Thursday 17 October 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems


Thumbs up: no sub-€200 wireless earphones are as well designed as the Apple AirPods
Thumbs up: no sub-€200 wireless earphones are as well designed as the Apple AirPods
Microsoft Surface GO LTE
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: I'm looking to get wireless earphones. My daughter tells me that Apple's AirPods are good, but I'm a bit afraid of losing them. I'd appreciate any recommendations you might have.


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First off, I've been wearing AirPods for almost two years and have never lost one of the earpieces. Granted, I'm generally careful (I rarely lose keys or phones, for example). But there's a physical reason, too - AirPods just don't fall out of your ears. I've used them (a lot) while running and they've never slipped out.

That said, only you will know whether you tend to lose things like that or not. If so, it's not a great idea to get these.

But if it's mainly the risk of them falling out, I'd give them two enthusiastic thumbs up: no sub-€200 wireless earphones are as well designed, or produce audio that is as good, as Apple's small device. You can use them with either iPhones or Android phones, too (or iPads, Android tablets, laptops and the like). They also have a small microphone, meaning they're really effective for hands-free calls.

One caveat to mention is that Apple is expected to launch a new upgraded model of AirPods within the next couple of months. Aside from whatever additional functionality attached to the gadget, it also means that the current ones will be discounted for at least a month afterwards.

There are also alternatives to the AirPods out there. Samsung, for example, has just released its Galaxy Buds, which sit in your ear like the AirPods. They're a bit cheaper (€159) and do a similar job to the AirPods.

I've worn them a few times and, while the sound from them is decent, they don't quite match the AirPods' audio quality. They also come with a number of small rubber inner ear rings for a custom fit but, again, they don't feel quite as lodged (in my ears, anyway) as the AirPods.

If you're just not comfortable with individual wireless ear buds as a concept, maybe a sporting-type set of wireless earphones might work.

Motorola's Stream Sport (€99 at Currys) are in-ear models with hooks that go around your ear to make sure they don't fall out. Like Apple's earphones, Motorola's come with a small recharging box for the earphones. The box itself can then be juiced up.

Then there are options such as Plantronics' BackBeat Fit (€110 from Favoured by runners, these stay fairly firmly attached to your ear, thanks to a rubber loop around the buds.

While the buds are wireless (from your phone or MP3 player), they're connected with a cord that goes around the back of your neck, a common design for sports earphones. Obviously, this is a different design from the AirPods.

You'll get a similar level of quality from Monster's iSport Victory earphones (€99 from Harvey Norman or €119 from Argos), which are a little lighter than the Plantronics earphones.

However, while the Monster buds also have a small design loop to keep them in your ear, I'm not sure it's as effective a method - it may depend more on the shape of your lobes.

Alternatively, have you considered overhead wireless headphones? Although clearly bulkier, they often have better audio quality and are much harder to lose.

Many also have one excellent attribute: noise-cancellation. If you've never tried this, it's a game-changer. If you're not familiar with how noise-cancelling headphones work, the headphones measure the sound around you and are then able to turn the specific audio frequencies back on one another, thus 'cancelling' out the noise to your ear. It's a little like neutralising a bad smell with an air freshener, except rather than just replacing the stink with 'pine scent' or 'sea breeze', it chemically dilutes the original smell, at least as far as your senses go.

They're especially useful for people who are sensitive to noise.

I find them utterly invaluable when travelling (especially) and sometimes in the office or in a café when there's a din going on that's disrupting my concentration (or my sense of calm).

Sony's 1000XM3 headphones are the best around at the moment, although they'll set you back €379.

Bose's QuietComfort, at around the same price, are also good, although not as good as Sony's in my experience.

There are a few decent mid-range wireless sets available, such as Sennheiser's HD 4.50 (€159 from DID Electrical or Harvey Norman).

At the budget end (under €100) of the overhead wireless range, you have brands such as Philips, Skullcandy and Sennheiser.

One thing to avoid is 'on ear' headphones as, although they're cheaper, the audio from them is worse than either overhead or 'in-ear' models. This is because they sit outside your ear, in the same way that traditional old foam-based Walkman earphones used to.

Recommendation: Apple AirPods (€179 from retailers everywhere)

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