We've reviewed our fair share of affordable headphones, including the decent Ant Audio Treble 900 and Boat Rockerz 400, both of which offer decent value at around the Rs. 2,000 mark. At this price level, basic wireless connectivity and acceptable sound quality are really all we look for, but any additional features are certainly welcome.
That brings us to the latest pair of headphones priced at around Rs. 2,000 that we've had a chance to review, the Xech A8 Voice Assist. For Rs. 2,499, you get a pair of wireless headphones that is optimised for use with various voice assistant services, and also features FM radio and SD card playback. We've tested this affordable pair of wireless headphones, and here's our review.
From a distance, the Xech A8 Voice Assist Headphones look a lot like popular options from Bose and Sony, but up close it's a different story. The device looks impressive at first glance, but we quickly found things we didn't like about its styling and design. We found the edges and corners of the headband too sharp, and the finish looked quite dull and unrefined. There is just one company logo, which can be found at the top of the headband.
The inside of the headband has soft rubber padding, and the ear cups are well padded too. However, despite the claim of an ‘over-ear' fit on the box, the ear cups didn't completely cover our ears and sat on top of them like on-ear headphones.
Although the ear cups of the Xech A8 swivelled backwards by up to 90 degrees for easy storage, there is absolutely no forward swivel at all to help with fit and comfort. This meant that the headphones never sat on our ears comfortably, and passive noise isolation was poor as well. Furthermore, sound leaked out quite easily, and others in the room could hear what we were listening to.
The Xech A8 has four buttons on the right ear cup, which control power, Bluetooth pairing, mode, volume, and playback. The buttons are all easy to reach, and are simple enough to get accustomed to. The bottom of the right ear cup has a Micro-USB port for charging, an indicator light, a 3.5mm socket for wired listening, a microphone, and a microSD card slot.
Long-pressing the Play button invokes the voice assistant on your smartphone, which will most likely be Siri or Google Assistant by default depending on your smartphone. The feature is also optimised to work with Bixby and Cortana depending on what is your phone's default, and during our review period, we found that it worked with Alexa as well. The feature does of course use your smartphone, tablet, or PC to actually carry out your voice instructions, but the headset lets you invoke the voice assistant without touching the phone, and uses its microphone to relay commands.
The sales package is well equipped, with a Micro-USB cable for charging, an aux cable for wired audio, an airplane adapter, and a very good hard carry case. The Xech A8 has Bluetooth 4.2 and supports only the SBC audio codec. Apart from Bluetooth and wired audio connectivity, the headphones can also be used to listen to FM radio and music played directly off a microSD card. Both of these features worked fine for us, but the lack of a display on the headset means that scanning through radio stations or tracks is a matter of pressing ‘next' or ‘previous' repeatedly and hoping for something you like to come on.
During our review, the Xech A8 Voice Assist Headphones ran for about 5 hours, 30 minutes on a single charge, and took around three hours to charge fully. This is rather disappointing for a pair of on-ear headphones, even considering the price.
We had hoped that the Xech A8 headset would make up for its physical shortcomings with decent sound, but that wasn't the case. Sound quality is poor on these headphones, and other performance issues further tarnish the usage experience. We listened to music using Bluetooth (paired with an Android smartphone), FM radio, and the microSD options, and found that performance was consistently below par across audio sources.
The first problem we had with the headset is that when it was turned on, it would always start in Bluetooth pairing mode. This meant that it wouldn't automatically connect to a previously paired device, and we had to cycle through all the modes and then return to Bluetooth for the Xech A8 to automatically connect to the source device. Furthermore, the headset always started at its maximum volume. These aren't small inconveniences, and they quickly became quite irritating for us.
We found the sonic signature to be a bit too warm, with sound across the entire frequency range sounding too boomy. To be clear, this wasn't just punchy bass that we might still have enjoyed; everything from the lows to the highs had an unpleasant rumble, which completely changed the way tracks sounded. Listening to Tequila Limonada by Netsky brought out the bass so prominently that it was impossible to focus on anything but the rumbling that should have been a background element of the track.
The heavy booming sound extends into the lower-mid-range as well, which affects vocals. The upper-mid-range and highs are much softer than the lows, which not only skews the character of most tracks, but also makes for a fatiguing sound that we couldn't take for more than 20-25 minutes at a time. We also weren't impressed with instrument separation and soundstaging; the former was barely perceivable, while the latter was narrow and barely did more than basic stereo separation. The only positive aspect of the sound is that these headphones can get quite loud.
The voice assistant functionality worked with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but the microphone on the Xech A8 wasn't great. It often wasn't able to properly relay commands and requests that our smartphone on its own could deciper perfectly well. This led to some comical interactions — the question ‘What can you do?' was understood as ‘Kangaroo'.
Repeated attempts to call a colleague with a request in English had Google Assistant thinking we were speaking in Hindi, and subsequently failing to carry out the command. We found that it was easier to speak to any voice assistant on the Android smartphone directly, rather than use the headphones to do so. Finally, we also tried to use the headset for voice calls, and while conversations were possible, sound quality was similarly boomy and unpleasant on both ends.
The Xech A8 Voice Assist Headphones are disappointing and fall short on multiple counts. Whether it's design, comfort, battery life, sound quality, or the advertised key functionality of optimisation for voice assistants, the Xech A8 headset provides a sub-par overall experience. Even at its Rs. 2,499 price, we find it hard to recommend this pair of headphones. Instead, we'd suggest you go for the Ant Audio Treble 900, which is a better product in every way, and costs less.
Price: Rs. 2,499
Ratings (out of 5)