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Like AirPods, but with noise canceling: The surprising Ausounds headphones

The new AU-Stream ANC earphones from startup Ausounds feature active noise-canceling in an AirPods-like design for $150.

The Ausounds AU-Stream ANC.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Remember all those rumors last year about next-generation AirPods that might feature active noise canceling? Well, those AirPods haven't materialized yet but now Ausounds, a startup, has launched a new set of true wireless earbuds -- the AU-Stream ANC -- that have the same "stick" design as the AirPods and feature active noise-canceling. They're on sale now for $150 (£123, $AU 222) and they're surprisingly good if you get the right fit.

I've been using an early review sample for a few days and they're similar in style to a lot of the so-called AirPods knock-offs, but have a little more of a premium look and feel. They feature 13mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, 5 hours of battery life with an additional 15 hours from the case and water-resistance (IPX5 certified). They also offer USB-C charging -- that's somewhat rare to find at this price point.

Read: Best true wireless earbuds of 2019

Similar look to the AirPods but they come in black.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Until now, the only true wireless earphones to offer active noise cancellation have come from Sony -- the latest and greatest being the recently released WF-1000XM3, which cost $230. The AU-Stream ANC -- no, that isn't the greatest name for a product -- is slightly bigger than such models as the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air. They won't fit everybody's ears equally well (and they might not fit some ears at all). None of the company's ear tips allowed me to get a super-tight seal, but a set of XL tips I had from another pair of headphones worked and the earphones stayed in my ears comfortably and securely (I could run with them).

That tight seal is crucial not only for sound quality but the active noise-canceling doesn't work effectively without it. Sound-wise the AU-Stream ANC is on par with the Sony WF-1000XM3. It doesn't sound quite as detailed or as open -- and the bass isn't quite as well-defined. But it's a very decent-sounding true wireless headphone with some good kick in the low end. And it does sound better than the AirPods.

The noise-canceling is pretty decent, too. Unlike the AirPods, which have an open design that lets a lot ambient sound in, these have a noise-isolating design that passively seals out a decent amount of sound. However, the noise canceling definitely helped when I was in the New York City subway to tamp down the noise levels. It doesn't completely eliminate sounds and voices around you, but it does muffle them to a significant degree. There's is no app for customizing the noise canceling or sound settings, but you can turn noise canceling on and off with a long press on either earbud (yes, they have touch controls).

Read: Best cheap true wireless earphones of 2019 

These aren't as good as the AirPods for making calls. People said they could hear me OK -- and I could hear them -- but they do pick up a fair amount of ambient noise. In other words, they're decent for making calls in quieter environments but not great outdoors in noisier spots. It's also worth noting that when it's windy, you can hear the wind hitting them (they're not aerodynamic) and the noise canceling can't do anything about reducing that sound.

The case looks a little like the AirPods' case but is probably about 30% bigger. Still, it'll fit in most pockets without showing too much of a bulge. I also liked how the earphones automatically turned on and resumed playing my music when I pulled them out of their case. I only encountered the occasional Bluetooth hiccup -- generally, the connection was solid.

I'm going to play around with them for a couple of more weeks to make sure they keep working reliably before posting my final review, but my initial impressions are good. The AU-Stream ANC seems like an auspicious start for Ausounds, which has other headphones in the pipeline.