With the launch of the Realme Buds Air, the company has forayed into the true wireless earphones segment following their Realme Buds and Realme Buds wireless earphones. The company is in the nascent phase when it comes to audio products, but has been producing competent audio solutions at an affordable price point. The Buds Air is available at a super aggressive price while still offering high-end features present in truly wireless earbuds that cost nearly four or five times more. Let’s delve into the review to ascertain if the hype around the Realme Buds Air is justified.
Design, build and fit
The very first thought that springs to mind when you lay eyes on the Realme Buds Air is – Apple AirPods clone? Featuring an inordinately similar pipe-style design along with 45-degree angled earphone nozzles, the Realme Buds Air (the white variant) can easily be mistaken for the much pricier Apple AirPods. This is certainly a marketing strategy employed by Realme to allure customers into buying these TWS earphones since the AirPods are immensely popular. We were rather disappointed by the lack of originality demonstrated by these buds. Even the glossy, plastic exterior of the Realme Buds Air is almost identical to the AirPod’s, however, the microphone grille is much smaller in comparison.
Let’s take a step back and talk about the charging case. The Buds Air are confined in a glossy, plastic charging case (our review unit was the black-coloured variant) that seems a tad more compact than the AirPods case, just by a hair. The small factor is appreciated, especially since the battery unit within the case is capable of topping up the earphones 4-5 times. On the backside, ‘Designed by realme’ is embossed into the case, which fails to stand out against the shiny background. The bottom of the case features a USB-C charging port, which is a rarity in affordable true wireless earphones. Additionally, the front of the case also hosts a solitary button that serves as a pairing key. The button sits almost flush with the body, with minute protrusion. The case opens up easily with minimal pressure and snaps back using magnets with a satisfying click.
The cavity for the earphones within the charging case has a glossy texture as well. But the platform enclosure sports a matte material which provides for some decent contrast within the case. The earphones fit inside the cavity snuggly with magnets at the bottom attracting the bottom of the earphones’ stem, thereby making them sit in the case securely. The case is easily pocketable and the bulge in the pocket is fairly minimal. In the box, you also get a USB Type-C charging cord, which for some reason is white even though we received the black variant. Speaking of colours, the Realme Buds Air are available in three colour variants – Black, White and Yellow.
The earphones have 45-degree earphone nozzles, as aforementioned, to aid in obtaining a snug and secure fit. However, they follow the design of the AirPods and do not have silicone or foam ear tips. Unfortunately, this bothered us a fair bit since the reviewer’s ears are smaller than usual. The earphones had to be shoved in roughly and twisted furiously in order to stay put in the reviewer’s tiny ears, which caused some discomfort in the ear canal. While we did manage to get them to stay in, the Buds Air’s fit still felt flimsy and loose, especially when walking or with some vigorous head movement while sitting in one place. However, if you have normal-sized ears, the earphones should fit you no problem. Still, this design often causes issues when it comes to passive isolation even when they fit in just fine. Needless to say, the Realme Buds Air aren’t extremely secure in the ear when running or going to the gym.
The headlining feature that comes along with the Realme Buds Air is Qi wireless charging capabilities. The charging case can be placed atop any Qi-standard wireless charger and it will begin charging right up. It’s an impressive, eye-catching feature to incorporate in true wireless earbuds that cost under 5K. Wireless charging works seamlessly. We placed it on the Corsair MM1000 Qi Wireless Charging Mousepad on the charging hotspot and it got to work without any hitches. The charging case was completely topped up within approximately three hours, which isn’t too shabby. Realme didn’t stop here when it comes to luxurious features.
The Realme Buds Air is also capable of instantaneous connection to a paired device the moment the earphones are extracted out of the charging case. The initial pairing process involves pressing the button on the charging case for 3 seconds and connecting the earphones to your device via Bluetooth. After this process, the buds will automatically find and connect to the already-paired device within a second, if not milliseconds. This is achieved via GFP (Google Fast Pair) technology and the results are quite remarkable. We’d be even more blown away if the earphones automatically began playing music from the device after connecting, but hey, we’re being extremely nitpicky for a product that cost Rs 3,999.
In addition to wireless charging and fast auto-connection, the Realme Buds Air also comes with Wear Detection. Optical sensors are employed to gather whether the earphones are placed within the ear or they have been extracted. It also works when a single earbud is removed, which makes it easy for users to have quick conversations by simply pulling out one bud. However, this feature does seem to be rough around the edges. Firstly, extracting an earbud from your ear doesn’t immediately pause the music. It’s not very seamless since it takes about 2-3 seconds to pause after the buds have been pulled out. However, music plays almost immediately after you insert the earphones back in your ear, possibly since it is much easier for an optical sensor to gauge what looks like the insides of an ear. Lastly, the feature worked about eighty per cent of the times for us and failed to register a couple of times.
Realme also went ahead and incorporated a dedicated low latency gaming mode that also kicks in during video playback. Realme quoted a latency reduction of 51 per cent in their tests with the normal latency measuring at 243.8 ms while latency with gaming mode turned on was 119.3 ms. This resulted in gaming and video feedback that was extremely in sync with the outputted audio. Gaming was a joy with these with enemy footsteps sound in PUBG mobile being in sync with the footsteps appearing on the minimap and the sound of shots being produce in tangence with the muzzle flash. We couldn’t make out any noticeable delay of audio while watching any video feed or playing mobile games when in gaming mode. When we switched back to normal or ‘music’ mode, a slight delay was perceivable but it wasn’t too disjointed as well.
