Holiday Gift Guide 2020: A Holiday Wireless Earbud Guide

The holidays are too short this year to listen to sub-par audio. Whether you are listening to your favourite jam, provocative podcasts, chatting on zoom calls or grinding it out at the gym, a sturdy pair of headphones will need to keep up with you as they provide the soundtrack to your holiday rush. Given the myriad of styles and designs available in wireless earbuds, which is the best buy for you? Check out our handy guide on what you should be looking for in a great pair of buds to make sure you can confidently turn it to 10 without losing fidelity in audio. Sound good? (….get it?) 

Apple AirPods Pro

Apple has come a long way in building up their flagship AirPods. The AirPods Pros have become an easily identifiable badge for an Apple fan and have become highly sought after since they vastly improved on their first gen versions. Revamping the form-factor of the first generation  AirPods, the Pro editions sport a new ergonomic form and unlike their predecessors, actually stay in your ear. It seems that Apple is taking headphone comfort pretty seriously these days. Right out of the box and upon pairing, the AirPods Pro presents you with a setup wizard that helps you find the best fit for your ear. They help you select the best silicone tips (included in box) for your comfort and listening preference. In terms of design, the stem is much shorter than the first gen AirPods and it definitely does not get in the way. The stems themselves have a very nice squeeze input that allows you to control a variety of features, and are less prone to mistaken taps and swipes (an issue I’ve always had with first gen AirPods). Finally, the AirPods Pros are manufactured using a sweat wicking material that will ensure that they do not slip out of your ears while you are working out or engaged in high impact exercises. 

From a technical feature perspective, Apple has once again gone the distance by ensuring that there is seamless integration with other Apple products and services. It goes without saying that the integration with SIRI is tighter than ever. You can now invoke your personal assistant just by uttering her name, completely hands free! Further integrations include seamless handoff between all of your Apple H1 enabled devices without ever needing to re-pair them. A massive improvement over the first gen AirPods that surprisingly has saved me tons of time! While Android users may miss out on this feature (along with auto pause and the test fit wizard), they can expect to still use the AirPods Pro’s squeeze feature to control the Google assistant or manually to pause and play music. 

In terms of performance, you can expect Apple’s AirPods Pro to crank out 5 solid hours of music playback on a single charge. Putting them back into the case for just 5 minutes will bring them back to full power. The charging case itself will give you another 20 hours of charging time. Needless to say, these little guys will give you an all day headphone experience as you move from different tasks in your daily routine without having to once reach for your lightning cable.

The AirPods Pro earbuds have great Bluetooth connectivity and make excellent use of active noise cancelling and transparency modes. The active noise cancelling is highly dependent on the fit of your AirPods (hence the fit wizard) and does a great job to ensure that your listening experience is void of outside noise. Transparency mode leverages the on-board microphones on the device to let outside audio in so that you can easily hear what is going on around you (or if someone starts speaking to you) without taking them out of your ear. This is especially helpful when you have your hands full, or if you are wearing gloves. You can also switch between the two modes rather seamlessly by way of your iPhone’s control center panel – very slick Apple!  

These puppies also boast an auto EQ feature that continually adjusts your audio experience depending on what content you are listening to. They also leverage the noise cancelling accordingly to achieve an optimal sound experience. Looking at sound quality overall, they achieve great bass tones. However, I found that they have a hard time hitting some of those deeper sub-bass synth frequencies, but they sound awesome in the mid and high-tones. In the end, Apple has put forth a good competitive set of headphones, and after a series of improvements via software and firmware updates they really dish out an unprecedented sound quality.

Google Pixel Buds (Gen 2)

The Pixel Buds (generation 2) are quite funky and unique looking! They encompass all things awesome from a fresh and innovative standpoint, and they really look like they came from Google! Starting off with the eye catching charging case – it looks amazing. Very pocketable, and very sturdy. It feels reliable and holsters the Pixel Buds in place rather nicely. The case itself is smooth yet not slippery, and is a welcomed improvement over the bland first generation version. Finally, the Pixel’s case sports two well placed LED status light indicators that show the battery life for both the earbuds and the case itself. This makes it easy to understand how deep into their longevity they are at a single glance without fumbling for your phone!

Looking at device operation, the Pixel Buds are outfitted with touch sensitive pads along the side that control a myriad of features. Tap the pad once to toggle between pause and play. Double tapping skips the current song, and triple tapping returns you back to the previous track. You can even use left and right swipe gestures to control the volume. Finally, a firm long press on the side pad will activate your Google assistant. In testing this feature, I found that the Pixel Buds were very responsive and the operations were carried out quite seamlessly without any noticeable lag.

Interestingly enough, placing these bad boys in your ear is a bit of a process. You first need to place them into your ear, and then twist to lock them in place. This ensures a nice tight and sturdy fit that will prevent them from falling out. I’ve tried to shake my head a few ways to test this locking method, and I must stay, they felt pretty secure. Much like the Apple AirPods Pro, the Pixel Buds are also sweat proof, and stay in place securely while you are working out or exercising. As a bonus, they offer a great slim design and don’t stick too far out of your ear, so you can guarantee they won’t get snagged on glasses or caps. Aside from design, you can bet that the Pixel buds do not slack on features and functionality. Out of the box, they work perfectly with both Android and iOS platforms. There is an obvious seamless connection to your Android phone (especially if you own a Pixel handset). Unfortunately, long pressing the touchpad to invoke the Google assistant or SIRI will not work if you are an iPhone user.

