Waiting for the future where I can just jack in.

Alison Scott
5 min readNov 3, 2017

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The lovely people at Anker sent me a set of Soundbuds Curve Wireless Earbuds to review. I’d have loved them even more if they’d sent me them two weeks before I bought a pair of Taotronics Bluetooth earbuds, rather than two weeks afterwards. But there we go. And why had I bought new earbuds? Ah, therein lies a long, long tale.

Anker SoundBuds Curve

People who’ve known me a long time know that I have a love-hate relationship with headphones. They seem essential to me, and I’m happy to spend on them, but the product I want doesn’t appear to be available. That would be a lightweight, wireless, completely comfortable set of headphones that take up almost no space in my bag, rapidly pair with whatever computer I’m using at the time, don’t fall out when I move around, are durable, and have fantastic sound fidelity and isolation. That’s nine things. You might reasonably also ask for waterproof, modestly priced, and long play time.

Way back in 2003 I wrote about the various earbuds I was using at the time. I was commuting then, eventually concluded that earbuds weren’t doing my ears any good, and switched to small on-ear noise-reducing phones (the Sennheiser PXC-250II. These headphones are still available and remain a good choice if you don’t want buds, but need compact, noise-cancelling phones that won’t break the bank).

I then stopped commuting daily, and returned to carrying earbuds in my handbag so I’d always have them when I needed sound. I had bought, on an Amazon cheapie deal, a pair of Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10s (no link, because they’re long-since discontinued, but feel free to buy their successors, the £280 Logitech UE 900s). My triple.fis still work, and still sound amazing, but the physical size of the part of the earbud that goes into the ear canal is very large and as a result I’ve always had fit issues with them. Plus I have been seduced by wireless; I don’t find headphone cables irritating when I’m motionless, but all the rest of the time they’re a pain.

So I bought a pair of Jaybird Bluebuds which were ‘not cheap’. The sound was pretty good and the headphones were comfortable, but the battery life was poor, pairing was a complete nightmare and they often lost the bluetooth connection when my phone was in my handbag or beltbag. And then they mysteriously stopped charging a few days after the warranty expired. Further investigation showed fatal cracks in the charging port which is part of one earbud. A parade of sullen comments about the paucity of Jaybird UK service on Amazon discouraged me from complaining.

Incensed by the cost of buds that had lasted only a shade over a year, I bought the super cheap Taotronics headphones, which my husband and son both had and liked. A couple of weeks later, the Anker ones turned up. So, how do budget buds compare to my triple.fis? Or my dead Jaybuds?

TaoTronics TT-BH07

The answer is that both these cheapies are better for everything except sound quality — though note that I haven’t tested durability on either of these sets, but at £20-£30 I’m not expecting them to last as long as if I spend £150. Which is a bit of a pain if you want your mobile music to sound wonderful.

The Anker have significantly better sound than the Taotronics (but are, don’t get me wrong, blown away by the triple.fis). Their pairing is much more convincing, and the controls feel slightly more intuitive to me. I find both of these earbuds comfortable for long periods of listening, but the over-ear hooks on the Ankers mean that the weight of the buds isn’t on your ear canals so they feel significantly lighter. The combination of over-ear hooks and in-ear tips make these earbuds compelling for sport. I can’t imagine they’ll ever fall out. The over-ear hooks mean that they take up a lot more space (especially in their little case which is relatively enormous). They claim to be waterproof; a claim I have no plans to test. But many earbuds struggle with drizzle and sweat, so it would be good if they were at least that waterproof.

I try to avoid using buds if I’m listening for more than an hour or so, and include my buds in my regular charging regimen, so playtime for both of these is completely adequate for my needs.

My Taotronics have a bright blue cable (also available in black) which aids visibility if you shove your earbuds loose in the bottom of your bag. Obviously I do not recommend this behaviour. The Taotronics are also magnetic; this means that when you take your earbuds (or one earbud) out of your ear to have a conversation you can automatically clip them together so they don’t get lost.

The Ankers come with one pair of memory foam tips in addition to multiple sizes of silicone tips. I love memory foam tips, but they’re insanely expensive and I find they only last a few weeks. So that’s a £4 value. But seriously. More expensive than printer ink. They also come with Anker’s 18-month warranty; I’ve had cause to use this a couple of times and it’s been excellent. This is one reason I’m a big fan of this company — they’re selling budget products backed with high-end customer service.

So if you’re looking for budget buds, which of these should you get? If you need your buds to be super tiny, then the Taotronics are significantly smaller (though Anker do have products in this space too that I haven’t tried). If you really want to make sure your buds don’t fall out, get the Anker. Both of these will cut external sound better than Apple’s earbuds (critical for me — I use these more often on the Tube than anywhere else) but are only slightly better soundwise; the Anker is better than the Taotronics, but neither is comparable to a solid pair of wired earbuds. There still seems to me to be a massive gap in the market for moderately priced bluetooth earbuds with great sound and reasonable durability. Say, twice daily use for two years — that’s not a lot to ask for a £100 product, is it?

Finally, for completeness, when I’m at my computer and there’s nobody else in the house, I use B&W MM-1s. Mine have always been slightly temperamental, but the sound’s worth it. They’re absolutely a one-person sound solution though; they provide wonderful sound to your ears while sitting at your desk and to nowhere else. When there are people in the house, I use hideous but comfortable YKG A50s, plugged into the headphone port on the MM-1s to benefit from their DACs.

I was testing in ordinary conditions — listening to Apple Music’s “New Music Mix”, a weekly round-up of algorithmic suggestions which seems to get better all the time, on my iPhone. I also used the headphones to listen to several voice podcasts, and to switch between multiple sources.

Anyway, your comments on the perfect headphone solution (bearing in mind my 9+3 criteria above) are very, very welcome.

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