Ameya DalviNov 10, 2022 19:04:47 IST
– Good sound quality for the segment
– New sound presets and custom EQ in the app
– Lightweight and comfortable fit
– Good battery life, fast charging
– IPX5 splash resistance
– Programmable touch controls including volume control
– Dual-pairing support
– Default sound is bass-heavy
– Average call quality
– Bulky charging case prone to scratches
– No ANC (blame Realme Buds Q2 for this)
Price: Rs 2,499
There is a pattern we have observed with Realme TWS earphones over the past year or so. They launch a product too many in a narrow price band that straight away runs into in-house competition. Some of them even struggle to justify their existence. Those who do, then have to face the fire from the 16 months old Realme Buds Q2, which is one of the best TWS earbuds under Rs 2,500, not just from the company, but in the entire segment.
Now comes the Realme Buds Air 3S which misses one major feature that the Buds Q2 offers – active noise cancellation (ANC). But in exchange, it does promise a few extras that the latter lacks like more customisable sound, volume control on the buds, longer battery backup and dual-pairing support. Is it enough to carve a niche for itself in a highly competitive segment? Let’s find out.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Design and Comfort (7/10)
The design is a case of two extremes. While the charging case is probably the dullest from the company, the design of the earbud is pretty cool and different from all other Realme TWS earbuds. The buds sport a matte black finish with a coat of gloss only on the tiny stems. Speaking of which, the stems have become progressively smaller in each of the Buds Air 3 series releases this year. These buds also have silicone fins that give them a more distinct appearance.
While the fins are supposed to provide a better grip, I believe the ones here are more for aesthetics. The reason being the fins did not touch any part of my earlobe even after turning the buds a bit. So while the in-ear fit is extremely comfortable, it isn’t snug enough. I found myself adjusting the buds a couple of times during a jog just to make sure they don’t pop out entirely, but they did stay in place during normal walks. On the topic of workouts, you can wear the Buds Air 3S during your workouts as they are IPX5-rated splash resistant.
While the design of the buds feels like an improvement over most of its siblings, it is exactly the opposite for the charging case. From the outside, the case looks like a dull plastic box with a transparent lid and a distinctly plasticky lower half with a matte finish. It is quite bulky and not exactly pocketable. The lid is a smudge and scratch magnet right out of the box. However, the finish is significantly better on the inside once you open the lid. It feels like the case was designed by two different people.
A charge and status LED is located inside the case, and a USB-C charging port can be found at the back of the case. Though Realme hasn’t specified the figures, the weight is not an issue for the case as well as the buds. The earbuds can be worn for a long time without any discomfort. The right-sized silicon tips offer decent passive noise isolation. Two extra pairs are bundled in the package along with a USB charging cable. The touch zones are present at the back of the stems, and the touch sensitivity is good. It supports double tap, triple tap and ‘touch and hold’ gestures.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Features and Specifications (8/10)
Each earbud is fitted with an 11 mm ‘Liquid Silicone Triple Titanium’ dynamic driver and a pair of microphones for calling and ‘AI ENC Call Noise Reduction’. There is no active noise cancellation (ANC) or wear detection sensors here, which is acceptable in this budget. Yes, the Buds Q2 have ANC, I know, yet. These earbuds are Bluetooth 5.3 compliant and support SBC and AAC codecs. There’s support for Dolby Atmos when paired with compliant phones. It boasts of 69 ms super low latency in Game mode.
You need to install the Realme Link app to get access to additional features of this product. The app lets you alter the sound profile, configure the controls and update the firmware, among other things. You can allocate functions to double tap, triple tap and ‘touch and hold’ gestures for the left and right earbuds. You can assign play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant, and volume control to those gestures. The Buds Air 3S supports dual pairing but it needs to be enabled from the app.
