Before Apple “courageously” removed the 3.5mm headphone jack from its latest iPhones, fully wireless earbuds were already becoming one of the fastest growing trends in audio. As a generation of youngsters grows up with fewer and fewer wires, the desire for high-quality, truly wireless earbuds is now stronger than ever. The tiny tech needed to create quality products is a top priority for many manufacturers.
Even in the fast-moving tech landscape of 2016, however, many fully wireless in-ears on the market still have their fair share of bugs to work out. Such is true with Sol Republic’s new Amps Air — the company’s first entry into this burgeoning segment. Despite good looks, solid connectivity, and a case that doubles as a portable phone charger, a lack of quality audio performance keeps the well-constructed Amps Air from reaching their full potential.
Out of the box
The Amps Air come beautifully packaged in a silver box with the earbuds peering tastefully through a plastic side panel. Sliding off the silver face reveals the plastic box with the earphones inside. Also included are a black box with an instruction booklet, a short USB charging cable, and a metallic-grey pillbox, which serves as the charging station and carrying case for the buds.
Everything looks sleek and well designed, with an unboxing experience that matches many high-end electronic devices. The only real issue we’d raise here is that the lid of the charging case feels a little flimsy, worrying us slightly about its durability over time.
Features and design
The Amps Air’s grey pillbox is not dissimilar from that of numerous competitors — Apple’s yet-to-be-released Airpods included. The earbuds fit perfectly inside, sitting on magnetic conductors that rev up their three-hour battery when they are not in use. The case is claimed to offer up to 15 charges for the buds, an impressive number that doubles or triples many such charging cases we’ve encountered, and while we didn’t put it to its limit, we were able to charge the buds multiple times without draining the case.
Everything is well engineered and sleek, with an unboxing experience that matches high-end electronics.
The Amps Air’s special shell has a few other tricks up its sleeve, as well. The case includes a full-size USB port to go along with the micro-USB charging input, and the onboard 2200 mAh battery can be used for emergency phone charging when needed, a welcome touch that most manufacturers don’t offer. To find out how much power is left in the case, users can simply shake it, revealing 4 hidden LEDs on the front to indicate a rough percentage of remaining power.
The ear buds themselves look a bit like black acorns, with a rubberized exterior that is ribbed to aid airflow and mitigate sweat for workouts. We’re not sure if that actually works, or if it’s just to make them look cool, but we didn’t note any perspiration issues during workouts.
The exterior of each earpiece is fitted with an indented gold button that also wears the linear Sol Republic logo, doubling as a reminder of earpieces’ orientation in their charging cradles. The buttons perform a myriad of functions when the headphones are in use, based on the number or length of presses. Tapping the button will play/pause music and take calls, while holding them activates Google voice assistant or Siri. The buttons also turn them off, though we typically accomplished this by placing them in the case.
The Amps Air can be used with any Bluetooth device — be it phone, computer, or tablet — in either stereo or mono mode. In each case, pairing is simple. The two in-ears immediately pair with one another when you pull them from the case. Alternately, they can be manually paired with two simultaneous clicks on each bud’s side buttons. Once paired to each other, they quickly pop up on the Bluetooth menu of your device, and easily connect to both headphones in stereo.
If you want to use one earpiece in mono mode, simply remove it from the case and pair to it in your device’s menu. Music and other sound playback is converted to mono, so you can comfortably listen to music between calls. Either way, connectivity is quick and easy, and the wireless range is impressive by Bluetooth standards. We were able to leave the phone on a table and walk 30 feet around a corner with absolutely no stuttering in streaming, and 50 feet down a straight hallway.
Despite their solid design, great Bluetooth range, and ample feature set, the Amps Air disappoint in terms of overall audio quality.
Connectivity is quick and easy, and the earbuds hold their signal at an impressive range.
While the large drivers do offer solid bass response, the higher registers are often tinny and digitalized, especially when coupled with the buds’ noisy Bluetooth connection. Music flush with ride cymbals like Bill Ryder Jones’ West Kirby County Primary is annoyingly dissonant in the treble, with Spotify’s typically decent audio quality coming through as if re-compressed to the poor quality of the MP3s of old.
Genres which benefit from sub-bass presence come through cleanest on the Amps Air, with singles like Run The Jewels’ Talk To Me sounding downright boomy in the low end — an effect which helps temper the headphones’ high-end woes. But even with low frequencies serving as a band aid, the mid and upper registers still come off sounding over-compressed and jarring on most tracks, to the point that most music feels misrepresented.
Audio woes aside, the Amps Air do offer decent passive noise isolation, likely because of their overall mass.Our Take
The DT Accessory Pack
While they are beautifully designed, well-built, and easy to use, Sol Republic’s Amps Air falter too heavily when it comes to audio quality. There’s plenty of bass to enjoy here, but a synthetic and tinny upper register pulls too much fun out of the music.
What are the alternatives?
Those in the market for fully-wireless earbuds should consider the Erato Apollo 7 first and foremost, which offer solid sound and consistent connectivity – something that simply can’t be said for many similarly priced options on the market. The feature-rich Samsung Gear IconX might also be an enticing option, though poor battery life is an issue there.
How long will it last?
With a robust build quality, the Sol Republic Amps Air should last several years with normal use. That said, as battery and Bluetooth headphone technology improves, they are likely to sink in value when it comes to the rising competition, a fact which can be said of many current-generation wireless earbuds.
Should you buy it?
No. The Amps Air are beautiful, dependable, and easy to use, but the overall audio quality is simply too poor for us to recommend them.