Realme Buds Air 2 Review: Undercutting the competition

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True wireless earphones are the new rage in the audio segment and brands are leaving no stone unturned to provide their best possible version of TWS earbuds at numerous price points. One such company is Realme that has an ever-growing lineup of TWS audio solutions. The latest entrant that the company unveiled today is the Realme Buds Air 2. The successor to the popular Realme Buds Air, this second-generation variant distinguishes itself from competitors by offering Active Noise Cancellation at an extremely competitive price point. The Realme Buds Air 2 are priced at Rs 3,299, making it one of the most inexpensive TWS earbuds to offer this alluring feature. We’ve already seen TWS earbuds from Oppo and Realme itself offer this feature at the sub-5K price point. Now, Realme is attempting to undercut the competition, and itself, by offering ANC at Rs 3,299. The buds also come equipped with a host of other features that make it an appealing purchase at a budget price point, at least on paper. So, let’s find out how the Realme Buds Air 2 fare in our review and if they’re the best TWS option to consider under Rs 5,000.

Build and comfort

The Realme Buds Air 2 does look and feel relatively premium for the price and it comes in two colour variants – Closer Black (which we got for review) and Closer White. The charging case looks pretty similar to the Realme Buds Air Pro’s case with a cobble-shaped design that is flat enough to easily slip into pant pockets without bulging out too much. The case is entirely made out of glossy plastic that attracts a ton of fingerprint marks over time. It will also show small scratches, so be mindful of that and try not to store it alongside sharp objects that could scratch the surface.

Realme Buds Air 2

On the front of the case, you have a subtle Realme branding and an LED indicator light to show battery status. The bottom houses the USB Type-C charging port and the right side has a single pairing button. The case can be held and flicked open easily one-handed, which was extremely convenient, and not something we see often, especially at this price. It also closes shut with a satisfyingly audible snap. However, the hinge is not reinforced by metal, which is slightly worrisome for long term usage.

Realme also stated that they put special care into the charging case with the Buds Air 2 to ensure that the earbuds are easy to remove from the case. We had some issues with the Buds Air Pro where it was pretty difficult to remove the slippery buds from the compact case. This time around, there were no such issues. It’s great that Realme chose to address this problem and the results are great.

Realme Buds Air 2

The buds sport a dual-tone finish. The Closer White variant has white buds and a shiny silver stem, while the Closer Black variant looks more subdued with matte black buds and glossy dark blue stems. The top portion of the stem looks like a studded jewel, which is pretty striking to look at. Overall, we are fans of the design language, but the stems are a bit too large for our liking.  

Realme Buds Air 2

The back of the stems has a touch-sensitive surface for touch controls for both music playback and calls. The touch controls are reasonably responsive and worked well 90 per cent of the time, with some misreadings happening occasionally. Realme also added the feature where the touch surface is disabled when an earbud is taken out of the ear, which is great to avoid accidental presses. 

Realme Buds Air 2

Realme provides a total of three pairs of silicone ear tips for users to choose from (S, M and L).  The earbuds have a nice, snug fit and are secure even during physical activities such as walking, jogging, and others. The buds are lightweight at just 4.1g each and comfortable for the most part, however, the reviewer, who has small ears, found that the buds got slightly uncomfortable to wear after an hour or two of continuous listening. This will depend from user to user according to the ear shape, but the buds are comfortable, at least for the first few hours. We urge you to try out all silicone tips to find the perfect fit since it helps with comfort and passive isolation.

Realme Link app and other features

The Realme Buds Air 2 comes with a pretty decent accompanying app – Realme Link. The UI is clean, easy to use, and comes with a fair amount of customisation options. The app does the basics well, which includes showing the battery percentage of both buds and the charging case, allowing you to toggle between Noise Cancellation, General and Transparency modes, and toggling a few more modes such as Game Mode, Volume Enhancer, In-ear detection, and auto answer. 

In the Game Mode, Realme has managed to drop the latency from 94ms on the Buds Air Pro to 88ms on these earphones. Now, the 6ms drop in latency isn’t very noticeable, the latency feels about the same as the Buds Air Pro. However, there’s minimal discernible delay in audio whether you’re streaming content or playing games. Volume Enhancer mode increases the top volume on the buds, for the ones who love blasting music in their ears (not advised). In-ear detection works well. In our testing period, it worked about 80 per cent of the time. We kept auto-answer off, but if you would like that, you can turn it on in the app.

Realme Buds Air 2

The app also allows you to choose between three EQ presets including Bass Boost+, Lively, and Clear. For the purposes of this review, we left it at the default EQ preset (Lively). There’s no adjustable equaliser control on the app, which is slightly disappointing, especially for those who like customising the sound, but Realme said that the earbuds’ sound signature can be customised via third-party apps such as Wavelet. Still, we would have liked to have the option to do so within the accompanying app instead of having to download another app to do so.

The app also allows users to upgrade the firmware of the buds and customise touch controls. By default, the touch controls are set to double tap for pause/play and answer/hang-up calls, triple tap for next track, long press one earbud to reject calls, and long-press both earbuds simultaneously to switch between ANC and Transparency Mode. You can switch all of this around via the app. We set it up to – double-tap (left earbud) for the previous track, double-tap (right earbud) for the next track, triple-tap for voice assistant, touch and hold either side to switch between ANC and Transparency. We chose to leave out pause and play since there’s wear detection support, where removing either earbud from your ear pauses the music and putting it back resumes it. There’s no support for volume controls, which is disappointing. We also set pressing and holding both earbuds simultaneously to turn on/off Game Mode.

