If you're like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheaper alternatives to Apple's AirPods, which start at $159 and hit $199 if you want wireless charging. There are plenty of bargain models out there with high user ratings, including the TaoTronics TWS TT-BH053 ($45). But are they really any good?
In my experience, most of the time they're just all right -- and some aren't good at all. This TaoTronics pair, however, rises above the "meh" classification. They still aren't fantastic, particularly when it comes to sound quality, but they are among the best sub-$50 true wireless models I've tested.
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While their relatively compact elliptical shaped charge case feels a little cheap -- I'm not sure how well the hinge will hold up over time -- the build quality of the buds themselves seems pretty decent. Their "pipe" design is somewhat reminiscent of the AirPods. However, as with Anker's SoundCore Liberty Air ($80), what's different is that these guys have a noise-isolating design with silicone tips that seal off your ear canals and passively muffle noise around you. The AirPods are "hard" buds and have an open design that lets sound in.
I didn't find the TaoTronics quite as comfortable to wear over longer listening sessions as the Liberty Air, which are a bit smaller, but they still fit my ears securely and I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial to maximizing bass response and sound quality.
I can't guarantee they'll fit your ears as well as mine -- they didn't, for at least one of my coworkers. And some people may prefer the AirPods' fit. But for someone like me who worries about keeping my AirPods in my ears without a set of accessory sports fins, I appreciated that they stayed put, even when I ran with them. According to TaoTronics, they're sweat-resistant.
I had no problem pairing and repairing the headphones after the initial pairing setup (I used an iPhone X and a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus) and experienced only handful of dropouts in a week of testing. They use Bluetooth 5.0, and the connection to my phone was generally solid, even in the streets of New York City, where lesser true-wireless earphones have a tendency to be plagued by interference problems.
They don't sound quite as good as the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air, but they sound fairly decent -- or at least better than a lot of true wireless earphones in this price range. There's a little bit of treble push,sometimes referred to as presence boost, and these guys had trouble with more complicated tracks where several instruments are playing at once -- everything tends to get a little mashed together, which is a byproduct of Bluetooth compression and the quality of the headphones. But if you're not a supercritical listener, they come across with enough clarity and ample bass (it isn't overly accentuated) to make you feel pretty good about the sound you're getting for the money.
It's also worth noting that when you're walking around with these out in the streets -- or just outdoors -- the flaws in the sound aren't magnified like they are when you're sitting in a quiet spot indoors and listening more intently. Making calls with is OK but not great. I could hear callers fine, but they said they heard a lot of background noise on my end when I was in less-than-quiet environments. You're going to get better call quality from the AirPods or the Jabra Elite 65t's ($170 at Amazon) and Elite Active 65t's ($150 at Amazon), which a better job reducing background noise. If you want to make calls using a single bud, you can do that with the left bud but not the right one.
As for a lot of other true wireless earphones, battery life is rated at 5 hours -- the same as the AirPods -- and the charge case (for better or worse, it charges via Micro-USB and not USB-C) provides an additional five charges. From my testing, you'll fall a little short of that 5 hours if you crank your earphones at higher volumes, but if you keep the volume at closer to 60-70%, you'll get close to 5 hours. It's also worth mentioning that I didn't have to raise the volume too high to achieve sufficient loudness.
The earphones have touch controls that work reasonably well. You can raise volume levels by tapping on the right bud or lower them by tapping on the left. Tapping and holding your finger on a bud for 2 seconds activates your voice assistant. What's a little tricky is skipping tracks forward and back: You have to tap the right bud three times quickly to skip forward and tap the left bud three times to skip back.
As with a lot of true wireless headphones, you can experience some audio latency when watching video or playing games, meaning the audio and video aren't in sync. That said, I didn't have a problem watching iTunes movies and YouTube videos on my iPhone. I'm not going to tell you it's a perfect sync, but a lot of apps seem to be doing a better job dealing with Bluetooth latency issues. However, you may have a different experience according to the device or app you're using.
The price is right
These TaoTronics don't offer the near flawless wireless performance that the second-generation AirPods deliver and their sound quality isn't without issues -- namely they're bright, which can lead to some harsh notes and listening fatigue. I personally prefer the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air earbuds, which offer a little cleaner, smoother sound and a slightly more comfortable fit for $25 more.
However, as noted, the TWS TT-BH053 model is only $45. There are a number of true wireless headphones around this price point -- and the number is only growing. Currently, I'd only recommend a few of them. This is one of them. It's not great, but it gets enough right that it's definitely worth considering if a cheap, truly wireless headphone is what you're after.