A little over a year ago, Apple introduced the world to a new and exciting category of truly wireless earphones with its AirPods. Since the release of the AirPods, the market has exploded with similar products from high-profile brands as well as small startups, all trying to outdo Apple. Helped along by the removal of the standard headphone jack from many popular smartphones, wireless earphones are getting more and more popular, with their sales now exceeding their wired counterparts in many markets.
True wireless earphones offer unmatched convenience but are often very expensive. We set out to find out if there any decent AirPods alternatives out there for those on a tight budget. For the purpose of this article, we limited ourselves to models priced below Rs. 5,000 and we put them all through our earphones testing process to see if any of them are worth your money, or if they belong to the bargain bin.
1. ZAKK Twins
The ZAKK Twins are made predominantly out of plastic and feature a single button for playback control as well as setup. The over-ear design takes a bit of getting used to and the rubber hooks feels quite flimsy. The earpiece housings are quite substantial though, and build quality is decent, with no creaks. The earphones are sweat-proof, shockproof, and "sand-proof".
The earphones do not come with a charging case of any kind, and battery life is average. In our experience, the earphones lasted around 3.5 hours with music playing at nearly full volume and around 4.5 hours at 60 percent output. The ZAKK Twins have propriety charging ports and each earpiece needs to be charged individually. Thankfully, ZAKK includes a cable in the box that allows you to charge both simultaneously.
Despite the large housings, they are extremely comfortable and fit securely in the ear. Before you can connect the earphones to your phone, the earpieces need to be paired to each other manually - which is a pain. On a positive note, you can either earpiece as a headset for calls. We experienced no issues while on calls during our test period.
The sound quality is a bit of a mixed bag. The bass on offer is punchy and should bring smiles to the faces of bass-heads, but it drowns out the rest of the frequencies, and the highs and mids are repressed. The soundstage is also quite shallow, and instrument separation is disappointing.
The ZAKK Twins are available for around Rs. 2,800 online. If you are looking for true wireless earphones for the gym, the ZAKK Twins are a good choice.
Market price: Rs. 2,800 (MRP Rs. 4,999)
Available via Flipkart
2. Boult Twin Pods
Finished in grey and neon green, the Boult Twin Pods look quite funky and sporty. Setup is relatively simple and the build quality is more than acceptable for the price. There are only two pairs of ear tips in the box, both of which are quite small. This makes getting a secure fit quite tricky.
The earphones come with a charging case that looks quite premium but has a lot of rough edges, and its quality leaves a lot to be desired. In our experience, the earphones lasted around 6.5 hours on a single charge with the volume set at around 60-70 percent. The case can fully charge the earphones twice, and itself takes around 4 hours to charge.
The earphones are quite comfortable, and sound surprisingly good provided you get a good fit. Bass is punchy and controlled, and does not drown the rest of the frequencies. As you would expect from earphones in this price range, the mids are slightly repressed. The highs are sparkly and clear and never become screechy or sibilant. We were also impressed with the instrument separation and the level of clarity on offer.
While the Boult Twin Pods have an MRP of Rs. 8,330, they are available on websites like Myntra for less than Rs. 3,000. The build of the quality of the case is undoubtedly questionable and the tips provided in the box are too small. If you can look past these issues, the Twin Pods offer great value for money and make for one of the best-sounding pairs of affordable true wireless earphones.
Market price: Rs. 2,499 (MRP Rs. 8,330)
Available via Myntra
3. Astrum ET300
On the design front, the ET300 earpieces have a black finish that makes them look a lot like the Samsung Gear Icon X, which is not a bad thing at this price point. The earphones are made entirely out of plastic and are of decent quality, but the included tips are rough and uncomfortable.
The earphones have touch-based controls for playback and call management which are difficult to use. Setup was a pain - it took us far longer than it should to first get the earphones paired to each other, and then connected to our Moto Z2 Force. On a positive note, the earphones are IPX5 water- and dust-resistant, and the on-board microphones are of good quality.
The quality of the provided charging dock is abysmal, with unfinished edges everywhere. During our review period, the cover broke off without the slightest misuse or pressure. Battery life is quite disappointing as well. In our experience, the earphones lasted just 2 hours on a single charge.
The lows overpower every other frequency and the mids are extremely repressed in the sound mix, making everything muddled. The clarity and soundstage on offer are also nothing to write home about. The Astrum ET300 retails for Rs. 4,999 and is difficult to recommend given our experience with the product.
Market price: Rs. 4,999 (MRP Rs. 5,190)
Available via Amazon
4. Zebronics AirDuo
The Zebronics AirDuo earpieces are made entirely from plastic but have a metallic finish that adds some design flair. They are quite massive and there's a single textured button for playback control as well as setup. The box includes an extra set of ear tips as well as a soft pouch for storage.
Battery life is quite average. In our experience, the earphones lasted around 2.5-3 hours on a single charge with music playing at 60-70 percent volume. There is no charging case or dock, and both earphones need to be charged individually. Zebronics does provide a dual-headed Micro-USB cable, which lets you charge both earpieces simultaneously.
With huge housings and oddly shaped tips, the Zebronics Air Duo earpieces are not very comfortable and not suitable for long listening sessions. That said, the sound quality on offer is great for the price - with punchy lows and sparkly highs. Mids are slightly repressed but clarity and detail are above average. Noise isolation is also top-notch. In our experience, the earphones managed to block most ambient sound even at low to moderate volumes. These earphones are also great for calls.
The Zebronics AirDuo is available for around Rs. 4,800 online and is one of the best sounding pairs of affordable true wireless earphones. The sound quality does come at a cost - they are uncomfortable and unwieldy, and do not come with a charging case.
Market price: Rs. 4,899 (MRP Rs. 4,999)
Available via Flipkart
5. Sound One TWS ZR 100
The Sound One TWS ZR 100 has a minimalist yet modern design and the earpieces are built predominantly out of plastic. We found it very difficult to achieve a secure fit, and the circular earpieces were uncomfortable with prolonged use.
The build quality is top-notch, and unlike a lot of true wireless earphones in this price range which require both earpieces to be paired manually, the left and right earpieces of the Sound One TWS ZR 100 connect automatically as soon as they are taken out of their case.
You get a 2000mAh charging case that also doubles up as a power bank. Sound One claims the case is capable of charging the earphones up to five times. After charging them three times, the case still had 33 percent of its power left. The earphones themselves lasted around 7 hours with music playing at moderate volume.
While the Sound One earpieces are built well and have terrific battery life, they disappoint when it comes to sound quality. Mids are repressed and highs are very screechy and sibilant. Bass is punchy but instrument separation is poor, and all frequencies bleed into one another.
Priced at Rs. 3,490, the Sound One TWS ZR100 is a good option for bass lovers, but others will be left disappointed with the quality of sound on offer.
Market price: Rs. 3,490 (MRP Rs. 7,990)
Available via Amazon
Which one should you buy?
While none of the true wireless earphones listed here sound particularly stellar, the Zebronics AirDuo and Boult TwinPods are the best options for music lovers. The sound quality does come at a cost though, as both earphones are not particularly comfortable.
If you are looking for true wireless earphones for the gym, the ZAKK Twins are a good choice. They have a secure fit and are also extremely comfortable. If you want the best battery life as you will mostly be calling or listening to podcasts and don't care about audio quality, the Sound One TWZ ZR 100 are a great choice. They have a battery life of 7 hours and come with a 2,000mAh charging case.