“Smarts, great sound, and a stylish design put the T5 II ANC on our wish list.”
- Slick design and materials
- Smart and helpful features
- Great sound
- Excellent controls
- Wireless charging
- Mediocre ANC
- Poor battery life
- Uneven call quality
Klipsch’s T5 true wireless earbuds have been favorites of ours since they launched in 2019, thanks to their slick and stylish design, great fit and sound, and stellar battery life. The $199 T5 II from 2020 added transparency mode and better waterproofing. Now, in 2021, the legendary American speaker brand is back with a new T5 — the $299 T5 II ANC — the company’s first set of active noise-canceling (ANC) earbuds. But instead of merely adding ANC to the existing design, Klipsch has gone all-out by integrating advanced software-driven features like head gestures for controls, the ability to automatically block loud sounds, and some algorithmic magic that the company claims can significantly improve sound quality.
Those improvements need to be more than just gimmicks: At $299, the T5 II ANC find themselves in direct competition with four of the best true wireless earbuds on the market, namely the $280 Sony WF-1000XM4, the $299 Master & Dynamic MW08, the $279 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and the $300 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.
Can Klipsch come out on top? Let’s take a look.
Klipsch’s boxes are as stylish as their earbuds, but in this case — with lots of glued and coated cardboard and a big chunk of protective foam inside — it’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to disposal. Inside, you’ll find the earbuds, their charging case, six sizes of silicone eartips, a braided USB-C to USB-C charging cable, a USB-C to USB-A adapter, and some paper documentation including a quick-start guide.
The T5 II ANC are in a dead heat with the Master & Dynamic MW08 for the best-looking earbuds you can buy.
The original T5 invited comparisons to the iconic Zippo lighter because of its flip-open, brushed-metal charging case — and that’s clearly a winning formula. The T5 II ANC take that same classic shape and add a splash of luxury with three highly polished metal options: Gunmetal, silver, and copper. The earbuds and cases are color-matched, and the combo puts the T5 II ANC in a dead heat with the Master & Dynamic MW08 for the best-looking earbuds you can buy.
The case is compact but weighty: At just over a tenth of a pound, it could do some serious damage if you hurled it, but you’re more likely to damage the case itself by simply dropping it. Still, that weight and the beautifully contoured corners make the case a delight to hold in your hand.
Klipsch also sells a McLaren edition of the T5 II ANC for $50 more. It comes with its own wireless charging mat and the charging case is made of much lighter materials, but in every other respect, the two versions are identical.
Despite being clad in metal, the charging case’s rubber base gives it a firm footing when resting on a surface while also allowing wireless charging — another first for Klipsch. The case’s lid flips open and closed easily (though doing it one-handed, Zippo-style, will take some practice) and the earbuds are very easy to insert and remove. The charging socket magnets are quite weak, but given how well the lid seals when closed, it’s not a problem.
A series of three tiny LEDs peek through the seam between the lid and the case to let you know the case’s battery and charging status, while individual color-coded LEDs on the earbuds perform the same function. If you buy the McLaren edition, be aware that the case’s LEDs are much harder to see unless you look at them dead-on.
The only downside to that beautifully polished metal case is that it is both a fingerprint and scratch magnet. Trying to take smudge-free photos of our gunmetal review unit proved difficult, and even within the first few hours of pocketing it and using it, tiny scratches had started to appear.
The earbuds use physical buttons, which I much prefer to touch controls, and their location in the center of the earbuds’ oval body means you’d have to try really hard to press one by accident. Unfortunately, Klipsch wasn’t able to preserve the T5 II’s excellent IP67 water and dust protection. The T5 II ANC still have an IPX4 rating, which is good enough to protect them from heavy sweat or rain, but you should definitely exercise caution when cleaning them — running water is to be avoided. Though in fairness, at this price, most true wireless earbuds don’t offer significantly better protection.
With six sizes of Klipsch’s oval-shaped eartips, you should have an excellent chance of getting a good fit. I found the preinstalled medium tips comfortable, but not especially secure. Switching to the large helped a lot, and they also improved bass response (this is why it’s worth trying every size of eartip — there may be many comfortable sizes, but the goal is to get the best seal possible while maintaining your comfort).
One click takes you from immersive music to fully aware conversations. More true wireless earbuds should offer this feature.
A lot of true wireless earbuds now come with a fit test built into the mobile app, but this is one of the few tech tricks Klipsch has omitted, so you’ll need to use your best judgment. The earbuds stayed firmly seated throughout a trip to the gym, but I’m not big into high-impact activities like running. They may not be able to withstand heavy pounding as well as models that have earhooks or stabilizer fins.
