The holiday season is upon us and it's the perfect time to buy a quality pair of truly wireless earbuds, whether for a friend or your best friend (you).
If price is important to you, but quality is non-negotiable, then have a look at the Realme Buds Air Pro, which star in this review.
Realme Buds Air Pro in Black and White
Not only do they offer up to 25 hours of playback and great sound from a small form factor, but they add premium features like IPX4 splash resistance and active noise cancelling for INR 4,999/€90.
Build quality and fit
The Realme Buds Air Pro come in a simple circular case with a LED indicator for connection and battery life. Inside the earbuds can be wirelessly charged, while the case itself charges through USB-C port. Inside the Buds Air Pro's box there's a USB cable and three spare rubber ear tips - an extra pair of small tips, as well as a pair of medium and large ones.
The case and the earbuds themselves use a very glossy plastic that gets smudged up very easily. The case in particular becomes gross to the touch and scuffs up pretty easily. It will get dented and scratched if put into a bag with keys and coins. But that's true of more expensive truly wireless earbud cases.
The lid of the case is very slack. It creeks and wobbles and is easy to open by mistake.
The Realme Buds Air Pro themselves are solid. They have a bulbous cone and tips that stretch about as much as 2nd gen AirPods' ones, and more than the AirPods Pro's. The 10mm driver is big for this class and sits behind rubber tips.
The tips are quality made, but despite the provided different sizes, this reviewer had problems keeping the buds in his ears no matter which sized tips were used. Ears are tricky to tailor to, individual ears differ quite a bit. This is the first time I've had issue keeping earbuds in my ears. But others that tested the Realme Buds Air Pro managed to get a good fit.
When the Realme Buds Air Pro are put on correctly, they fit snugly. As with other in-ear buds, these offer superior isolation due to the vacuum they form in your ear.
The Realme Buds Air Pro don't stand out from the ear and weigh close to nothing (5g each) so you don't feel them on long wearing sessions. They lack securing wing tips, which makes them less than ideal for sports as they can fall off.
The Realme Buds Air Pro have intuitive and customizable touch controls. They're easy to get used to and are the standard for operating many earbuds - double tap for play/pause, triple tap for next song. A press and hold on either bud will toggle between Normal mode, Noise Cancelling and Transparency mode by default, but you can enable or disable those in the Realme Link app. Press and hold on both buds simultaneously and you're in Gaming Mode, which enables 94ms low latency for gaming or watching videos.
As with most smart headphones, switching between Noise cancelling and other modes is cumbersome and slow. A tap and hold feels like ages when you quickly need to adjust modes (like when you want to disable noise cancelling and go into Transparency). And each time you change a mode the buds play a prompt, which plays over your music or video. This is especially annoying when you're listening to a podcast or an audiobook as it doesn't pause and play but overlay whatever you're listening to.
The Realme Link app let's you control a variety of options on the Realme Buds Air Pro. You can choose which mode to be in - Noise cancellation, General or Transparency - enable or disable Game mode, Volume enhancer or Bass Boost+ and select what double-tap and triple-tap do. Interestingly I disabled all the tapping functionality in the app for a test and the buds just kept accepting tap commands.
Regarding connection and signal strength, the Realme Buds Air Pro are excellent. The earbuds support Google Fast Pair with Android phones and paired quickly. Signal was very strong here at the office, not dropping even after moving two rooms away from the phone.
The Realme Buds Air Pro support AAC and use the widespread SBC codec. There's no Qualcomm AptX support.
Sound, active noise cancellation, battery life
Realme's Buds Air Pro sound amazing. They're very loud, noticeably more so than competing products like the AirPods Pro or Huawei's FreeBuds Pro.
The best way to describe the Buds Air Pro' sound is crowd-pleasing and I mean it in the best possible way. It has a pronounced midrange with good low end bass and good vocals. We suggest keeping Volume enhancer on as it does wonders for the overall sound and keeping Bass Boost+ off, because it brings a little extra bass but it detracts from the quality noticeably.
Realme rates the active noise cancellation of the Buds Air Pro at up to 35 decibels. We can appreciate ANC as very beneficial on the Realme Buds Air, but when used with the correct expectations. ANC does a good job of reducing steady sounds such as an engine rumble (in a car), or a vacuum cleaner, a computer fan. It won't make a noticeable difference with human voices.
Active noise cancellation works nicely when listening to music too, adding a level of smoothness to the sound.
Transparency mode enhances the ambience around you, especially voices. It gives you slightly better hearing and is a way of talking to someone without the need to take the earbuds out.
Realme claims up to 25 hours of playback from the buds and case combined, at 50% volume with ANC off. In our testing at 100% volume with ANC on the Realme Buds Air Pro managed 4 hours and 20 minutes of continuous streaming.
Inside the case, the buds take 1 hour to go back to 100%, while the case itself takes 1 hour from empty.
You can buy the Realme Buds Air Pro for INR 4,999 or €90 at the time of writing, but discounts were available up until recently (INR 4,499) and will likely be again before the year is over. That's a very competitive price, despite being the highest for any Realme audio product so far.
You'd be hard pressed to find matching competition with this level of features and quality from other big-name brands.