The Buds Air also comes packed with additional features such as dual-channel transmission which makes each earbud operate independently, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, bass booster driver, ENC (environmental noise cancellation) for calls, USB Type-C charging, touch controls, and voice assistant access. That’s a hefty number of features for a pair of true wireless earphones that cost 4K and Realme has truly provided a feature-laden pair of earphones that will give their competitors a run for their money when it comes to features.
The Realme Buds Air have integrated touch controls accessible by performing taps on the backside of the earbuds, over the curved body. A flat body at the back would be ideal to accurately input touch actions. Due to the curvature on the touch panel, it is easier to miss-tap on the surface, and therefore there were quite a few instances when the touch inputs failed to register accurately or at all. However, such issues occurred sparingly and weren’t a huge issue.
The touch controls are pretty straightforward on the Buds Air. You double-tap the surface to pause or play a track and to answer phone calls and a triple tap will take you to the next track. Long pressing either earbud will activate Google Assistant or Siri and will end or decline a phone call. Simultaneously long-pressing both earphones will activate or deactivate the dedicated gaming mode.
A few touch inputs are sorely missing on these earphones. There’s no provision to go to the previous track, which is something we can still live without. However, there’s no way to control the volume and this means you’re going to have to pull out your smartphone every time you want to alter the volume, which is something we do a lot, so it got frustrating pretty quickly. This feature could be easily incorporated too, by simply allowing long presses to the right and left side to increase and decrease the volume level respectively, while a single tap could activate the voice assistant.
Powered by an R1 chip for low latency, which is Realme’s answer to Apple’s H1 chip in the AirPods, the Realme Buds Air feature 12mm dynamic bass boost drivers and a multi-layer composite diaphragm to produce the warm sound profile that works well across numerous music genres. The result is a pleasing sound signature that is dominated by its bass drive producing punchy beats. However, this energetic bass response is surprisingly controlled and instances, where the bass response sounds muddled and gurgly are extremely low.
In the track Bad guy by Billie Eilish, the bass thumps are audible and have tons of drive, however, the integrity of Eilish’s wispy vocals is largely retained. The sounds of her occasional breaths are clear and audible and so is the snapping of the fingers in the background. When it came to Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust, the bass thumps captured the detail in the bass guitar playing throughout the track in the background quite well. Despite this, Mercury’s vocals soared and were very much front and centre in the track.
The mids are slightly under-represented in the Buds Air and while vocals sound good, and almost pristine in some tracks, the mid-ranged instruments such as the lead guitar can sound a bit rough around the edges. The details in this range are acceptable, however, you often miss the intricacies in instruments that lie in the upper mids frequency range. A track crowded with multiple instruments in this frequency range can sound cacophonic at times, especially in tracks such as Something From Nothing by The Foo Fighters.
The highs are represented decently, however, they are significantly under emphasised. This can actually help in some screechy tracks such as Serotonia by Highly Suspect and Faint by Linkin Park since it tones down the intensity of the high-pitched notes in these tracks which can be uncomfortable, especially when played by in-ears. These are truly mass-appealing earphones in that regard, that bring out the pleasant frequencies and notes in music while slightly veiling the harsh ones. It’s easy to recommend these buds to casual listeners looking for affordable true wireless options, however, we’d urge you to get these even more if the mids were more refined.
The soundstage, as expected from in-ears, is quite limited, however, imaging is quite decent since it places instruments quite soundly in most tracks. Still, it cannot keep up with tracks that feature more than 4-5 instruments. Due to the design and eliminating silicone tips, passive isolation is quite weak. We could easily hear background sounds in the office, our mechanical keyboards at work and other such sounds. If you are used to keeping the volume anywhere between 50-60 per cent, you’re listening experience will be tainted a bit with background sounds seeping in. The earphones also leak a fair bit, we recorded the leakage to be around 55-60dB in a quiet room, depending on how much you turn the volume up by.
Call quality and microphone performance are average. The earbuds do feature ENC to filter out environmental sounds from being present in recordings or calls but the mic itself couldn’t capture our voice clearly. The listener on the other end often complained of our voice being too muffled or far away. The clarity of our voice in recordings was also lacklustre with Google Translate being unable to pick up quite a few words from the recordings.
Battery life, on the other hand, is quite competent. While it features a measly company claim of 3 hours on the buds themselves, we manage to extract about 3 hours and 20 minutes from the buds alone. The charging case is capable of topping these earphones 4-5 times. We were able to charge the earphones back up 4 times to full, which is commendable. The total battery life of 17 hours is not too shabby at all. Also, we listened to music at about 60-65 per cent. So, if you generally listen to music at lower volumes, you will be able to extract more battery life from the earbuds
Featuring a mass-appealing boosted bass sound profile, the Realme Buds Air still manages to avoid issues such as auditory masking which is common in bass-heavy earphones. The bass is controlled but punchy, the mids are slightly lacking in detail but the highs are quite pleasant to the ear. In addition to this relatively balanced sound profile, you also get access to numerous luxurious features such as wear detection, low latency gaming mode, instant connectivity, auto on/off, touch controls and most importantly, wireless charging. This means you can charge your earphones case on any Qi wireless charger as well as the backs of phones that offer wireless charging such as the Samsung Galaxy S10! At a highly competitive price point of Rs 3,999, the Realme Buds Air is an ideal purchase for casual listeners looking for a reasonably-priced pair of true wireless earphones.