Realme Buds Air review: should Tim Cook a new AirPods recipe?

I pity everyone who got the AirPods now. Imagine sitting in a hipster cafe with your MacBook Air and AirPods in your ears, while you pretend to work. And, somebody comes up from behind and asks you. 

“Hey, are these the new Realme Buds Air?”

Let’s just address the elephant in the room first. The Realme Buds Air looks a lot like the Apple AirPods. From the case to the pods, you can’t tell the two apart easily. I can’t even mask that fact. 

Anyway, now if we can look past the design, the Buds Air has a lot to offer in terms of features. So, let’s take a detailed look at the Realme Buds Air.  

Design, fit, controls, and features

I want to talk a little bit more about the design and compare it directly to the AirPods with Charging Case. The case that holds the Buds Air is more rounded compared to the slightly flatter AirPods case. You also have a breathing LED light on the front. Whereas, on the AirPods 2, you’ve got a regular LED peeking out of the case. Obviously, the breathing LED looks better. 

That said, the AirPods case has a few things that it does better. For example, its got a metal insert at the lid which makes it easier to flip it open with one finger with ease. I mean I can flip the Buds Air’s case with one finger as well but it is not as smooth. Moreover, the AirPods are comparatively narrower and slimmer. This, when clubbed with the adequate spacing in the case, makes it easier to pull the AirPods out. It is slightly more cumbersome to do the same with the Buds Air. Also, it doesn’t help that the surface is glossy. So, if you have oily, sweaty hands, God helps you. Talking about sweat, these are IPX2 rated making them sweat-proof. 

As for the build of the case and the ear pods, it is entirely made of plastic but it feels pretty tough. They should be able to withstand rough usage. And, one more thing, you guys are all already aware that these are available in White, Yellow, and Black. But, I would sincerely urge you to get the Yellow or the Black one, so that you can at least distinguish yourselves from the AirPods-wearing crowd. Plus, you can also hide the grime from your ears that will keep sticking to the buds – on White it’ll be clearly visible. Fun fact: the one reason why TWS manufacturers make glossy plastic body earphones are to ensure that you can clean the ear wax easily. 

Also read: HiFiMAN TWS600 review: No wires, no problem

Moving on, let’s talk about the fit. Now, here’s where the AirPods wins hands down. And, that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Buds Air because the AirPods’ fit is not great, to begin with. By design, these earbuds, have a higher propensity of falling from your ears and cannot be used during workouts. It happens more often on the Buds Air. In fact, just like the AirPods, the right ones have a bad fit for me. One good thing is the weight of the Buds Air is just around 4g and that makes it extremely comfortable to wear for long listening sessions.

Now, the Buds Air also comes with touch controls. You can double-tap on the touch area — which is strictly located at the head and not the stem — to play/pause music or accept calls. You can triple tap to change the song. And yes, just like the AirPods, for volume control you will have to use the Voice Assistant. To invoke the Google Assistant or Siri, you have to long-press the touch area. To start the gaming mode for low latency, you long-press both the earbuds and you will hear a sound prompt of a racing car and to exit this mode, you long-press again and you will hear a piano sound. Honestly, all of these work extremely well and the touch latency is superb too with the right amount of delay. Surprisingly, I faced no hiccups whatsoever with the controls. Realme has definitely got the basics right here. 

What I did face a problem with is the slight lag with automatic play/pause. Essentially, the Buds Air comes with the same feature as the AirPods where if you remove one of the Buds from your ears it pauses music automatically. This worked without a fail at least 95% of the time during my testing on iOS and Android, both. But, the music stops after a slight delay every time. The delay is close to nil on the AirPods. 

As for connectivity, the Buds Air uses BT 5.0 standard but it can only connect to one device at once. You will have to press the pairing button to connect to a different device. Interestingly, Google Fast Pair support brings in the feature were merely opening the lid on the case will put it in pairing mode but Realme promises that it is coming in January for the Buds Air. Now, as far as the BT connection is concerned it was rock solid. I didn’t face a single connection drop during my testing and the range of 10m is standard across most devices. Again, Realme nailing the basics. 

Also read: 1MORE Stylish True Wireless Earbuds review: this energizer bunny is the boss of bass

Now, all of this is possible because of the R1 chip. This apparently helps in improving connection stability and with seamless Wear Detection features. It also helps with the low latency mode, which I will talk about later. 