Looking under the hood, Google’s Pixel buds leverage adaptive sound technology which adjusts volume levels as it compensates for atmospheric sounds around you. This is a very convenient feature as it eliminates the need to frequently swipe at your earbuds’ volume control. While you are on the move, the Pixels also have the stamina to keep up with you, as they boast an excellent 6 hours of battery life on one single charge. The charging case will further boost your listen and talk time by another 24 hours! Impressive. Quick charge is also supported so you can drop the buds into the case for a mere 10 minutes, which will grant you another 2 hours of listening time. Finally, the Pixel case itself is Qi technology compatible, so you can drop it on a wireless pad at the end of the night to recharge it. 

Google definitely nailed everything that’s critical when it comes to wireless earbuds. The charging case is very transversive and the buds are quite convenient and easy to use as they adapt well to many different environments that you may be interacting with.

1More Colour Buds

It is clear that 1More is definitely no stranger to the headphone industry with their re-iteration of their Colour Buds line of headphones. They definitely bring some serious sound quality to the main stage. Right off the top, they come in a variety of suave eye catching colours including gold, pink, green and black. The case is outright stunning with a glossy premium coating. The buds themselves match the sterling case with a similar finish on their top cover. 

Aesthetics aside, the Colour Buds also come jam packed with a competitive feature set and a myriad of technology under the hood. They stack up pretty well pound for pound when compared to the AirPods Pro and the Pixel Buds. 1More’s earbuds run on Bluetooth 5.0 and offer full compatibility with Android and Apple devices with no issues. Paring and setup were a breeze on both platforms. Once paired, I put the Colour Buds to the test: playing mobile games, listened to a podcast and worked my way through various high impact exercises. I was pleasantly surprised with their performance as I was not able to notice any heavy any lag in audio whatsoever no matter how hard I pushed them, or myself. Moreover, users on both iOS and Android platforms can enjoy a very similar feature experience (unlike the AirPods and the Pixel Buds). They also feature autoplay and auto pause in the event they accidentally fall out of your ear. 

It is important to note however, out of the box, the 1More earbuds lack on-device gesture control. However, all is not lost. You must apply an ‘over the air’ update to the Colour Buds (via the mobile app) in order to enable this critical feature. Once done however, you will then be able to enjoy a variety of programmable touch controls on the device. These can then be configured and customized via the 1More app on your phone.

Despite their small looking size, 1More’s Colour Buds pack a robust 6 hours of continuous playback. Dropping them back into their stylish case will keep them going for another 16 hours. The case also supports quick charge, and after a fast 15 minutes you can add about 2 more hours to your listening pleasure. The Color Buds are also a pleasure to wear. Put short, they are super comfortable! They feel very natural when wearing them throughout the day, and after running a few errands and taking care of tasks around the house, I felt no fatigue in my ear. They are not heavy, and contour the ear canal very well. After 3 hours of use, my ears felt perfectly fine! 

The Color Buds also show no signs of fatigue when playing music. While small, they are nothing short of mighty as they pack quite a punch in volume and sound quality. The 1More’s feature a  full range balanced armature that provides less distortion across the entire sound curve. This provides punchy bass and crisp highs across many genres of music. I was amazed as the sound quality did not distort even when I had my iPhone’s volume up at around 85%. They handled my alt-rock playlist very, very well! I found that they handled the mid ranges rather amazingly. Vocals came in perfectly crisp and crystal clear. Treble response was comfortable and not piercing at all.

The on-board microphones on the Colour Buds are dual ENC microphones fitted with environmental noise cancelling technology to ensure your calls come in crystal clear. Your voice is boosted a bit while some environmental noise is turned down. While there is no ambient sound or pass through audio like the AirPods or the pixel buds, this was not enough to discount the brilliant audio they bring to the table. My calls felt high-def and solid all the way through to completion.

So which do I buy?

There are certainly a ton of options out there ranging from newer personal assistant features, better microphones, heightened noise cancellation, longer battery life and all sorts of new shapes and designs. Your decision will likely come down to what you require most out of your new headphones, as well as on what platform you spend the majority of your time interacting with. If you are in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple AirPods are a clear winner as their cross platform integration goes unmatched when compared to the other earbuds we’ve reviewed here. If sound quality is your jam, then the 1More Colour Buds become a very obvious choice as they do not distort audio and can deal a great amount of respect to just about any musical genre you throw at them. They perform very well in that manner. To boot, they also undercut the competition in price as well. Finally if you need a rather light, slimmed down, every day pair of headphones that are easily pocketable, then the Google Pixel Buds are your best bet. Since they have active noise cancelling features that adapt to any environment as you progress through different activities during your day. These earbuds are easily pocketable and will definitely earn a spot in your everyday carry.

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