Realme has finally moved on from their usual three sound profiles, and you get four of them here – Nature Balance, Clear Vocals, Clear Bass, Bass Boost and also a 6-band equaliser to create a few custom profiles of your own. It is great to have this functionality which is quite rare on budget TWS earbuds. The first two sound profiles are perfectly usable, while the two bass profiles are overkill given that the default sound of these earbuds is already high on bass. More on that in the next section.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Performance (7/10)
These buds are sufficiently loud around 70-75% volume level and a little higher when in noisy areas. If that’s not loud enough for you, there is an option of switching on Volume Enhancer from that app which makes the buds significantly louder even at 50%. As I was just saying, the default output here is bass heavy, and the Nature Balance profile will suit the majority of users. The sound signature is V-shaped with boosted lows and highs, which should appeal to a sizable audience in this category.
The mids get impacted from both sides, yet the vocals are produced with reasonable clarity. The highs are quite sharp without sounding sibilant and there is ample bass. The bass is punchy but could have been tighter. If you find it excessive or prefer better vocal clarity, simply switch to the Clear Vocals preset. While it significantly enhances the midrange frequencies, the bass isn’t deficient either, just not excessive. If you are not a bass head, you might like it that way. It is also handy when watching voice-heavy content.
The ideal option is to simply create a couple of custom profiles using the 6-band equaliser. Just play around with it and see what suits your taste best. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always switch back to one of the aforementioned presets. One small thing that the company can improve upon in the future is to provide two equalisers with each for low, mid and high frequencies; currently, there’s just one for mids and three for the high-end frequencies.
The soundstage here is fairly narrow, but par for the course in this segment. We faced no latency issues even when not in Game mode. There was no noticeable lag between the video and audio when watching videos on my phone from OTT platforms. The wireless range is pretty good too with a strong connection at 10 metres with a clear line of sight, and more than half of that with a concrete wall in between.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Call quality (6.5/10)
The call quality on the Realme Buds Air 3S is average at best. It is perfectly manageable in quieter areas, and you are clearly audible to the person on call, though the vocals aren’t the sharpest. When in noisy areas, despite the extra microphones and the noise cancellation algorithm, a lot of ambient sounds were clearly audible to the person on the line. The short stems probably don’t help.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Battery life (8.5/10)
The battery backup here is quite impressive. The company claims 7 hours for the buds and 30 hours overall with the charging case, and it is not far from the truth. With the loudness mostly around 75% during testing without a volume enhancer, the earbuds managed to go on for a little over six hours, and the case could recharge them thrice over with a bit of juice left in the tank. That adds up to an overall battery backup of close to 26 hours for the buds and case combined, which is quite good.
They also support fast charging, and those numbers are equally impressive. A 10-minute charge promises close to 5 hours of playtime, which is excellent for the segment. The buds can be fully charged in about an hour, while the buds and case can go from 0 to 100% in less than two hours. The battery level of each earbud and the charging case is visible in the Realme Link app.
Realme Buds Air 3S: Price and verdict
The Realme Buds Air 3S is priced at Rs 2,499 with a one-year warranty. For that price, you get a pair of TWS earphones with a neat design (earbuds, not the case), punchy sound output, multiple sound profiles along with an option to create your own profiles, configurable controls and impressive battery backup. You get a few new features that are missing even in some of the more expensive TWS buds from the company. What you do not get is ANC, which is understandable at that price point
If ANC is a high priority, you can opt for the Realme Buds Q2 at a similar price or Rs 500 cheaper in online sales. However, you will have to make do with lower battery backup, predefined sound profiles and a lack of volume control on the buds. As for other competitors, there are two more that come to mind straight away – Oppo Enco Buds2 and OnePlus Nord Buds. The Oppo offers a more balanced sound output and comparable battery backup for Rs 500 to Rs 700 less.
The overall package looks more premium too. Again, you do not get a custom equaliser option and need to choose from the three sound presets. However, the Nord Buds that sell for a price similar to the Realme Buds Air 3S do give you the option to tweak the sound in addition to comparable battery life and sound quality. The design is quite unique too but may not appeal to everybody. It is hard to crown a clear winner between them, but these are the best TWS earphones under Rs 2,500 at the moment. Take your pick.
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