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I tried these $10 AirPods alternatives. Here's what surprised me (and what didn't)

If you don't like ear-sealing earbuds, these hard-plastic AirPods lookalikes might be just the ticket.

dudios-dubuds

The Dudios Dubuds really are like AirPods, most notably their hard-plastic earbuds.

Rick Broida/CNET

Most "AirPods alternatives" have one thing in common: They employ silicone ear tips, meaning they're actually closer in design to AirPods Pro. Standard AirPods: hard plastic, meaning you don't have to "screw" them into your ears; they just sort of lay in.

If you prefer that style, and I know many people who do, there are precious few choices. But I found one, and right now there's an insane deal to be had: For a limited time, and while supplies last, Amazon seller SoundPARA Audio has the Dudios Dubuds true wireless earbuds for just $9.90 with promo code 671OFR1Y. Regular price: $30.

At this price, these can't possibly be any good, right? Actually, as I've discovered with a lot of low-priced earbuds, they're pretty decent. There's not much bass, in part because you're not getting the aforementioned inner-ear seal, but overall they're pretty well balanced.

Make no mistake: You don't reach for these when you want to sink into your favorite blues album, sip brandy and ponder life's great mysteries. These are earbuds for "low-priority" situations: For listening to a podcast while you walk the dog, playing background music while you work, watching TikTok videos for far too long or giving to kids who don't know from audio fidelity.

As for fit, I'm lucky in that standard AirPods have always fit well, and comfortably, in my ears. That's not the case for everyone. The Dubuds also proved comfortable and secure; I barely notice they're there, which I can't say of silicone-tip earbuds. You know those things are there.

Read more: Best cheap true-wireless earbuds in 2021: Top AirPods alternatives for $100 or less

The USB-C charging case is on the big side, but it packs a 2,600-mAh battery that Dudios says is good for 20 full recharges. It also has a USB Type-A output, so it can pull emergency power-bank duty for other devices. However, if you look at the second photo on the product page, you'll see what looks like a nifty power gauge embedded in the lid. There is no such gauge; case power is represented by four tiny LEDs.

Another oddity: The box says Dudios, the earbuds show up as Dudios in Bluetooth settings, but the case says Soundpeats. When I inquired about that, I learned that the two are "sister companies." There's no real significance to that; I'm sharing it just FYI.

Call quality: Not great. I was told I sounded a little tinny and echo-y, which is common with low-cost (and even some midrange) earbuds. No surprise there. You could use these during Zoom meetings, but if you're a featured speaker, do your audience a favor and choose something with a better microphone.

Bottom line: If you like hard-plastic earbuds, don't need premium-grade audio and don't want to spend $159 for AirPods (OK, they're $120 today at Amazon), the Dudios Dubuds are surprisingly solid.

If you prefer noise-isolating, silicone-tip earbuds, there's a similarly priced option there as well: SoundPARA Audio also has the Dudios Tic true wireless earbuds for just $10.36 with promo code 635L2PCR.

I tried these awhile back; they're also remarkably good for the price.

Your thoughts?

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