Once inserted correctly, I found the T5 II ANC very comfortable, but I can see how some folks might not like them. The small stem that connects the main body of the earbud to the eartip is shaped like a tube, with a surprisingly sharp edge at its top where it meets the body. As you twist the earbuds to seat them, this edge can come into contact with the inner portion of the concha. If it stays there, it can hurt. For me, the earbuds naturally settled into a comfortable position.
Head gestures work well; I had no problem getting all three to respond to my head movements.
The controls are excellent. A single multifunction button on each earbud gives you precise command over every conceivable function including volume, playback, ANC, calling, and voice assistant access. In addition to the tactile click, there’s also a tiny audio chirp to confirm you’ve pressed the button correctly. Inside the Klipsch app, you can control what the left button does for single, double, and triple presses, but the right button always follows the factory settings. The app has an impressive array of settings you can play with, but it tends to be a bit laggy, as it routinely polls the earbuds for their status, which can take a second or two.
But here’s where things get interesting. Using software from Bragi — one of the first companies to create and sell true wireless earbuds — the T5 II ANC can respond to head gestures like nods and shakes that can perform up to three functions: Accept a call, reject a call, and skip to the next track. They work well; I had no problem getting all three to respond to my head movements. How useful they are will depend on how often you find both hands occupied when a call comes in. They’re also handy for when a Spotify playlist tries to ruin your groove with an awkward track.
Curiously, the head-shake-to-skip function only works within the first 10 seconds of a song and it may not work when using the earbuds with computers.
The Bragi software also introduces “sidekicks” — a set of smart, automatic activities. Right now, there are only two sidekicks: Activate ANC automatically when playing music (and switch to transparency mode when you pause) and activate transparency mode automatically when on a phone call. These can be switched on or off within the app, but I recommend keeping both on. Because Klipsch hasn’t given the T5 II ANC any in-ear sensors, it won’t autopause your tunes when you remove an earbud. But the automatic ANC/transparency sidekick is arguably better anyway. There’s no need to remove an earbud to hear what’s going on, as one click takes you from fully immersive music to fully aware conversations. More true wireless earbuds should offer this feature.
They lend a sparkle to vocal performances and instruments like trumpets while avoiding harshness and sibilance.
You can use each earbud individually if you wish, and the app lets you decide if you want the left earbud to take on the right earbud’s commands when using it solo.
The T5 II ANC pair and connect quickly. They lack Google’s Fast Pair option, but given that most of us will only need to pair once, I think that’s OK. Bluetooth range is good, with about 25 to 30 feet indoors and about double that when outside. As long as you stay within those distances, the connection remains very stable. Klipsch leaves me wanting Bluetooth Multipoint for connecting two devices at once, but given that Jabra seems to be the only company that does this, it’s hard to knock the T5s for that.
Klipsch proudly notes that the T5 II ANC are the first true wireless earbuds to feature Dirac HD Sound built-in. According to the marketing materials, it’s “a state-of-the-art digital audio performance-enhancement technology” that is intended to optimize the earbuds’ sound signature, resulting in improved staging, clarity, vocal crispness, and bass fidelity.
The reality is something quite different. Turning Dirac HD on definitely alters the T5’s sound signature, but I don’t consider it an improvement. It actually narrows the soundstage, and does some really unpleasant compression to parts of the midrange, making it sound like some of the music is being pushed through a cardboard tube. Yes, vocals do become more pronounced, almost as if the singers occupy the tip of a triangle that’s pointed at you, while the rest of the instrumentation sits further back.
Instead of beating your eardrums with bass, Klipsch’s sound signature takes a far more neutral approach.
But here’s the good news: Not only can you easily disable Dirac HD if you feel as I do, but doing so also lets you hear the T5’s factory tuning, which I think needs no help at all from additional digital signal processing.
As with previous generations of the T5, Klipsch delivers impressive levels of clarity throughout the frequency range, but it’s especially vivid in the upper midrange and highs. This lends a sparkle to vocal performances and instruments like trumpets, while simultaneously avoiding harshness and sibilance. There’s plenty of bass response too, but instead of beating your eardrums with it relentlessly, Klipsch’s sound signature takes a far more neutral approach, which keeps that low-end boom from coloring tracks that were never intended to convey it.
Depending on your taste, this balance might come across as a bit bright, especially if you’re used to headphones with a greater emphasis on bass. But if that’s the case, the app offers an adjustable six-band EQ with several presets and custom options, so there’s plenty of wiggle room to tweak the frequencies to your liking.
I tested the T5 against our current king of music quality, the M&D MW08, and was pleasantly surprised. I still prefer the MW08’s wider soundstage and warmer tonality, but the T5 pack an undeniable energy that makes them really enjoyable. Up and down the volume slider, there’s no hint of distortion.
