Xiaomi's success in India has been massive, and one big factor contributes to that: pricing. Most of the company's products across its brands are highly competitive, and lead the way when it comes to offering features at prices that were previously hard to imagine. Although the company has been a bit quiet in the audio segment of late while competitors including Realme and Boat have pulled ahead, the latest Mi products bring the value-for-money brand back to the forefront.
The company recently launched the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) and Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro in India, priced at Rs. 2,499 and Rs. 1,799 respectively. Today, the focus is on the latter, which is among the most affordable wireless headsets available in India to feature active noise cancellation. Straight away, this looks like an impressive pair of wireless earphones, but just how good is the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro in practice? Find out in my review.
The successor to the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones launched in late 2019, the Pro model has small design changes but sticks to the general form factor and basic styling. The earpieces look sharper and have a unique patterned design on the outer side. They can be attached together magnetically when not in use, and sensibly, this doesn't control the power like on the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z. The neckband has a textured finish unlike the smooth one on the non-Pro model.
Despite all of this, the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro still looks pretty basic and functional; it doesn't call out for attention. The neckband is flexible and can be twisted any way you like for easy and safe storage, and at 36g, the headset is light enough to barely be felt when worn. The fit is comfortable, with a decent noise isolating seal to aid the active noise cancellation.
There are just a handful of buttons on the right side of the neckband, while the left is plain save for the only Mi logo on the headset. A multi-function button controls power, playback, and the ability to answer or end calls, and there's also a rocker to control the volume. A button on the inside controls the active noise cancellation feature, and there's also a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom. Included in the sales package are three pairs of ear tips and a Micro-USB cable.
Apart from active noise cancellation, there is also environmental noise cancellation for better performance on voice calls, and an IPX5 water resistance rating on the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro. The earphones have 10mm dynamic drivers, and use Bluetooth 5 for connectivity with support for the SBC and AAC codecs. The only significant drawback in the specifications is the Micro-USB charging port; even at this price and with this feature set, there's no excuse for using the dated standard, and it should have had a USB Type-C port instead.
Battery life on the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro is impressive. I got around 15 hours of listening time with active noise cancellation usually on and the AAC codec in use. There's no fast charging, but it doesn't take too long to top up the 150mAh battery.
Xiaomi's entry-level audio products have always appealed to wide audiences in India with their sonic signatures, and the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro is no different. It's a similar sound to what the non-Pro version offers with a definite emphasis on the bass, which was sometimes overpowering and distracting from the mids and highs. While there still is enough to be heard in the rest of the frequency range, the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro is definitely biased towards the lows.
This sets the tone for a punchy and aggressive sound; this isn't a bad thing, and it didn't take away from the vocals and highs very often. The deep rumble of the beat in Justin Timberlake's Take Back The Night was enjoyable and not fatiguing at moderate volumes, while Timberlake's peppy vocals and the distinct trumpets that set the mood of the track were easy to hear and groove to.
The Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro had a sound that was often quite aggressive and punchy, and was fun with certain genres and tracks in moderation. It was also loud and reasonably clean to listen to; the bass was strong, but was far from unpleasant or muddy even in the most aggressive of tracks. It's about right for what you'd expect for the price, but I have heard better-sounding headsets that still cost less than Rs. 2,000, such as the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z.
This punchy bass was held back a bit when it came to tightness and definition, which was somewhat expected given the price of the earphones. With Earth, Wind and Fire's Let's Groove, the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro often sounded too raw and plain, with very little depth or detail in the lows, and a very basic, narrow soundstage. The mood-setting disco beats in the track felt a bit dull, which has to do with the tuning of the earphones. This is an entry-level headset after all, and the tuning is elementary at best. It succeeds in achieving a sound that isn't unpleasant, but that's about it.
It seems incredible that we can get active noise cancellation on a pair of wireless earphones that cost Rs. 1,799, and the ANC is indeed reasonably good for the price. Xiaomi claims a reduction of 25dB with specific types of noise including airplane engines, hair dryers, and vacuum cleaners. There was a noticeable drop in noise level when using the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro, roughly on par with what other options priced under Rs. 5,000 such as the Realme Buds Wireless Pro are able to offer.
Noise reduction wasn't significant in many home and outdoor urban settings, but it did make listening to music a lot easier, as well as making dialogue in videos much more audible. Performance on calls was also decent enough. While my voice could be heard clearly, the person on the other end of the call sometimes sounded a bit rough and boomy at times, but this didn't really affect the ability to have a short conversation.
It's quite impressive what Xiaomi has managed to achieve with the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro, offering entirely functional and worthwhile active noise cancellation for less than Rs. 2,000. That is the defining feature of this headset, but the earphones do come through even with design, build quality, battery life, and to some extent, sound quality.
Although the sound isn't exceptional, it's acceptable considering the price and feature set of the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro. If you really want active noise cancellation for under Rs. 2,000 and are willing to settle for reasonable overall performance, this is the headset for you. However, if sound quality is more important to you than everything else, and you can do without ANC, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z or Oppo Enco M31 are worth considering instead.
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