When you are shopping tech at a highly restricted budget, you expect it to have a few caveats. Be it smartphones, headphones, laptops, TVs, or anything, a cheaper option cuts down in a lot of areas to make the cheaper price possible. When Realme announced the Buds Air last year, it felt cheap right out of the box. It was built badly and had lots of operational issues. Since it was the first of its kind, it got empathy. In 2020, however, things have changed.
This year, I have reviewed a host of great wireless earbuds for less than Rs 5,000 and did not feel the need to suggest a premium pair of earbuds, like the Apple AirPods. One of my favorites this year is the Oppo Enco W51, which impressed with noise cancellation and audio performance – an impressive package for less than Rs 5,000. Hence, when Realme announced the Realme Buds Air Pro for the same price, I had high expectations.
The Realme Buds Air Pro is average – there’s no better way to put it. The Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a compelling feature on paper but that’s not enough to make it worth recommending unless the price drops by almost Rs 1,000. Let me explain.
The Realme Buds Air Pro looks just like any of the wireless earbuds you have seen from a BBK owned brand. Hence, if I present the Vivo TWS Neo, OnePlus Buds, and Realme Buds Air Pro together, you will be mistaken as to what’s what. The Buds Air Pro carries the same pebble-shaped case design with the bulky earbuds resting inside.
While OnePlus, Vivo and Oppo ensure the build quality is fine, Realme probably does not put it on priority. The Buds Air Pro’s case does not have the same finish and quality as the Oppo or OnePlus earbuds. It feels flimsy and the case easily picks up grime as well as dust, both of which are hard to clean. The lid itself makes creaking noise and unless you are cautious, you might break it without knowing.
Things aren’t good on the inside. Whoever designed the Buds Air Pro did not figure out an easy way to designs the earbuds slots. The process of taking out the earbuds is painful, especially if you have smaller nails. The cramped interior along with the bulge of the buds makes it quite difficult to pop-it out of the case.
The earbuds themselves are eager to pick up oil and grime from the ears. There’s a convenient LED indicator on the case that shows the battery as well as connectivity status. The presence of a USB-C port also helps to a large extent.
The Realme Buds Air Pro is all about the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and hence, we should talk about it first. Similar to the Oppo Enco W51, the Buds Air Pro has effective ANC performance. During my outdoor walking sessions, the ANC in the Buds Air Pro managed to cut out chirpy kids playing around, the clatter of a diesel car, birds chirping, and the wind noises. I was still able to hear out horns though.
There’s a transparent mode too that amplifies the ambient sounds. I used it while talking to my family during the walking sessions and it worked as advertised. The Normal mode is good in cutting out noise, thanks to the impressive passive noise cancellation arrangement in the buds.
Sadly, the audio quality itself isn’t as good as the ANC performance. Realme has gone for the same balanced approach as it did for the Realme Buds Air. Hence, you get a decent overall performance, with good enough mids, lows, and highs. The bass performance is fledgling and I wished Realme had followed Oppo to either enhance it or introduce a dedicated bass mode like the Enco W31.
The mids and highs also lacked depth and I mostly resorted to using the Buds Air Pro for YouTube videos. For example, in the track “Care ni karda”, the bass is absent and the vocals feel a bit compressed. It is not as live as the sound on the Enco W51. Changing the equaliser settings did little to make the experience enjoyable.
The call quality was good and my callers were able to listen to me loud and clear. However, due to the odd shape of the earbuds, I found the earbuds falling off every time I laughed or made lots of jaw movements. The Buds Air in comparison does not suffer from this issue due to its smaller earbuds dimensions.
The in-ear detention works as advertised. However, I have lots of issues with the touch controls. The touch sensitivity is poor and it often took me a couple of presses to get the function right. The double-press gesture is tough to do on the move. Changing the noise cancellation modes was more tricky – it works at times but I frequently found it disobeying my commands.
Realme claims you can get up to 5 hours of battery life from the earbuds without ANC. I do not use earphones for that long (you shouldn’t as well) but in my average usage of 1.5-hours daily, I never had to hunt for the case to top-up the battery. I attended an hour-long video meeting and it did not shut down – something the Buds Air does too often. With ANC, the battery drops faster but for general usage, I did not find it bothersome.
The case itself lasted me close to two weeks on a single charge and that’s great by all means. It takes two hours to fill up the case with the earphones inside. There’s no wireless charging here like the Buds Air, which is a shame considering its higher price.
Realme Buds Air Pro: Should you buy it?
The Realme Buds Air Pro is a decent set of wireless earbuds at Rs 4,499. It offers active noise cancellation, which is a rarity for a pair of wireless earphones under Rs 5,000. The battery life is good too, which is helpful while taking long duration calls. Sadly, the niceties end here for me.
The audio quality is sub-par and if you love good quality music, you will be better off with the Oppo Enco W51. The build quality is not on par with what the competition offers in this price bracket. Realme needs to work on the touch sensitivity and design for its upcoming wireless earbuds.
On the whole, I would pick up the Oppo Enco W51 over the Realme Buds Air Pro any given day. It sounds lively, has equally good noise cancellation, and is built better. The best part is that you can get it right now at Rs 4,499 on Amazon, which is the same price as the Realme Buds Air Pro.