knock the brand a few points for the lack of industrial design creativity but they’re not alone. If you take a look at most of the wireless earbuds or earphones on the market — there are some striking similarities.
But where things get slightly more interesting with these $50 wireless earphones is on the technical side; they offer 4.5 hours of listening time from a full charge, 18 hours of standby life, support for Bluetooth aptX Adaptive, a 14.2mm dynamic driver with bio-cellulose diaphragm and come with a charging case that can hold 2 full charges.
The stick earbud shape is a proven design at this point and the Air3 fits well in your ear and seals well enough to have solid lows. It is also notably smaller and more comfortable than the previous generation TrueAir2.
The weight on these is excellent; they might be the lightest true wireless earbuds I’ve tried so far. The lack of bulk makes them comfortable to carry around and wear but will you notice if they fall out on a busy train platform or when jogging in the park? That’s a good question to be honest.
The case is small and entirely plastic but does stay closed and the earpieces are magnetically held in place as well so no worries about them falling out in transit either.
Each earbud body has a mic on the outer face just below the touchpad and another at the bottom end of the stick that help when using the phone in loud environments; it does help reduce outside noise although some wind noise still sneaks in.
It is also worth noting that while Soundpeats advertises the Air3 as a “sports” earphone, they don’t provide an IP rating that I could find and I suspect they are IPX4 at best so don’t plan on swimming with them.
Ground Control to Major Tom?
We are starting to see Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive enter the market more now but it is still uncommon in the budget segment, so the Soundpeats Air3 has a leg up in that regard.
Bluetooth aptX Adaptive supports both a version of HD and low latency which gives the Air3 a gaming mode that is good for movies in addition to game play and the ability to play back higher resolution music files.
I found connectivity to be quite good within a 10 meter range but interior walls did sometimes defeat the signal. In gaming mode, synchronization between vocals and lip movements in movies and videos was quite stable and I had a hard time discerning any noticeable lag.
The controls are also quite good with an auto-pause on removal of the buds and auto-resume when you reinsert them in your ears. The Air3 doesn’t offer ANC or ambient listening modes, so the controls can be kept simple.
Tap right to increase volume or left to decrease it. Double tap to start/stop play (either side), press and hold ‘R’ for forward and ‘L’ for reverse, and triple tap ‘L’ for gaming mode or right for the voice assistant.
Had Soundpeats delivered an app with the Air3 for $50, I would have been quite impressed but the simplicity of the controls makes an app unnecessary.
The sound quality of the entire Soundpeats lineup and the Air3 continues to improve with each new product cycle, but I will say that the previous generation Air2 was a tad more neutral sounding.
The Air3 has more rumble and slam than the Air2 but it can also get a little thick and muddy with tracks that also have a bass boost added during mastering.
However, for most tracks distortion was not an issue and the Air3 delivers the kind of bass impact many are looking for which is impressive for a semi-open design that retails for only $50.
One significant change is that the lower midrange has more presence; the previous Air2 had a recessed sounding lower midrange that did not work wonders with male vocals. The Air3’s presentation is more forward sounding but with a warmer tonal balance and slightly thicker sound than its predecessor.
Both male and female vocals stand roughly equal with the rest of the instrumentation so there is not a large upper midrange push to separate the higher voices which is a welcome plus as well.
The top end rolls off fairly early so while it has some treble energy, the overall signature is a bit warmer and darker than the previous Air2.
If you’re looking for a really airy sounding wireless earbud, the Soundpeats Air3 is going to disappoint you. It’s never hard or etched sounding which to my ears is a better trade-off long-term.
Sorry I Can’t Hear What You’re Saying
If you don’t think $50 true wireless earbuds can do your Thanksgiving call from mom justice — think again.
The call quality is another area where the Soundpeats Air3 is a definite departure from earlier models with the mic being much less sensitive to outside noises and call quality has improved considerably as a result. The wind still cuts through but other noises around the office or house that would have been heard by the listener on the call are no longer an issue.
Do the Apple AirPods 3rd Gen deliver a better call experience? Absolutely but it’s certainly not worth the extra money if you are not using an iPhone.
The most amazing thing about the Soundpeats Air3 is definitely the price. $50 true wireless earphones were not this capable a few years ago and while they are not prefect sonically and have some room for improvement, they do a lot of things really well to merit a recommendation.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive AirPod-like wireless earbud with solid call quality, strong battery life, comfort, and a warm tonal balance — your search in the $50 or under segment should end with these.
For more information: $49.99 at Amazon