Realme Buds Air 2

At the time of writing this review, Google Fast Pair is not supported since the device isn’t catalogued on Google yet, but by the time users get their hands on it, it should be supported. There’s also auto-connection where the Buds Air 2 will connect to a paired device as soon as the charging case open. Other features on these buds include Bluetooth v5.2 support; making it one of the first affordable earbuds to support this protocol; IPX5 water resistance rating to protect against splashes, light rain and sweat; USB Type-C charging; AAC and SBC codec support (no aptX, unfortunately); and master-master connection, where you can use either bud independently. The buds are, no doubt, packed with features at this price point. We wish Realme also included Qi wireless charging support since the Realme Buds Air had it. There’s also no multipoint connection support, where you can connect the buds to two devices at once, but that’s expected at this price point.

Performance

As mentioned above, the Realme Buds Air 2 come packing Active Noise Cancellation, making it one of the cheapest TWS earbuds we know of that offer this appealing feature. Realme is certainly democratising this feature and making it available for the masses at a price that doesn’t burn a hole in one’s pocket. The company claims Active Noise Cancellation up to 25dB using a feed-forward microphone that captures external noise. The earbuds then send out a reverse signal to cancel out the sound. The company has also employed its new R2 chip that supports ANC on these earbuds.

Realme Buds Air 2

The ANC performance on these buds obviously won’t rival premium TWS earbuds, but it’s pretty decent for the price. Constant, low-frequency sounds such as an AC’s drone, airplane’s rumble, and similar sounds are cancelled relatively well. The performance is about as good as the Realme Buds Pro. If you spend 5K, the Oppo Enco W51 offer slightly better ANC performance, but at Rs 3,299, you get what you would expect at this price point. So, human voices, loud fans, and other such sounds won’t get drowned out. 

The Transparency Mode, on the other hand, sounds pretty natural, which is rare at this price. The external sounds are relayed through the buds well without sounding too echo-y or artificial. Normal passive isolation on the Realme Buds Air 2 is also pretty decent, especially if you find the right ear tips for a good fit. 

Moving on to sound quality, the Realme Buds Air 2 sports a 10mm driver and the company selected a diamond-like carbon diaphragm that is usually found in higher-end headphones. The company also collaborated with the electronic duo, The Chainsmokers, to tune this headset. In terms of sound signature, the Buds Air 2 have a consumer-friendly V-shaped sonic signature tuning with a slightly boosted bass response and boosted highs in the 2kHz-3kHz range of the frequency spectrum. 

Realme Buds Air 2

Uncompensated Frequency Response graph of the Realme Buds Air 2 (Purple) vs Reference IEM (Orange)

The bass response is punchy and lively, however, it lacks some detail and finesse. The slightly overexaggerated low-bass response occasionally bleeds into the mids. For example, in Billie Eilish’s bad guy, the bass beats sound boomy and hamper the clarity of the vocals. On its own, the mid-range is pretty well-reproduced with instruments in this range sounding dynamic and clear, for the most part. Vocals are also clean and detailed enough when not shrouded by the bass. The highs are decent, although the drop-off from 4kHz to 8kHz robs some details in cymbals and hi-hats, making them sound slightly dull and listless at times. This is, however, us being nitpicky. For the price, the earphones sound very good.

The earphones seem to be targeted towards bass-lovers that often listen to genres such as EDM, rap, hip-hop, pop and Bollywood, and for those genres, the earbuds provide pretty engaging and lively sound. The soundstage is also significantly wide, however, the imaging could be better. Instrument separation is also decent.

Battery life and microphone

The Realme Buds Air 2’s battery life is rated at 25 hours (buds + charging case) at 50 per cent volume with ANC turned off. The earbuds have a battery life of 5 hours with ANC turned off on a single charge, as per Realme. In our tests, we found that the buds lasted about 3.5 hours with ANC turned on and at 70 per cent volume. Your mileage will vary depending on if you keep ANC on and the volume levels. The charging case is capable of providing 5 additional charges to the buds, which is pretty good.

Realme Buds Air 2

The buds also support Fast Charging, where just 10 minutes of charging the earbuds provide users with about 2 hours of playtime (with ANC off). The earbuds take about one hour to charge to full. The battery life is pretty good at this price point. It beats out the OnePlus Buds Z that comes with 20 hours of total battery life as well as the Oppo Enco W51 by a slight margin.

The microphone is mediocre, at best. The voice relayed on calls via the in-built microphone sounds slightly garbled and there’s some echo too. 

Verdict

The Realme Buds Air 2 is a solid, value-for-money TWS under 5K. It undercuts the competition by providing Active Noise Cancellation at a lower price point, better battery life, and a larger feature-set. ANC performance and sound quality are decent. If you want better ANC, you’ll have to spend almost 2K more for the Oppo W51, and if you want better sound quality, the Lypertek Levi is available at 5K but it lacks ANC, Transparency Mode, and other such features. All in all, Realme has created a product that will truly appeal to the masses due to its expansive feature set and its consumer-friendly sound tuning. 

The odd thing is that Realme has even demerited its own Realme Buds Air Pro by launching the Buds Air 2, since they have a similar sound quality and ANC performance, and the Buds 2 is cheaper despite having most of the features present on the Pro variant.



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