Mar 9th, 2017

The headphone jack is in a precarious position right now. Some manufacturers are ditching it, others are sticking with it. People seem to be split on whether they need it or not. I’m one of the people that still needs the headphone jack, but this situation has made me pay more attention to Bluetooth headphones. For better or worse, the future is wireless.

Several months ago I tried the Bragi Dash wireless earbuds. Frankly, I was not impressed. They were very expensive, didn’t sound as good as I hoped, and constantly fell out of my ears. I realized that having completely independent earbuds (like Apple AirPods) was not for me. In my search for finding a decent pair of wireless headphones, I came across the Anker SoundBuds.

Anker is a well-known name in the tech world for having high-quality and affordable accessories. Along with the plethora of chargers, batteries, cables, and other accessories, Anker has a line of wireless headphones. I got my hands on two models: the SoundBuds Slim and SoundBuds Sport NB10. How good can a pair of sub-$50 wireless headphones be? Let’s find out.

Anker SoundBuds Slim Review

The SoundBuds Slim look like your average pair of earbuds. They’re lightweight with rubber tips that go in your ear and “wings” that help keep them from falling out. On the right side, there are controls for power on/off, play/pause, volume, and skipping. A short cable connects the two earbuds and magnets allow you to wear them like a necklace when not in use. It’s very handy.

Fit

Anker provides four sizes of tips and three sizes of wings. The fit is important with all headphones, but it’s especially important with Bluetooth headphones. If the fit isn’t good you’ll be constantly adjusting them and worrying about them falling out. But since these headphones aren’t completely wireless, you don’t have to worry about losing a single earbud.

I’m pretty picky about how headphones fit. When it comes to earbuds, I prefer the type that sits outside the ear canal. Unfortunately, the SoundBuds Slim are like most modern earbuds I’ve found. The rubber tips are meant to be put in the ear canal. I was able to find a combination of small tips and large wings that are comfortable and not too loose.

Connection

Connecting the headphones to your phone is super easy. Just connect them like you would any other device for the first time. After the initial setup, they will very quickly connect to your phone every time you turn them on. Long-pressing the play/pause button turns them on and off. Anker claims a connection range of 33 feet. I was able to go from one end of my house to the other without dropping the connection.

Sound Quality

Let’s talk about sound quality. As mentioned previously, I wasn’t impressed with the sound quality of the $250 Bragi Dash. The SoundBuds Slim sound every bit like a pair of $20 headphones, but I actually prefer them to the Dash and the more expensive SoundBuds Sport (below). Something I’ve noticed with every pair of Bluetooth headphones is a slight hiss or white noise in the background. It’s present on the Slim, but not as noticeable.

The Bragi Dash and SoundBuds Sport have bigger drivers than the Slim, which seems like it would be a good thing, but that makes the background noise more pronounced. The noise is especially noticeable when listening to people talk on podcasts. If you listen to primarily music you won’t notice it so much. In my case, the small drivers work as a positive.

I will admit that I’m not an audiophile, but I don’t think anyone that buys $20 headphones expects high-end audio quality. You get what you pay for, and I’m pretty happy with how these sound considering the price point. Just keep that in mind.

Battery

Anker claims the Slim can last up to 7 hours on a single charge. I was able to get slightly less than that, but impressive nonetheless. Just enough for a couple workouts at the gym or a lengthy run. These headphones don’t come with any fancy charging case. You’ll have to charge them the old fashioned way with the included microUSB cable.

Pros

  • Magnetic buds are clever
  • Lightweight & easy to wear
  • Solid battery life & connection
  • Super affordable

Cons

  • Control module weighs down right side
  • Audio quality is average

Anker SoundBuds Sport NB10 Review

As the name implies, the SoundBuds Sport NB10 are geared towards activity. They have an over-ear hook and a flexible band that fits snugly behind your head. The tips are much bigger than the Slim, but they aren’t designed to go in your ear canal. The right ear headphone has controls for power on/off, play/pause, volume, and skipping built in. The volume down button can be a little tough to push, but that might just be my ears.

Fit

The Sport comes with three different tip sizes and two clips for adjusting the fit of the band around your head. If found these headphones to be extremely comfortable. With the Sport, I’m always a little concerned they will fall out, but there are zero worries with the Sport. I like the over-ear hook design because you don’t have to jam the buds into your ear to make sure they don’t fall out. It’s always secure.

I didn’t know how I would feel about the rigid cable on the Sport that wraps around your head. It’s a pretty common design for active headphones, and now I know why. These headphones feel like an extension of your head. You can shake your head vigorously and they barely move if you have the band sized up correctly. It’s a rock-solid fit.

Connection

The Sport boasts the same connection range as the Slim. Just like the Slim model, the range is plenty long enough for my needs. I never lost a connection while walking around the house. After the initial set-up, they connect to my phone almost instantly every time. All you have to do is long-press the play/pause button.

Sound Quality

Now here’s where things get complicated. In the Slim review, I talked about the hissing/white noise that’s present in the background while playing audio. This is something I’ve noticed on every pair of Bluetooth headphones. The Sport has 12mm drivers that make them considerably louder than the Slim. That extra volume comes at a price.

The sound quality is a definite improvement over the Slim, but with a few caveats. The volume is much louder and the sound is more clear. If you primarily listen to music, these headphones are worth the extra $20 over the Slim. However, if you listen to a lot of podcasts, the higher volume threshold makes the background noise distractingly noticeable.

I mentioned that the Slim sounds like a pair of $20 headphones. So the question is, does the Sport sound $20 better? I’m not an audiophile, but there is a very obvious difference in the audio quality between these two models. The Sport does sound better, but it might not be the best choice for podcast listeners.

Battery

Surprisingly, the battery in the Sport is not as good as the Slim model. Anker says it can last up to 6 hours compared to the 7 hours for the Slim. In my testing, I didn’t notice a major difference in battery life between the two. The Sport will get you through multiple workouts and runs before needing a charge. Again, there’s no nifty charging case that you can use for extra juice throughout the day. Just the trusty microUSB cable.

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Solid battery life & connection
  • Audio quality is decent
  • Super affordable

Cons

  • Control buttons could be in a better spot
  • Noticeable white noise when listening to podcasts

Conclusion

This has been a tough choice for me. I absolutely love the fit of the SoundsBuds Sport. The tips are more comfortable for my ears, and the neck band is super secure. However, I am a podcast guy. When I’m out on a bike ride or doing chores around the house, I’m listening to podcasts. The white noise in the background is very distracting. For that reason, I tend to reach for the Slim more than the Sport. That might not be the case for you.

It’s hard to recommend a specific pair of headphones when everyone has different ears and needs. What I can do is tell you that these headphones are worth every penny. Anker makes some of the best tech accessories around and these headphones are no different. $20 is an insanely good price for wireless headphones. Even $40 is pretty dang cheap. If you want to take your first step into the wireless world, these headphones are a good place to start.

Amazon: SoundBuds Slim 
Amazon: SoundBuds Sport NB10
local_offer    Anker   Bluetooth headphones