Erato Apollo 7 review: This AirPods rival sounds and looks good -- but costs twice as much

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MSRP: $299.00

The Good The Erato Apollo 7 is a lightweight, totally wireless set of earphones that delivers mostly hiccup-free operation. They sound good, are sweat-resistant (they can be used for running), and a charging case with an integrated battery supplies multiple charges on the go.

The Bad They're expensive, the battery life is only 3 hours and the firmware isn't upgradable.

The Bottom Line Although it's a bit too pricey, the Erato Apollo 7 is one of the first truly wireless headphones that works well and delivers decent sound.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Review Sections

Erato, a Taiwanese startup, bills its Apollo 7 as the world's most compact true wireless earphones -- that emerging category of Bluetooth headphones with separate left and right standalone earbuds with no connecting cable in between. Apple might dispute that claim now that it's unveiled its AirPods, but the Apollo 7s certainly are very small, lightweight and among the best of this new breed of headphone.

The key to all these truly wireless earphones is that the wireless Bluetooth connection between both your phone (the audio source) and the two buds needs to be rock solid. Or close to it anyway. And that's what's impressive about the Apollo 7s: they worked just like a standard in-ear Bluetooth headphones, with minimal hiccups and dropouts. It's also worth noting that after I paired them with my phone once, I had no trouble pairing them again.

The earphones in their included charging case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How it works is that you pair one of the buds (I chose the right one) with your phone or another Bluetooth-enabled device, then you turn the other bud on and it pairs automatically to the first bud to form a stereo connection. If you want to use only one bud as a headset, you can do that.

During the nearly three weeks I used the Apollo 7, operation wasn't totally flawless. There were a few minor glitches. For instance, the headphone locked up once and wouldn't produce sound, even though it was paired to the phone. Solution: I powered off my phone, restarted it and the issue resolved itself.

I thought the Apollo 7 sounded quite good for Bluetooth earbuds, with a reasonable amount clarity and decent bass. Included in the box are various silicone and foam tips. Using one of the larger silicone tips I managed to get a secure fit and that tight seal really helps improve sound quality (if you don't like having eartips jammed in your ears, this isn't the headphone for you).

Each earbud has a single universal control button.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That said, like a lot of Bluetooth headphones, the Apollo 7's performance can be somewhat uneven. By that I mean that they sound very good with some tracks and not as great with others.

They're a touch bright in the treble and a bit forward in the midrange. For instance, with Amy Winehouse's "Valerie -- Live, BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, London 2007" I had to ratchet back the volume because her voice had a little bit of a harsh edge to it at higher volumes. The headphone will also distort with certain tracks at higher volumes, so it's best to use it at around 60-75 percent volume. (It does play loud enough, however.)

A good wired in-ear headphone, such as the $150 Bose SoundTrue Ultra, which both CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg and I like a lot, easily bests this headphone, with smoother, richer sound. Bose's SoundSport Wireless also sounds a little better than the Apollo 7 for about half the price. But the SoundTrue is a wired headphone, and the SoundSport is wireless with a wire connecting the left and right earpieces. The Apollo 7, by comparison, has absolutely no wires. Given that stipulation, they they sound relatively impressive, especially compared to the bulk of the current competition. It also helps that that they maintain a good connection.

Comparisons to rival full wireless 'phones

For comparison in that fully wireless realm, I pitted the Apollo 7 against the Bragi Dash and Earin, the latter of which also lays claim to being the world's smallest completely wireless earphones.

Of the three, the Apollo 7 had the most reliable connection by a long shot. Although I like the Bragi Dash and Earin -- both fit me well -- they had frequent hiccups, which made it it difficult to listen to them on the go (I ran with the Dash).

The Earin, which actually weighs less (3.5 grams) than the Apollo 7 (4 grams), is well designed and sounds good but is missing a microphone for making calls (its price has come down to $200 from $280).

In contrast, The Bragi Dash is loaded with features, including a heart-rate monitor, touch controls, 4GB of onboard storage for MP3s and its firmware is upgradable (the Apollo 7's isn't). I also like how the Dash has a feature that allows you to let ambient sound in so you can have a conversation without taking the earbuds out of your ears (the Apollo 7 doesn't have this feature, and Apple's AirPods have a more open design, so they allow some sound in).

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