REVIEW: You've Never Worn Buds Like These by Glen Hart at NewsTalk ZB

January 27

If you're reading this from outside New Zealand, you may not have heard of our Number 8 wire, can-do attitude. In fact, you may not even have heard of Number 8 wire. Just to bring you up to speed, it's the sturdy wire commonly used in farm fencing that can also be bent and cut into an unlimited selection of shapes and lengths for any number of other uses.

We Kiwis claim to be able to improvise anything if we have access to a pair of pliers and a roll of No.8 - from basic handtools right up to flightworthy aircraft.

While that's a slight exaggeration, it can't be denied despite our relatively small population, our nation often punches above its weight on the world stage. Obvious examples include leading the charge in yacht-racing technology (we're the current and frequent holders of the coveted America's Cup) and Rocket Lab, a company that literally launches satellites into space on a regular basis, from right here in little old N.Z.

In a nutshell, we hate it when people tell us something can't be done. In fact, that usually is just the catalyst we need to forge on and achieve the impossible.

So what has all that got to do with earbuds?

The Earshots story is another prime example of Kiwi can-do.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, James Bell-Booth suddenly found himself out of a job and stuck at home in Palmerston North. While some people may have found that a bit of a setback, Bell-Booth seized the opportunity to solve a problem he'd been grappling with for a while; earbuds that actually stay in when you're mountain biking.

Over the following months he sat at his kitchen table, working on a series of prototypes, fiddling about with magnets and burning his ears and fingers on too-recently moulded plastic.

To bring a quality product to market takes a team though - and assembling one during a world-wide pandemic proved challenging. However, embracing all the networking technology available to him, Bell-Booth did indeed get his team together, although not physically together - it turns out that's not really so important anymore. The Earshots crew are spread not only across New Zealand but around the world.

The result was pretty crazy; a pair of buds held on by the unique SHOCKLOCK system, a combination of in and over-ear components that magnetise together to stay firmly in place.

And I'm here to tell you, that's exactly what they do.

I've walked. I've run. I've cycled. I've painted. I've dug. I've lifted. I've even gone up and down ladders. The Earshots never moved. I'm not a hang-upside-down-from-a-rock-face kind of guy but I'm confident if I was, these things would stay.

Earshots has just launched its second-generation and now the fit is more customisable - allowing you to rotate the bud between five different angles to best suit your ear shape.

There's nothing subtle about this form-factor; but if you're an adventure junkie you're probably less interested in fashion and more concerned with substance over style.

The good news is, Earshots are all about substance. Not only do they stay in always without fail, they offer the longest battery life of any earbuds I've ever reviewed. Up to ten hours playback from a single charge and - wait for it - up to 150 hours from a fully charged case. Can this be true? 150 hours? How would I know? I charged the case (via USB-C) when I first unboxed my Earshots and I've never had to since. Not once. And I wear them all the time. If battery life is your number one concern, these should be your number one choice.

With buds this size and shape and battery life like that, you might think the case is a little bigger than conventional wireless earbuds. Wrong. It's way, way, way bigger. Kind of like a small lunchbox or toolbox - that's what it reminds me of anyway, with it's chunky, tough construction and clickety-clackety clasp. There's no way this is fitting in your pocket. But it won't smash if you drop it and it keeps your Earshots charged for A HUNDRED AND FIFTY HOURS! So who cares?

These 2022 Earshots claim to have been significantly upgraded in terms of sound quality - I haven't tried the originals so I can't comment. What I do know is they've cleverly moved a lot of the inner-workings out of the buds themselves and into the rear housing that sits behind your ears. Apparently this means they have more space to do cool stuff with titanium drivers, pressurised acoustic chambers and helmholtz resonators... whatever any of those are. They sound pretty damn good, anyway.

"Black River" by Amos Lee is a very simple track, mostly bass and Lee's acoustic guitar. Yet the Earshots do a wonderful job of creating a wide soundscape for the nicely produced stereo effects. The bass is strong, if slightly boomy but all in all, there's quite a bit of audio magic happening here. 

Which is just as well, given there's no companion app of any kind to adjust the EQ or any other settings for that matter. Is this an issue? I guess that depends how much you like to tinker around with your sound. Personally, I'm more than happy with the mix; vocals come through warm and clear, there's plenty of oomph across most frequencies and as I've mentioned, there's really powerful bass response - if just a tad muddy.

Call quality is perfectly satisfactory too. My test for this is if the people I'm talking to ask me if I'm on bluetooth during our conversations. None have, so I assume they're receiving me loud and clear.

On-board controls are the one area where there's still plenty of room for improvement; there really aren't any. Okay, yes there's a small play/pause/answer button on each bud but that's it. No volume control, no virtual assistant, no pass-through or Active Noise Cancellation. You can't even skip tracks. I feel like this is something James and his team need to address for the next generation. Given these buds have been specifically designed for activities like cycling and climbing, where you need your hands free for long periods of time, having to get your phone out to fast-forward the intro of your podcast seems counter-intuitive. I do quite like the way the single control button on each side is also positioned on the rear housing. It makes it easy to find and more comfortable to push against the side of your head, rather than pushing the bud into your ear.

I can't say I've missed ANC much. This is a deliberate design decision as cyclists in particular prefer to hear a little of their surroundings to prevent being taken out by speeding cattle trucks and the like. To be honest, the fit is good enough and the Earshots can be wound up loud enough to block out most other annoying noises anyway.

Which brings us back to the beauty of these buds - not physical beauty - but truly innovative design that makes Earshots the most purpose-built wireless earphones I've ever met. If you ride a bike, climb mountains, spend a lot of time upside-down or you're just sick of your earbuds falling out, you won't be disappointed with these.

Full review from GlenZB here