As time has gone on and increased reports of Apple’s next iPhone lacking a headphone jack have persisted, I’ve begun to delve deeper into the future of what consumer audio playback on iOS could be. Though headphones have found their way into nearly all levels of the consumer market in the past few years, I wanted to imagine what this headphone jack-less future could look like. I decided to start with the affordable, and what I would consider entry-level, Syllable D900s true wireless earbuds.
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As “prosumer” headphones have begun to reach mass audiences, with even Apple offering them for free in this year’s Back to School promotion, my guess is that manufacturers will soon look to compete with one another in any way they can. While many may not consider a pair of Beats headphones “high-end”, for some it can be the first introduction into a market of better quality audio headphones. That drive for something new is what makes me believe true wireless headphones will be the next step after Bluetooth headphones in the competitive consumer marketplace.
Though wireless headphones have been around for a few years now, even surpassing wired headphone revenue in June, true wireless headphones still feel pretty fresh on the market. With a handful of companies each releasing their own takes on the devices, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that it will only proliferate further within the next few years.
After a few days of tackling these ideas, I began to search on Amazon for something I would consider a good entry point into the market. I stumbled across Syllable’s D900s standing at a 3.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon, and decided these would be a great place to start. With a relatively low entry point at $79.99, I figured it was a good place to help feed my curiosity. As excited as I was knowing these were my first pair of true wireless earbuds, I was keen on being brutally honest in my review seeing as how Jordan and Ben both had interesting experiences with their Bragi Dash wireless earbuds.
DESIGN | Earbuds
The earbuds themselves look very attractive on a desk or in a picture, but unfortunately the plastic that it’s made of has a less than well-built quality feel to it. The material probably helped translate to the earbud’s impressive weight. It was the first thing I noticed once picking them up outside of the charging case. They were so lightweight that when I had first started using them, I couldn’t tell if they were actually inserted into my ears correctly or not. I had to look into a mirror to double-check.
A cheap plastic feel was also felt in the earbud’s large singular, triangle-shaped button. The button’s tactile feedback felt almost as if it was built as a second thought to the earbuds other utilities. Each click was loud and audible in-ear and off, and reminded me of Trouble’s “Pop-O-Matic” bubble.
The single button is multi-purpose, yet lacked some of the utilities I wanted. It can be used to pair the earbuds, play/pause, answer/decline and end phone calls. No volume control, no skipping music, and no rewinding music at all. Luckily I wear an Apple Watch where I was able to control all the missing functionality, but I found myself using the Watch more often than the earbud’s button. Each button press on the D900s would produce an obtrusive clicking sound that was never comfortable to hear while the earbuds were being used.
The D900s’ button includes lights to indicate different statuses for the earbuds. This is another area of contention for me on the device’s design, simply because of what appears to be poor manufacturing. One earbud LED had a royal blue tint to indicate when it was pairing, and the other had an aqua blue tint. This tripped me up during initial pairings because according to the manual the only colors were blue, green, and red. Since I had been pairing for the first time, I wasn’t sure which of the blues I saw would be considered “blue” by the manual’s directives.
DESIGN | Charging Case
While not very fond of carrying a charging case around, Syllable including one with the D900s makes it much easier to handle. It’s a convenient and attractive little case, but definitely could have been smaller. For the $79.99 price tag that is the entire package, I couldn’t complain much.
Syllable creatively handled the way the earbuds should charge in the package here. The earbuds have metal contacts underneath them where they sit on top of the contact pins within the charging case. They sort of rest on the charger when you place them inside the case, but closing the lid forces the earbuds down onto the contact points. Once the contact is made, you can press the button on front of the case to begin charging the earbuds. The included manual explains that the case can fully charge the earbuds five times, but I found it to be closer to about 4 times on average during my testing.
The worst part about this case was charging it using the finicky mini-USB plug. Multiple times I had it plugged in overnight only to learn it didn’t charge the earbuds at all. From that moment on whenever I charged the case I had to make sure to plug the USB cable in, and tilt it to one side where it seemed to be able to charge more consistently.
One thing I did not expect with these earbuds was comfort, and oh did they impress. After putting these in I quickly forgot they were even there. The included tips look strange and like something I hadn’t seen before, but I found they gripped and felt nice in the ear. I found myself looking for reasons to use these over my EarPods or wired “wireless” gym earbuds.
