A large number of truly wireless earbuds have flooded the market, made by both established players such as Apple, Jabra and Samsung and newbies. One thing that all of these products seem to have in common is the relatively high asking price – the Airpods retail for US $160, the Icon X for US $200, and the Bragi Dash for $300.
And all of these are first generation products that will surely benefit greatly from additional tweaks. The Airpods, for instance, have a mediocre audio quality (for the price), the Icon X have an inadequate battery life for long workouts, and Bragi Dash suffer from dropped connections.
Given these teething problems, one may well be advised to wait a few more months for some company to resolve all these issues. But what if you simply cannot wait that long? And what if you were able to get all of that gadgetry for a fraction of the asking price?
Enter D900 Mini, made by a Chinese company called Syllable. These are truly wireless earbuds in the vein of the products mentioned above. They come with the usual accessories – additional ear tips and a basic but sturdy carrying case that doubles as the charging dock. The company claims that the earbuds last for about two hours on a single charge and the carrying case itself stores enough juice to charge the D900 Minis for about 4-6 times.
The real kicker, however, is the asking price. You can have the product for a tempting US $30 – one fifth the price of Apple Airpod. What’s the catch, you ask?
The first thing you need to know is that it isn’t available in Qatar. You will have to import it. Thankfully there are plenty of sellers on AliExpress that will ship it to you for free. The downside to free shipping is the waiting period, which can be a painful 30-60 days. You do get escrow protection from AliExpress, so you can be sure that you will get your product or the money back. The website also guarantees that you will get the product as described. The upside to all this protection is that there is very little chance that you will have an issue with buying on AliExpress, so long as you buy from well-reviewed and top-rated sellers.
The Syllable D900 Mini comes in a plain cardboard box, with the company logo on it. Inside is a booklet to help you get started, a Micro USB cable, additional ear tips, the hard shell carrying box that stores and charges the earbuds, and a cloth carrying case (which is completely useless as it isn’t big enough for the box).
Getting the earbuds up and running is simple – the left unit is the primary earpiece and is used to pair with your phone or any other Bluetooth audio source. It pairs like any other Bluetooth device on the market. You keep the button pressed until the tiny light on the side starts blinking blue and red, and the Minis are ready to be paired.
The two earpieces are made entirely of plastic and are feather light, but have an adequately solid feel in hand. Both earpieces come synced out of the factory. Turn them on individually and a tone and a bleep in each earpiece tells you that you are ready to go. The booklet does contain instructions for syncing the two earpieces, if you need to.
Operating the Syllable D900 Mini is simple. There are no volume controls. Each earpiece has a large button that is used to turn them on or off, and can be used to pause or play the audio from the phone. That’s about it. For volume control, you will have to turn to your phone.
The upside of all this is that you will not find yourself trying to optimise the audio levels on the earpieces to try and maximise the battery life. Speaking of the battery life, I got just about two hours of nonstop play before the earbuds had to be placed in their carrying case for charging.
The earpieces charge through metal contacts on their bottom, as they come in touch with the charging contacts in the box. The contacts in the box are spring loaded and the earpieces need to be pressed down for the charging to work. This is achieved through the lid of the carrying box, as it is held to the bottom with the help of two small magnets. The carrying case itself is simply designed box, with four LED lights to tell you how much charge is left. The hinges, though, are tiny and made of plastic – caution is advised.
The design of the earpieces may look rather odd at first glance, but they fit easily in your ears. They sit comfortably but firmly, and you never get the feeling that an earpiece may fall out. One peculiarity of the design is that you do not get a complete seal – they function more like the earbuds of the past than the in-ear variety that is much more common nowadays. This means just about all sounds around you will make their way in, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your needs. Good because you will always be aware of your surroundings, bad because you will struggle to hear your music in very noisy environments.
Speaking of music, the sound quality on these earphones is entirely adequate. It will not blow your mind away, nor will it leave you underwhelmed, as many cheap headphones tend to do. This is not a headset for bass heads, even though Syllable says in its blurb that it has worked to improve the bass response. The absence of a seal and tiny drivers means the bass is barely there. As you would expect, bass-heavy songs tend to lose their oomph. The upside of this is that the bass does not overpower the rest of the sound profile. People who prefer clarity over thump will like this. Do not expect it to sound like a much more expensive pair though and you will be fine. The sound quality is perfectly adequate, even if unremarkable. I have certainly heard much worse in this price range.
These would have notched a recommendation at their price point were it not for one annoying and persistent problem. The two earbuds tend to lose connection rather easily. There are times when you can get through an entire hearing session without a hitch. But at other times, the connection keeps dropping in and out, ruining the entire experience. When the two earpieces lose the connection between them, the left earpiece continues to play the music as it reestablishes its connection with the right earpiece. But at times, this connection drops as soon as it is reestablished, making them unusable. It isn’t clear what causes the connection to drop, as I have tried it in multiple settings with varying but inconclusive results.
I am also not the biggest fan of the carrying case: any benefit that is gained from the earpieces being completely wireless is offset by the chunky design of the carrying case, which makes it very hard to fit inside the pockets of your pants. So carrying these around is a pain. I would really like the company to switch to a slimmer profile for its carrying case in future iterations.
The Syllable D900 Mini sits pretty at the budget end of the nascent wireless earphones industry. When it works, it works as you would expect it to. Those enticed by the technology may still want to give it a try. But for the majority, the portability issue and the frequent connection drops make it hard to recommend.
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