Though similar in many respects to Apple's truly wireless earphones, the Syllable D9X costs less than one-third the price. Plus: two bonus deals!
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
So I think those of us in the tech biz have settled on "truly wireless" as the term to describe products such as the
, which have no wires connecting the two earbuds.
I'm not here to debate the merits of that design, which some love and some find dorky. I'm here to tell you that if you'd like a set of AirPods for yourself but ain't no way you're going to pay $159, I've got you covered.
There are a number of interesting things about this product:
At first glance, they look a lot like AirPods, but black instead of white. Say what you will, but I think the darker color reduces the dork-factor.
The 'buds themselves are the more traditional in-ear style, with silicone "wings" to help you get a more secure fit. They deliver much better noise isolation than the looser-fitting AirPods, but it can take a little fiddling to get them properly seated in your ear canals.
The D9X comes with four magnetic battery sticks, each good for about 90 minutes of play time. While two are in use, the other two reside in the charging case, which can fully recharge all four one time. These little sticks are pretty cool, I must say, but they're easy to knock loose if, say, you reach up to scratch near your ear. They're also weirdly slippery, and therefore easy to drop.
Likewise, it's easy to accidentally push either of the earbuds' action buttons, at least until you train yourself to hold them by their edges.
Syllable supplies a hard-sided zipper case for carrying both the charging case and the 'buds, but there's also a drawstring case if you want to shrink the travel footprint.
The included instructions are fairly terrible: tiny print, broken English. But I was able to glean what I needed to. (Ironically, the instructions on the Amazon product page are actually quite a bit better.)
Yeah, yeah, but how do they sound?
Okay, on to brass tacks. I got the chance to test-drive the D9X; here's what I discovered:
Pairing was fast and easy, both the initial link to my phone and subsequent pairings between the two 'buds. There's no on or off, you just attach a battery stick and, bam, they're on and connected.
They sound really good. I've said this before: I'm no audiophile, but when I'm listening to Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (unequivocally the best Christmas album ever), I feel like I'm hearing every nuance. I've never tested AirPods, so I can't make a real comparison there, but I will say these sound better than some of the other truly wireless earbuds I've tested.
They work surprisingly well outdoors, where a lot of Bluetooth earphones (in my experience) cut out at random times. When I took the dog for a walk, with my phone riding in my pocket as usual, they didn't cut out once. (YMMV, of course.) I don't think these are good for running, but I don't think any in-ear earphones are.
Deal or no deal?
I'm still not convinced truly wireless earphones offer any real benefits over their corded counterparts, which can dangle around your neck when you need to, say, have a conversation with someone. Here, you have to take at least one of them out and palm it, at which point you're almost certain to knock loose the battery.
That said, the D9X delivers a very AirPods-like experience for less than one-third the price. I think they're less dorky-looking, and I like how the battery sticks keep the tunes going -- even if they're a bit flawed in their design.
I should also note that there are lots of AirPods knockoffs floating around these days, many of them in the $50-80 range. So while I think these are a good deal at $47.99, they're definitely not the only deal.
Bonus deal: Looking for a fitness band that includes heart-rate monitoring? If you're willing to consider last year's model, try this: TechRabbit has the Garmin Vivosmart HR for $69.99 when you apply promo code CNETVIVO at checkout. You may be able to find a refurb for a bit less, but this is definitely the lowest price I've seen for it new.
HR is actually a late-2015 product, one that CNET found comparable to the
Fitbit Charge HR
. The Garmin is on the bulky side, but it features an always-on display, phone notifications, music controls, a shower- and swim-proof design and, perhaps best of all, a battery that can last up to six days.
Once upon a time, it sold for $150. Today you can get it for less than half that amount. Read CNET's review to determine if it's the right wrist-buddy for you.
Bonus deal No. 2: So you missed your chance to score an
Amazon Echo Dot
for $30, right? Wrong: It's still available at that Black Friday/Cyber Monday price from various sources (Amazon included).
This is a nice way to kick-start your
, as that plug can be voice-activated ("Alexa, turn on the living-room lamp.") or set up with various automated schedules. Best of all, the receptacle won't get in the way of your other outlet, unlike a lot of other smart plugs.