Edifier recently reached out to me to offer a pre-release sample of their new Neobuds Pro. These are the latest earbuds in Edifier’s lineup which are at the time of writing available to early adopters via the Indiegogo Crowdfunding Website. They’re the first high-res certified TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earbuds, with a hefty spec including dual drivers, multiple modes of active noise cancellation, IP54 certification for protection against accidental splashes and sweat, charging case and touch control. Let’s dive straight in.
The packaging is nothing short of luxurious. The lid secures with a magnetic front flap exposing the charging case containing the NeoBuds Pro themselves. A pull-out drawer beneath houses the accessories and documentation including 2 additional sets of silicone ear tips in small and large sizes and a draw-string carry case. The NeoBuds are pre-fitted with medium-size ear tips which should be well suited to most users.
The oval-shaped charging case is pocket-friendly and includes subtle Edifier branding in a beautifully sculpted design. Its design is inspired by an imaginary spaceship and the concept of time, taking inspiration from the sci-fi characters of Stanley Kubrick. A red LED strip changes dynamically during charging or when the case is opened. A single USB C port on the rear charges both the case and the earbuds themselves via the included USB C to USB A cable. The case latches magnetically. Flipping the case open reveals the two earbuds laying side-by-side, secured magnetically against charging contacts. A status button shows the current battery status.
A single charge gives each earbud six hours of playback time with active noise cancellation disabled and five hours with ANC enabled. This figure is tripled by the case for a total of 24 hours when the earbuds and case are at full capacity. A 10-minute charge is sufficient for an hours call time.
The earbuds can be used independently or together in a stereo pair. If you leave them paired with a device they will automatically pair and disconnect within a few seconds when removed or placed back in the case. Successful pairing is indicated by two successive tones at which point the touch controls control the connected device.
When they’re not paired and are in factory settings, tapping the earbuds toggles the noise cancellation mode between the active mode (up to 42dB of cancellation) and an ambient noise mode. In the latter, external noise is transmitted via the internal microphones of the earbuds. In a world where it is important to be aware of your surroundings, especially in situations where earbuds are often used such as walking or running outdoors of an evening, this is a crucially important feature. It works well too, with the ambient noise audible even when loud music is playing.
Both of the NeoBuds feature 3 integral microphones. Paired with a DSP-based noise reduction algorithm, two microphones enhance call quality while a third is solely dedicated to the reduction of wind noise during outdoor calls.
The earbuds can be used individually or as a stereo pair, and are smart enough to detect in which configuration they are used and adjust themselves accordingly. For example, none of the active noise cancellation features are available with only one earbud in use (this would be pointlessness) but the ambient noise features can be used with only a single earbud.
Various features of the NeoBuds Pro can be controlled using the Edifier Connect app, available for iOS and Android. Upon installation on an iPhone 12 Pro running the latest version of iOS 14, the NeoBuds Pro were immediately detected. The Home Screen of the app shows the battery status and gives quick access to toggling the various noise cancellation features. The additional tabs beneath primarily allow you to discover other Edifier models that might interest you.
The app also gives access to various settings and other information including the firmware version. You can adjust the volume of the voice prompts that are spoken when features are selected, adjust the earbud’s sensitivity to taps and restore the earbuds to their factory settings.
You can also control the function of both double and triple taps on each earbud.
Available settings include volume, media controls, activation of your phone’s voice assistant and a ‘gaming’ mode, which noticeably reduces Bluetooth transmission latency with a small battery life penalty. With combinations of double and triple taps on both earbuds, it is possible to create a comprehensive set of commands, though a further option to perform functions by tapping both earbuds simultaneously or tapping either of them in sequential patterns would be a nice addition.
None of the functionality on offer here would matter if the sound quality wasn’t up to a high standard. The NeoBuds Pro are the world’s first high-res certified true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds, with both a traditional dynamic driver and a Knowles balanced armature high-frequency driver in a two-way hybrid configuration. Dynamic drivers vibrate a membrane to move air and thus produce sound, but are themselves larger, require a greater enclosure volume and are less efficient at reproducing high frequencies when the size of both the enclosure and the driver are significantly reduced.
Originally developed for hearing aids, Balanced armature drivers vibrate a tiny reed that is ‘balanced’ between two magnets, the motion of which is transferred to a very stiff aluminium diaphragm. This diaphragm is free of unwanted resonances in the audio band, allowing it to produce excellent clarity which is particularly important for high-frequency detail especially in high-resolution recordings.
The NeoBuds Pro go a step further. Advancements in microchip design have brought sophisticated DSPs (digital signal processors) to tiny devices like the NeoBuds Pro, which feature not only bi-amplification (where each driver is driven by a separate amplifier) but also an active crossover to perfectly manage the ‘handoff’ frequency between the two drivers. This minimises distortion while allowing each driver to operate at the frequencies it is best suited to manage, and also allows the sound signature to be optimised even within the constraints of an enclosure as small as a single earbud. It is remarkable to think how far we’ve come from the simple earbuds supplied with Walkmans and pocket radios only a decade or so ago.
The NeoBuds Pro also support advanced codecs including LHDC and AAC, allowing them to receive 24-bit, 96kHz audio streams over Bluetooth. SBC is also supported and AVRCP, A2DP and HFP protocols are all supported with a maximum effective Bluetooth transmission distance of up to 10 metres. Frequency response is rated at 20Hz-40kHz, with an output sound pressure level of 91dB(a) +/- 3dB. The driver impedance, not that it matters in an active design, is 24Ω.
Sound-wise I was astounded by how much low end the NeoBuds Pro could produce. The bass is powerful and extends to depths I would normally expect only from a good pair of on-ear or over-ear headphones, least of all tiny earbuds. I don’t profess to be an earbud connoisseur having always preferred more traditional headphones, but the NeoBuds Pro immediately altered my perspective and demonstrated what a well-tuned earbud is capable of. The bass is as deep as you could want and while it doesn’t display the refinement of a good pair of headphones, it is perfectly enjoyable and doesn’t mask any detail through the mids and into the highs.
Speaking of the highs, they are exquisite. The Balanced Armature driver has agility and control in spades, sounding very much like the ribbon tweeters found in some higher-end loudspeakers. There’s plenty of sparkle and oodles of detail but it’s not fatiguing. If anything a slight reduction in the mids through the crossover point pushes the highs slightly forward, but in a way that gives the earbuds a greater sense of space and dimensionality at the expense of being tonally neutral. These are not monitoring earbuds by any means, but they don’t pretend to be. They have an obvious sonic character of their own, one that excels as much with dynamically compressed mainstream pop as it does with classic rock.
If you’re a fan of hiphop, rap, drum & bass or similar crossovers between genres these will delight. Fans of any genre will find a lot to love here with warmer mid-tones lending themselves to ‘70s rock, a fantastic low end being perfect for driving reggae rhythms and crisp highs giving the synths of the ‘80s and ‘90s plenty of character.
While they might not be the last word in sonic neutrality, the NeoBuds pro are a well-rounded ‘anything goes’ listen. They pack plenty of useful features, excellent active noise cancellation, a well-designed app, and support for high-resolution audio. The latter being a benefit rather than a gimmick as, unlike many earbuds, the NeoBuds Pro’s complement of drivers, hardware and acoustic design are more than capable of demonstrating the benefits of high-resolution music. I can’t fault them. Highly recommended. If you’d like to pre-order them you can do so at teh time of writing via Indiegogo for a significantly reduced price.