Until fairly recently, Erato’s fully wireless Apollo 7 earbuds were among the best that we had ever tested. Offering best-in-class connectivity and solid sound, the bullet-shaped earphones just worked better than any wireless earbuds we had encountered when we reviewed them in May of 2016. Those times, they are a changin’.
Less than a year later, large manufacturers like Apple have entered the marketplace to compete with a wave of second generation models from smaller companies like Erato, Bragi, and many others. As the latest technology makes fully-wireless headphones more reliable and convenient, listeners bent on joining the true wireless revolution have never had more choices.
So how do the Muse 5 compare to the crowd? While not without their issues, Erato’s latest earbuds are an affordable and convenient option with enough features to make them worth consideration.
Out of the Box
The Erato Muse 5 come in a simple black box which opens to reveal the two wireless earbuds in a thin cardboard display, with their plastic charging case located below. An instruction manual beneath contains a handy chart to tell you how to setup the buds and use the on-board controls.
Features and Design
The Muse 5 ditch the .45 caliber look of their predecessor in favor of the oblong in-ear shape popularized by the likes of Bragi’s Dash, and others. With that physical change, the company has also expanded on the traditional mushroom-tipped silicone seal with what they call FitSeal, which is a ridged silicone layer that goes below the tip to create a tighter fit in your ear canal. The model we tested are a subtle shade of black, but the company also offers three other finishes — pearl white, rose gold, and “brilliant” blue.
As with most true wireless earbuds, the pillbox case handles both charging and storage, and comes with a translucent lid that’s removable. The earbuds rest snugly in the center, their LEDs bleeding light through the case to show they’re charging — a nice touch that lets you know the ‘buds are nestled just right, without lifting the lid. A blue LED on the front of the case lets you know the Muse 5 are charged, while a red one means less than 30 percent of the battery life remains.
The outside of each earpiece features a single control button with the Erato logo on it, which controls everything from playback to Bluetooth pairing and Siri and Google Voice, based on the length and number of taps it records. It takes a while to learn the patterns needed to perform various functions (laid out in the instructions), but once done, everything works nicely. Plus, the location, size, and the pleasant click when pressing each button assures accuracy.
The Muse 5 ditch the .45 caliber looks of their predecessor in favor of a larger, oblong shape.
Each earphone can be operated as a single Bluetooth earpiece, or they can be paired together for a stereo experience. Erato claims battery life is about four hours of streaming per charge, but in practice we registered around 3.5 hours, which is slightly above average when compared to the field. The case holds about two full recharges, for a total time of around 11-12 hours of playback on the go. Recharging the headphones in the case takes about 2 hours.
While some wireless earbuds, such as Apple’s AirPods, have sensors to know when you have removed one or both earpieces, the Erato Muse 5 do not, meaning you’ll have to use the buttons on each earphone to turn them on/off individually.
The Muse 5 are competitive with their suggested $180 price point, but Erato is currently running a preorder sale that can bring them into your life for $130, making them cheaper than most similarly appointed competitors — provided you’re willing to wait 4-6 weeks for delivery.
Pairing the earbuds is accomplished by inserting them into your ears and holding one of the two buttons to activate pairing mode. A pleasant British woman will tell you that the single ‘bud is both on and in pairing mode, and then all you have to do is pair the Muse 5 in your device’s Bluetooth menu.
Once one earbud is connected, press and hold the button on the other earbud to turn it on. In a few seconds, the same voice on either side will let you know the earphones are in stereo mode. Those who wish to use just one of the headphones in mono mode will skip this step.
Though the aforementioned FitSeal technology offers excellent passive noise isolation (the company includes three sizes for optimum seal, depending on your ears), the Muse 5 are relatively bulky and heavy when compared to competitors. They are also a bit less comfortable than peers from Bragi and Apple — every person we invited to try the Muse 5 experienced some fatigue when wearing them for longer than about an hour. They’re not so bad that you’ll want to rip them out of your ears after a few minutes — but it’s something of a chore to wear them for their full charge time.
The best compliment we can give Erato’s new Muse 5 is that they simply work well, which is no small feat, even in the second generation of true wireless earbuds. Connectivity is solid, the controls are convenient and accurate (except when you forget which combination of clicks changes songs or calls Siri), and the ‘buds improve upon the Apollo 7’s occasional issues with stereo latency.
Sound performance itself is not perfect, but it is passable. While the Muse 5 don’t offer the same balanced profile as Bragi’s The Headphone, we did like their performance a touch more than Apple’s AirPods. In general, the latest Erato model are somewhat muddy in the low end, but sharp and crisp up high – so much so that the high register becomes a bit harsh at higher volumes on some songs, including The Dirty Projector’s Gun Has No Trigger. The imbalance isn’t as egregious as the Sol Republic Amps Air, but it doesn’t place the Muse 5 at the top of the class, either.
Classic rock like The Beatles’ Dizzy Miss Lizzy is perhaps the most fun thing to listen to on the Muse 5, as the squeaky clean upper register meets a punchier, warmer low end than we normally expect from the remastered Help recordings.
Though the audio imbalance isn’t as egregious as some, we wish the sound was less harsh up top.
Bass-heavy music like Flying Lotus’ Zodiac Shit gets a bit overwhelming down low but, again, it’s not a sound profile that is off-putting. In fact, when compared to the Apple’s AirPods weak-kneed deep bass response, the Muse 5’s sound signature might actually be a welcome change for some, provided you aren’t too sensitive to sharp treble.
The Muse 5 also offers something Erato calls 3D surround sound, designed to open up the sound of the earphones for better stereo imaging. It does open up the sound somewhat, but it’s not a game-changer. Heavily separated mixes like Mac Demarco’s Cookin Up Something Good sound more dynamic with the feature enabled, but the difference is unlikely to blow you away. If we owned these, we’d just leave the feature on all the time — there’s really no reason to want less-dynamic stereo imaging.
While we didn’t ever struggle with latency between each headphone, as we occasionally did with the Apollo 7, there was notable latency for streaming video. In fact, if you watch a lot of video on your phone, we’d look elsewhere. Apple’s AirPods — even on an Android device — offer significantly less video latency.Our Take
Erato’s Muse 5 offer decent sound, good functionality, and excellent passive noise isolation, but they don’t offer the kind of sound and comfort needed to put them at the top of the list. Just six months ago, Erato’s latest would have registered among the best fully-wireless earbuds on the market, but today there are many other excellent offerings currently available at this price point, keeping the Muse 5 decidedly in the center of the pack.
The DT Accessory Pack
Is there a better alternative?
Similarly priced alternatives include Bragi’s The Headphone, which offer better comfort and better sound performance — though they don’t have a rechargeable case — and s, which offer similar comfort, a rechargeable case, and improved connectivity (especially for iPhone users), but with slightly worse audio quality overall.
How long will it last?
The Muse 5 are solidly built and their hard plastic case seems durable and strong, leaving us no reason to believe they won’t last for several years of continued use.
Should you buy it?
Even in a crowded field, the Muse 5 are worth considering – especially at their pre-order $140 price point. Though they lose points when it comes to comfort and overall audio quality, those looking for a set of true wireless earbuds that won’t break the bank may want to give them a try.