I’ll get this out of the way immediately: I wouldn’t use these headphones to listen to music all day. It’s not so much a discussion on general comfort, but rather the device’s audio quality. While the highs are clear (and in some cases too much), the mids are muddled and lows are non-existent. I’ve used these for two different runs I’ve gone on, once with a podcast and one with an hour-long EDM music mix, and the podcast was a much more enjoyable experience. The lack of lows and clear mids has the earbuds killing nearly all the energy in music leaving you just enough to understand what song is currently playing.
When I used these on my runs, I also noticed possibly the most annoying part of the true wireless earbud experience: one earbud wirelessly disconnecting from the other. During my runs, on 5 separate occasions the left earbud disconnected from the right and then quickly reconnected automatically. Whenever it did go through this reconnect cycle, the audio would get slightly disorienting for a split-second as all the audio would start to come from one audio channel. It was bad enough that it became a distraction while running or attempting to focus in on the podcast I had playing.
This brings me to the next serious problem with these earbuds: the audio channels in these were completely mis-calibrated in two of the worst ways. First off, the left earbud was significantly quieter than the right earbud. I thought it was just me and continued to use them like this until I remembered iOS had the accessibility feature to adjust audio balance. I decided to go into that area and adjust the settings to see if it would make a difference and then I learned of the second problem. The earbuds have flipped audio channels; the left earbud plays the right audio channel, and the right earbud plays the left audio channel. This discovery came when I began to adjust the audio balance in iOS and noticed that increasing the audio towards the left (where the audio was quiet) actually made the right louder. After finally balancing out the audio (by moving the audio balance slider towards the right), the earbuds began to sound much better.
(I had reached out to Syllable about the issue and was informed that this had been the first time they met the problem and that they would inform their factory to re-test all the earbuds.)
The range on the D900s is one of the best parts about these earbuds. I frequently found myself leaving my phone behind while I used the earbuds, and walked around the home. Despite the left and right earbud dropouts indicated above, the distance was solid. In an open space with semi-visible line of sight I was able to walk back to 40 feet and still maintained a solid connection to my phone. The only problem I noticed with range was that sometimes when I put my phone in my back pocket, the audio would begin to stutter as if the range was too far away. After having it happen a few times I ended up just putting the phone in my front pocket when I took it around.
I knew when testing these earbuds that battery life would be a concern. The size of them doesn’t give much room to hold a large battery, so any estimates I had read were taken with a grain of salt. This is the another area where the D900s did not fail to impress. The documentation indicates the earbuds will last for about one and a half hours on a full charge, and I found myself being able to listen up to two hours on a single charge before they died. While I wish they could have lasted much longer, a two-hour long battery life was sufficient enough for me to remember to disconnect from the audio inputs I had going on and just relax while they charged inside the case.
Using the Syllable D900s as my first pair of true wireless earbuds was a great idea. The $79.99 price point is entry-level enough that I felt it got me a good introduction into what the technology could be. I do believe that true wireless earbuds are the future of consumer headphones, but my initial experience with these left a lot to be desired.
I love the lightweight feel of the earbuds, I loved that they stayed in my ears solidly during a run, and loved that I could quickly charge them with a case. The issues outside of that, the most basic fundamentals of what headphones should do, I couldn’t get past. The significant differences in audio volume, and the misconfigured audio channels makes me think that actual audio playback may have been an after thought here.
Other true wireless headphones easily reach into the $250 range, but if you have money to spend to test these out of curiosity, I would definitely recommend it. If you’re looking for a great audio experience from a pair of true wireless earbuds, I would hold off for the time being. The discovery journey can only go up from here. I’ll expect more true wireless earbuds like these to only improve and see the public light soon after the iPhone 7 is released later this year.
We’ll continue to review true wireless earbuds as we can get our hands on them to help you better prepare for the headphone jack-less world we’ll be soon encountering. Is there anything else you feel I missed, or would like more info on? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: Though I discovered the Syllable D900s on Amazon, the company had reached out just a week later asking if I’d like one to test, and then sent one for the purposes of this review.