I had high hopes for Sol Republic’s new Amps Air truly wireless earbuds which debut today. Sol Republic has a long history of making low-priced gear that sounds pretty good, and with Apple’s AirPods delayed for the next little while, the Amps Air earbuds could be a good alternative, especially since they sell for just $180, with a special $150 promo price. And then I put them in my ears.
Ouch. Literally. The Amps Air earbuds are large and feel more like like ear plugs or a hearing aid than earbuds. Say what you will about the look of AirPods, but they fit in your ear the same way as traditional EarPods. The Amps Airs come with a number of different tips for getting a solid seal in your ear, but none of them felt right in my canals.
Moreover, having such a large bud jammed into my ear canal wasn’t exactly comfortable. Even just sitting with the Amps Airs during testing, my ears hurt. Changing the tips didn’t help.
And that’s a shame, because aside from the bulk (which isn’t insignificant), these things actually sound pretty good. I was able to get good sound playing a mix of hip-hop, EDM, pop, and even low-fi indie rock.
The Amps Airs connect over Bluetooth and I had no problem pairing them with my iPhone 7 Plus (a phone that can be prone to Bluetooth issues). There is an included microphone in the bud and it worked OK for calls. It’s also designed to work with Siri or Google Now, but in my tests, Siri rarely understood what I was saying with the buds in. For example, when I asked Siri to play Metallica, the mic was so bad that Siri showed me a map location instead.
Battery life is rated at three hours, and that’s exactly what I got. The Amps Air buds come with a battery case that can charge them up to 15 times before the case itself needs to be charged. The case is bulky—certainly bulkier than Apple’s floss-like case for AirPods—but it also doubles as a 2200 mAh battery charger for your phone, which is nice.
But man, are these things uncomfortable! They also don’t feel secure. If you want to go on a jog be prepared to grab them as they tumble out of your ears.
If I lived in a world in which AirPods weren’t on the cusp of coming out, I might be more inclined to recommend the Amps Air—the low price almost outweighs the inconvenience of fit and a bad microphone. But that’s not the world we live in. If you want truly wireless earbuds for under $200, just wait for the $160 AirPods. More discerning audiophiles should also consider waiting for the Here One earbuds coming in early 2017 from Doppler Labs. I got a demo of them last week and they sound great and feel good in your ears.
- Uncomfortable. Despite the number of included ear tips, I could never get a good seal for my ears.
- Although these things are sweat proof, don’t expect to use them during a workout. They hurt and will probably fall out of your ears.
- The microphone is weak. Double-tapping on the sides will open Siri, but she probably won’t be able to respond. Phone calls fared slightly better.
- Decent sound quality. These things hurt, but they sound pretty good.
- Battery life is 3 hours as rated, the case will give you another 45 hours of charge time.
- The battery case doubles as a USB charger, which is a nice touch.
- No volume or playback control on the sides. You can only pause and play.
- They come in rose gold, which I appreciate.