When Realme introduced the first Buds Air, it created quite some noise in the market. It looked exactly like the Apple AirPods, and made its intent very clear right from the start – it was targeting those buyers that did not have the budget (or iOS devices) to justify purchasing Apple’s true wireless earbuds. Now, we have with us the Realme Buds Air Pro – true wireless earbuds that now come with active noise cancellation at a price that is far, far lower than Apple’s AirPods Pro. This time, the Realme Buds Air Pro aren’t as exact a clone of Apple’s flagship earbuds as the previous generation was, but still manage to look decent. The main draw, this time, is that it offers active noise cancellation and stereo true wireless performance – all at Rs 4,999.
That, however, puts the Realme Buds Air Pro in hot waters. The category of true wireless earbuds around Rs 5,000 in India is a super exciting one, with products such as the ever-reliable 1More Stylish, the now-discounted Jabra Elite Active 65t, outliers such as the Lypertek Tevi, the solid Jays m-Five, the funky and upbeat Mee Audio X10, and more. Even from smartphone-centric companies, you have options such as the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 and the OnePlus Buds, all at around the Rs 5,000 price point.
Competition, naturally, is rather severe for the Realme Buds Air Pro. Does it stand a chance to be a recommendable product, in such a fiercely competitive market? Does active noise cancellation save its face? Here’s the full deal.
Audio quality: Dirty bass, muddy mids and timid highs
The Realme Buds Air Pro has 10mm dynamic drivers, with “Dynamic Bass Boost composite bass enhancement algorithm”. Marketing jargon aside, what this essentially means is that the Buds Air Pro will deliver a lot of bass to you. The driver size is standard for this category of earbuds, and in terms of the audio signature, the bass levels are not all that high as what typical ‘bass boost’ earbuds offer. This is generally a good thing, because the low frequencies produced by the Buds Air Pro offer a solid, strong backline to most tracks.
However, the fidelity of the low frequencies produced is far from great. At any volume levels above 80 percent, the bass boom produces too much distortion, to a point where the Buds Air Pro starts sounding “dirty” – the sort of noisy, loose and droopy bass quality that you wouldn’t associate with any half-decent audio product. At lower volumes, although the bass levels are adequate, what isn’t is the intricacy and details that the bass can produce. In essence, the Realme Buds Air Pro gives you a lot of bass in its sound, but not bass that would be unanimously enjoyed. Instead, it works best in non-bass heavy genres, at limited volume levels. As a basshead, you’d hardly ever enjoy that.
The mids, like the lows, also sound rather uninspiring. Realme does not add too much colour to the sound, which keeps vocal tones largely accurate. However, high pitch or deep baritone vocals, which produce tonal vibrations that are discernibly audible in earbuds such as the 1More Stylish and the Lypertek Tevi, are hardly as appealing in the Realme Buds Air Pro. What this really lacks is dynamic range and any notable flair in its timbre, as a result of which the Buds Air Pro sounds merely average. It isn’t something that you’d hate, but neither is it a pair of earbuds that you would really, really enjoy listening to.
All of this makes the highs sound timid and muted, which is the case consistently since the Buds Air Pro can only work at up to 80 percent of its volume to mitigate bass distortion. This basically means that by default, songs sound less exciting and more… generic. The exact equaliser representation of the Buds Air Pro would be a downward slope that flattens from the mid frequencies. That hardly qualifies as exciting. Soundstaging is nothing exemplary, either, making the overall sound signature something that you can just about live with thanks to the strong bass and smooth vocals, at its best.
However, given that you have far better options all around at this price bracket, why would you?
Active noise cancellation: Not heavy, but not bad either
It’s almost as if Realme predicted such questions coming its way, as a result of which it packed in active noise cancellation in the Buds Air Pro. To be absolutely clear right from the start, the Realme Buds Air Pro is in no way a cheaper alternative to the Apple AirPods Pro, and one of the biggest reasons is its active noise cancellation performance.
On paper, Realme does get things right. It advertises active noise cancellation by 35dB, which should be more than adequate as far as active noise cancelling products go. However, the actual noise cancellation performance of the Buds Air Pro is far from going all the way to 35dB in levels. In fact, it is so shallow that it sounds up to 12dB at best. If you’ve tried any of Sony, Bose or other reputed audio brand’s active noise cancellation products, think of the Buds Air Pro offering about three-tenths the noise cancellation levels that they produce.
To control this, Realme has added a ‘transparent’ mode to amplify your surroundings, a ‘normal’ mode to switch off electronic noise assistance, and a ‘noise cancelling’ mode. This too would have worked great on paper, had the actual noise cancellation performance been as good as it should have been. However, the noise cancellation sounds so shallow and inadequate that the modes do not make too significant a difference.
Truth be told, this level of noise cancellation works great to cut out distant ambient sounds that filter through when you work from home. As a result, I’ve really adapted to using the Buds Air Pro as a passive noise plug of sorts when I’m sitting at home and working. It’s great for just this purpose, but nothing beyond – and that is what breaks the deal.
Design, build quality: The only impressive bit about it
The only thing that I really like is how easy it is to use the Realme Buds Air Pro on an everyday basis. The Buds Air Pro’s charging case is flattened, which ensures that they fit very, very well in pockets, and do not create the usual bump that most others cause. The ingress and egress of the earbuds are also super easy, thanks to their raised design. Realme claims to use its ‘own’ S1 chip for streamlining connectivity based on Bluetooth 5, and pairing, connecting and related tasks are all quite ergonomic.
Thankfully, the Buds Air Pro fit my ears well, but for those whom it won’t, there’s not a lot that you can do instead of uncomfortably shifting around the way the angled earbuds sit in your ears. While I didn’t have an issue with the fit, the Buds Air Pro are not very light and inconspicuous. The build quality, as you’d expect, is rather plasticky, but that wasn’t a surprise here. On overall terms, the Buds Air Pro scores well in terms of how smoothly it functions and how well it fits in pockets.
Verdict: There are far better options out there
Given its lacklustre sound and inadequate active noise cancellation performance, the Realme Buds Air Pro is certainly not the most recommendable pair of true wireless earbuds in the market. You will be far better off buying the 1More Stylish for a balanced sound, the Jabra Elite Active 65t for workout, the Jays m-Five for bass-rich and the Lypertek Tevi for well detailed sound, and the OnePlus Buds (which cost the same) also offer better build quality than the Realme Buds Air Pro. At Rs 4,999, despite active noise cancellation, the Buds Air Pro falls well short of the recommendation mark.