There is one small caveat, however. If you like things loud, the T5 may disappoint. Normally, I find that I can’t exceed 75% of an earbuds’ volume without serious discomfort. But I was able to push the Klipsch to their maximum setting without wincing. On the plus side, this should keep you from the worst effects of noise-induced hearing loss. But there may be times when these earbuds simply can’t get as loud as you want.
This is the company’s first shot at ANC, and Klipsch gets it mostly right. An adjustable slider in the app lets you choose how much noise you want to block. When set to the maximum, the earbuds do a nice job of killing both low- and high-frequency sounds, but as with almost all ANC systems, it’s the low-frequency canceling that you notice most. You’ll need to keep your expectations modest, however. Whether for better or worse, the T5 II ANC do an outstanding job of passive noise isolation. That means that when you’re not using ANC or transparency, very few external sounds make their way into your ear in the first place. So when you engage ANC, you don’t quite get that magical moment of instant silence. It’s more subtle than that.
Where the big aha moment happens is when you kick in transparency mode. Like ANC, you can control how much sound to let in, and when set to maximum, the earbuds actually amplify the outside world a bit. The first time I did it, I was surprised to hear the sound of my shoes crunching on gravel — I didn’t even know I was making that sound as I walked.
The risk with amplifying outside sounds is that loud ones could become considerably — perhaps even dangerously — louder. But Klipsch has a solution: Noise Shield monitors these sounds while you’re in transparency mode and if it detects especially loud ones (like the Harley that careened past me as I walked down the street), it temporarily switches to ANC. There doesn’t appear to be a way to disable this in the app, but it’s so effective, I’d be inclined to leave it on anyway.
Switching between modes is quick and simple — one click on the left earbud is all you need. On the downside, Klipsch hasn’t given us the option to skip over the in-between transparency off mode so we can go straight from ANC to transparency. I’ve been told this was intentional because the auto ANC/transparency sidekick essentially does the same thing, but I’m not sold. There could be plenty of times when I’m not listening to music and I want to quickly switch between transparency and ANC. Hopefully, Klipsch will take this feedback and consider giving users the ability to customize this function.
Despite packing six microphones, the T5 II ANC are only so-so for making calls. Your callers will be able to hear you, even with considerable background noise like traffic. But despite all of those mics, your voice will still sound a bit thin. It lacks some of the resonances that make a human voice sound full and natural.
You can manually switch to transparency mode during a call, or you can use the Bragi sidekick to do it automatically. Either way, you’ll have no trouble hearing yourself clearly when on a call.
Klipsch claims the T5 II ANC get five hours per charge in the earbuds and an additional 15 hours in the charging case if you use ANC. That bumps up to seven and 21 hours respectively if you turn ANC (and transparency mode) off. From what I can see, these numbers are too optimistic. After just four hours of listening with ANC on, and volume set to 50%, the earbuds were totally drained.
What’s unfortunate is that while the non-ANC numbers are good (a total of 28 hours is more than enough for a full day of use), the ANC numbers fall short of most high-end earbuds except the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
Through the use of software, Klipsch’s T5 II ANC expand what’s possible when using a set of true wireless earbuds with some genuinely smart features like head gestures, sidekicks, and Noise Shield. Add in Klipsch’s signature sound quality and wireless charging and you’ve got a worthy successor to the previous T5 models. But their high price, mediocre noise canceling, lackluster call quality, and short ANC battery life keep them from earning our highest rating.
Is there a better alternative?
Stylistically, the T5 II ANC are in a class of their own — they look as good as they sound. And we’ve never seen the kind of smarts Klipsch has built into them on any other buds. But given that they can’t quite match their closest competitors in areas like ANC, call quality, and battery life, there may be better choices:
The $280 Sony WF-1000XM4 have better ANC and battery life, and some will prefer the way they sound, especially given the presence of LDAC codec support on Android devices (the T5 only offer SBC and AAC).
The $299 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have the best ANC and transparency you can get, but they’re pretty bulky — the buds and their charging case are huge when compared to the T5 — and their battery life is the shortest of all similarly priced models.
Master & Dynamic’s $299 MW08 have outstanding battery life, great controls, and a warmer, richer sound, but they lack wireless charging. If you want that, you’ll need to spend $50 more for the MW08 Sport.
How long will they last?
In terms of build, the T5 II ANC should hold up really well as long as you keep their IPX4 rating in mind and don’t expose them to too much water. Battery life is more of a concern. As batteries age, they lose capacity, and since the T5 appear to give up after four hours with ANC on, that could shrink to three or even two hours after two years of use. On the other hand, Klipsch provides an excellent two-year warranty on these earbuds, so if you find that battery life has dropped precipitously during that time, you may be able to get a replacement set.
Should you buy them?
Yes. Though pricey, Klipsch has given the T5 II ANC some pretty awesome features, which, when coupled with their excellent sound quality and overall design, makes them a good, if not perfect alternative to the best true wireless earbuds you can buy.
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