Which 2018 True Wireless Earbuds Should You Buy?

Last year, we published a round-up comparing the different true wireless earbuds available to Australian customers and examined how each of them rated for sound-quality, battery life and other characteristics. All told, we ran the Apple AirPods, Samsung Gear IconX, Jabra Elite Sport, Jaybird RUN and Sony WF-1000X earbuds through their paces.

However, with a new year, comes a new generation of true wireless contenders. Here’s an overview of what to expect from each of them:

Zolo Liberty+  

What’s the sound quality like?

The sound quality in the Zolo Liberty+ is phenomenal. In fact, compared to both the true wireless earbuds we’ve tested this year and in 2017, it’s a strong-frontrunner. As we said in our review, “The Liberty+ don’t offer the noise-cancelling found in Sony’s WF-1000X. However, the sound-stage they create is a strong contender for the categories best nevertheless. There’s a real sense of depth and crispness to the soundscapes here that took me by surprise.”

“At times, it feels like you can lean back and submerge yourself in the audio experience. Vocals-heavy songs like British India’s “Precious” and Flobots “Dance in the Light of a Burning City” come through with punchy clarity. Meanwhile, the dreamy soundscapes of Tash Sultana’s “Mystik” and “Notion” positively growl with symphonic verve and aural zest. “

If you’d like to know more, you can read our full review of the Zolo Liberty+ true wireless earbuds here.

Are they waterproof?

Not quite. The earbuds also boast with an IPX5 rating for resistance against water and sweat damage, courtesy of a hydrophobic nano coating. This means they aren’t quite “waterproof” but have been tested to survive being subjected to water jets from any direction.

Do they integrate with an app?

The Zolo Liberty+ can be used entirely without an app. However, there is a Zolo Play app that adds a five EQ presets and a tool designed to help you find your earbuds should you lose track of them.

How long does the battery last?

A single charged set of Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds will last three and a half hours. The charger case that comes with the buds holds another dozen or so full charges, bringing the total use time to approximately 48 hours.

Do they work with voice assistants?

Pressing and holding one of the buttons on the Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds acts as a shortcut to your voice assistant of choice: be it Siri or Google Assistant.

Currently, there’s no support for Alexa, Bixby or Cortana.

How much do they cost?

In Australia, the Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds are priced at US$149. Even when you account for the exchange rate, this makes them one of the cheaper true wireless options out there.

There’s also a second model available - simply called the Zolo Liberty - which has about half the battery life and is priced at US$99.

Where can I buy them?

The Zolo Liberty+ are available online through the Zolo website.

NOVA  

What’s the sound quality like?

The sound quality here is alright. It’s decent. However, there’s nothing hugely special about how these sound versus everything else out there. When indoors, the NOVA earbuds are reasonably pleasant to listen to. Vocals sounded clear. Bass carried a sense of bounciness. However, as we noted in our full review, that reasonableness does come with a whole bucketful of caveats

Once you go outdoors, the NOVA earbuds don’t do a great job of keeping away outside sound nor do they do a great job of staying connected to one another. Our experience with the earbuds was plagued with dropouts and even when everything came together, the sound quality just wasn’t that impressive.

If you’d like to know more, you can read our full review of the NOVA true wireless earbuds here.

Are they waterproof?

Nope. The NOVA earbuds have no waterproofing or durability specifications to speak of.

Do they integrate with an app?

Nope. TRNDLabs have gone for a pretty minimalist approach that sees the earbuds arrive without any software support.

How long does the battery last?

On their own, the TRNDlabs NOVA earbuds tout about three hours of music playback per charge.

However, when combined with their 2800mAh charger case, they offer a total of approximately 60 hours of battery life.

Do they work with voice assistants?

A set of built-in microphones mean that the NOVA earbuds can be used to take phone calls. However, there’s no specific support for integration with voice assistants like the Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby or Alexa.

How much do they cost?

$79.00 USD.

Where can I buy them?

The NOVA True Wireless earbuds can be bought directly through TRNDLabs’ website or through Amazon.

Samsung IconX (2018)

What’s the sound quality like?

The exact sound-quality you’re getting out of the Samsung IconX earbuds depends on whether or not you make use of the on-board storage. If you are, they’ll sound a little better due to the lowered compression loss but the difference isn’t huge. The new buds boast a 5.8pi dynamic driver and built-in mic.

If you’d like to know more, you can read our full review of the new 2018 Samsung IconX true wireless earbuds here.

Are they waterproof?