A sound signature, battery life, connectivity, and call quality

Finally, let’s talk about the sound quality and the unique signature that Realme’s engineers have tried to create for the Buds Air. For testing, I used the Galaxy Note 10+, iPhone 11 Pro, and MacBook Pro. Note that the Buds Air supports SBC and AAC codec. No aptX support if you were hoping for it. The Note 10+ also uses the AAC codec 

What I find surprising is that Realme fits big 12mm dynamic drivers inside, which can get really loud by the way. Now, these are meant to be bass-heavy and to a certain extent, they are. The mid-bass attack is not very fast and there is a clear decay on a song like Acid Rain by Lorn. But you get a lot of volume in the low-end for a pair of earbuds. The sub-bass performance was pretty good too in Jai Paul’s new single Do You Love Her Now. The Buds Air offers a good bass response overall and the best part is that it doesn’t bleed into the other frequency. I only wish if it had a bit more weight to the attack.

When it comes to the treble, it is rolled off at the higher end of the frequency chart. And, in Creep by Radiohead, I could hear some unbearable spikes in the high end that got a little annoying. Although, there is a fair bit of detail in the Treble which is evident from the first minute of Steely Dan’s Do It Again. 

Now, to test the stereo separation you must try the track Flirting with June by Les Gordon. The vocal harmonies that move from the left to the right are not very effective if you ask me. I couldn’t feel the sense of movement in the vocals from the left to the right. The other problem is, while there’s a lot of clarity and no muddiness, the dynamics are not very apparent. It feels like all the frequencies are operating in the same plane with very little to no dynamism at all in a song like These Days by Foo Fighters.

Also read: AirPods 2 review: a clear consumer-first approach

What I noticed in my testing is the sound signature is somewhat U-shaped with a very average soundstage. The mids are recessed and the bass and the highs take precedence for sure. It is a fun, engaging sound that the masses will come to like because it is musical. I am just glad it is clean for the most part with good imaging. These are not audiophile-grade by any definition. 

That said, by virtue of its design, the noise isolation is below average and at high volumes the sound does leak. Walking on the street, I could hear the din of the traffic clearly and that ruined my listening experience. 

One of the good additions to the Buds Air is the low latency mode for gaming. That is a very smart move by Realme. Essentially, with gaming mode on the latency drops to around 119.3ms from 243.8ms. This is great because in my testing with Call of Duty and PUBG, I noticed no audio-video lag at all. Even a bit. In fact, this helps while watching movies as well. However, note that the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless can go as low as 60ms. In fact, with aptX LL, certain BT headphones can even breach the 35ms mark, which is excellent! 

Now, does gaming mode affect battery life? No. But, it does affect BT range but that doesn’t matter because your phone is going to be close to the earbuds when you are gaming anyway. Talking about battery life, the earbuds can last around 3 hours. So, I tried it on a flight streaming a movie with a full battery. It lasted me 3 hours and 10 mins at 70% volume. This is average. But the case can give you 17 hours of battery life. So, that’s some reprieve I guess. It takes around an hour to charge the battery to full, by the way. But, the best part is that you get wireless charging support. Which is ironical considering you don’t get wireless charging support on any Realme phone yet. 

One reason why I really love these stem-style earphones is that it improves call quality by leaps and bounds. The Buds Air comes with 2 environmental noise canceling (ENC) mics on each bud and it helps greatly in calls. The caller on the other end and I both experienced excellent call quality, and our voice sounded very good and clean. It was almost as good as the AirPods and that is high praise. 

Should you buy the Realme Buds Air?

Alright, so we are at the end of this one and my biggest gripe with the Realme Buds Air has to be the inspired…no…copied design. For a brand that has, up until now, created great original product designs — including its very own Realme Buds Wireless and phones like the Realme C2 with a diamond-cut back – this is definitely a step back. And that matters because you are going to be using these earbuds day in and day out. A clone. A copy. This is not something that I, personally, am ever going to be okay with.

But yes, if you can look past the design, the Realme Buds Air offers a whole lot for its meagre asking price of Rs 3,999. This includes stable connectivity, a low latency mode for gaming, automatic play/pause features that work seamlessly across different mobile ecosystems, excellent call quality, and a fairly enjoyable sound signature. 

Although, there are a few great alternatives in and around the same price bracket. One that I’d recommend in a heartbeat is the 1More Stylish Truly Wireless, which is around Rs 5,500. These are an excellent pair especially if you want aptX and a better sound signature with more dynamics and more engaging bass response. Plus, they fit wonderfully in your ears. However, I know a lot of folks who don’t prefer the in-ear style and for them, the earbuds style is the perfect option. This includes my parents, by the way. Additionally, the Buds Air is unequivocally better for phone calls.

Then there are the new JBL TWS earphones, which I haven’t had a chance to test out but they are apparently pretty good. 

In the end, though, all I can say is the Realme Buds Air is definitely the best AirPods clone in the market right now. Make what you want of that statement. And maybe, just maybe, Tim might have to Cook a new AirPods design IP. 

So, I hope I have answered all your questions in this review. If you still have doubts invade the comments section below and I will try to help you make finalize your purchase decision. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?