Like the original IconX earbuds, the new Samsung IconX earbuds come with a sweat resistant coating but no formal durability rating beyond that.

Do they integrate with an app?

The new IconX earbuds integrate with both the Samsung S Health app and the Samsung Gear app. The former allows for the tracking of distance, speed, duration, heart rate and calories burned while the latter allows you extra customization over the audio playback in the earbuds.

Using the Samsung Gear app, you can toggle where the IconX pull audio from, what apps are allowed to push through notifications and whether or not you’d like to make use of the IconX’s built-in audio coach during workouts.

What’s more, the built in accelerometer and heart-rate sensor in the IconX allow it to automatically start fitness tracking if it detects that you’ve been on the move for the more than ten minutes.

Of course, the biggest sell here is that the Samsung Gear IconX boast 4GB of on-board storage not offered by other true wireless earbuds. This means you can pull music over onto the device a PC and use them without needing to carry your phone with you.

How long does the battery last?

Samsung say their new and improved IconX earbuds will deliver your choice of 7 hours of playback using on-board storage, 4 hours of talk time or 5 hours of music streamed from your phone per charge. As with the first-gen IconX, the case doubles as a charger. Unfortunately, unlike other earbuds, the charger only gives you a single extra full charge for the buds.  

This brings the total battery life to 10 or 14 hours, depending on your music source. However, unlike the original IconX, the new buds do support a form of fast-charging, promising up an hour of use in just ten minutes of charging.

Do they work with voice assistants?

Assuming you have a Samsung smartphone it can pull from, IconX earbud users can summon Bixby by tapping and holding on one of the earbuds. We reached out to Samsung to confirm whether the buds would be compatible with any other voice assistants and will update this article when we know more.

How much do they cost?

The new and improved Samsung Gear IconX earbuds have an RRP of $299.

Where can I buy them?

In Australia, the Samsung Gear IconX wireless earbuds are available through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and Samsung’s own online store.

BlueAnt PumpAir Sportsbuds

What’s the sound quality like?

As we said in our review, “To our ears, [the BlueAnt PumpAir Sportsbuds] sounded pretty similar to a lot of the competition. The bass here was a bit more punchy than the average and there was some distortion at higher volumes. However, for the most part, these are true wireless earbuds that tout all the usual pros and cons. That said, for a first-attempt, the PumpAir Sportsbuds proved surprisingly resilient to dropouts. There were a few, but the problem was hardly frequent.”

If you’d like to know more, you can read our full review of the  BlueAnt PumpAir Sportsbuds here.

Are they waterproof?

They’re rated IP54 for water and sweat resistance.

Do they integrate with an app?

They do not.

How long does the battery last?

On their own, the PumpAir True Wireless Sportsbuds tout a battery life of three hours. However, as per usual, the carry-case for the earbuds doubles as a charger. All told, a full charge on the buds plus the case will net you 15 hours of continuous use.

Do they work with voice assistants?

The PumpAir True Wireless Sportsbuds come ready to play nice with Siri and the Google Assistant. Unfortunately, Bixby users are out of luck.

How much do they cost?

In Australia, the BlueAnt PumpAir True Wireless sportsbuds retail for $169.99.

Where can I buy them?

The BlueAnt PumpAir True Wireless sportsbuds are available through JB Hi-Fi and Harvey-Norman.

Which wireless earbuds have the best battery life?

For a long time, if battery life was your priority, Apple’s AirPods stood out as a clear winner. However, that’s no longer the case. Sure, the AirPods still rank well ahead of a lot of the competition but there are now several third-party brands that have overtaken them.

The chart below illustrates how each brand ranks when it comes to battery life.

Which earbuds have the best durability?

In our round-up of 2017 true-wireless earbuds, Jabra’s Elite Sport ranked highly for durability - and that’s still very much the case. Where the other true wireless earbuds available have gone for hydrophobic coatings that present a degree of water resistance, Jabra have gone and gotten a proper, formal, certified IP67 rating against dust and water damage.

Which earbuds have the best sound?

Again, this is a tough-call. For the most part, the audio quality in all true wireless headphones is still Bluetooth-based. What’s more, it’s Bluetooth-based without the aid of Qualcomm’s AptX compression tech. However, the integration of proper noise cancellation in Sony’s WF-1000X earbuds does go a long way towards making listening experiences with them sit well above the other options.

That being said, the graphene drivers in Zolo’s Liberty+ earbuds really do make for a much-better sound experience versus a lot of the competition.

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Fergus Halliday

Fergus Halliday

PC World
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