April 14, 2017
Blame Apple as much as you’d like, but the world of wireless tech was inevitable. Between more IoT devices hitting the market, better connection types, and the endless accumulation of hours spent untangling wires, people were never designed to live in a wired world. Alpha, a Kickstarter success story, is one such brand taking on the first challenges of trying to live in a wirefree world, and are doing so with their Skybuds.
Similar in nature to the French made PK K’asq earbuds we reviewed late last year or Apple’s recently released AirPods, Skybuds are a bluetooth connected set of earbuds that are charged through a dock system and have absolutely no wires (except from the charging dock to the dock). However, unlike the other two competing devices, Skybuds fit and lock into your ear, are incredibly low-profile, and feature a similar battery life. To put the latest earbuds to the test we took the Skybuds on several sweaty runs, a few bike rides, and of course casually wearing them over the course of a month.
Audio first, cool tech second. It’s really as simple as that. For Skybuds, it feels like the tables are flipped as these pack a lot of great tech, but the audio can be lacking in a couple of areas. Similar to our thoughts on the PK K’asq earbuds, at times these buds don’t get quite loud enough. A bit of this can be remedied by ensuring you have the proper fit or even going up a size on the earbud tips, but more importantly you need to download their app. Evidently the audio controls within the app don’t necessarily correlate with the sound level you have on your phone, so it’s almost as if there was an initial governor on the audio output until you crank it all the way up. However, and more importantly than the volume, the quality of what comes out sounds pretty damn good.
Between the highs and mids, Skybuds sound great for alt-rock, podcasts, and pop music, but when you get to rap or dubstep, you’re going to be missing out on bass. Earbuds and lows (bass) don’t really go hand-in-hand, so it’s hard to hold much against Alpha for this one. Beyond that, the earbuds produce crisp audio, and even though it doesn’t get incredibly loud, it remains clear at full volume. We also felt that some of the tones didn’t feel as full as you’d hope for, but generally it was good.
Overall the audio quality of Skybuds are good, but are not great. For the price point you’d probably expect some top notch audio quality, but it’s just not quite there yet.
Connectivity and Battery Life
Audio quality or not, the Skybuds may have the best connectivity of any wireless earbuds we’ve tested (even with the bud-to-bud sets). Over the course of a month and in a variety of settings, Skybuds never lost connection to its connected iPhone 7, iPad, or computer. Not only do the earbuds have great connectivity, they only cut out when you’d actually want them to. Sure, you can press the button to pause the audio, but by simply removing the buds from your ear they will auto-pause.
For as small as the earbuds are, you’d expect some issues when it came to the microphone. Being a distance away from your mouth and it placed snuggly in your ear, that’s a lot of potential interference. Between several test calls, both indoors and out, the audio quality was good.
Just as important as remaining connected, the battery life on Skybuds are about the norm for wireless earbuds. Just shy of Apple’s five hour AirPods and on par with previous sets we’ve reviewed, a four hour hold will get you through most activities. However, through use, we did find that the right earbud burnt through its charge more quickly than the left. This is likely due to how the connection between the right and left earbuds work, but either way you are likely to get a bit less than four hours out of them. WIth the charging dock you get several addition full charges without having to plug it in. In total, the dock will give the Skybuds an additional 24 hours of play time.
The tech within Skybuds is what sets it apart from the competition. In a recent update, Alpha added to new features: Awareness and Find my Skybuds.
While running, if you have the volume all the way up, chances are that you won’t hear much of the outside world. By turning on Awareness mode, audio from your surrounding will come in through the microphone and pipe through the earbuds. This can either be set to on, off, or automatic. As we tested these during a race, and organizers tend to frown upon you using earbuds, it was nice to be able to hear their instructions without having to take them out.
Find my Skybuds on the other hand is straightforward. Earbuds are small and you lose things. By using their app, you can now track down the earbuds as long as they are within range. It works essentially like how Tile can help you locate a set of keys.
Between Awareness and Find my Skybuds, Alpha’s associated app is in fact actually worth the download. We’ve seen several that will over basic features like an equalizer, but for the most part it’s just wasted space. More than just the special features, the Skybuds app is actually awesome. It looks great, they provide some helpful usage tips, you can easily see how much charge each bud has left and their status, and it even shows if the dock is open or closed in real-time (this adds nothing, but it’s just neat). In fact the only issue we had tied to the additional features and app was from the recent update. For some reason it took nearly two hours to complete, but we’re impatient, so there is that.
Overall the additional features packed into the Skybuds certainly give you more bang for the buck and improve upon the user experience.
Design and User Experience
It’s not all that common, but some startups truly understand the value of investing in the user experience. When you first pop in the Skybuds you’re not greeted with a harsh audio tone or what sounds like a bad Russian voice over (looking at you PK K’asq), but one that is reminiscent of an old Windows bootup sound. When it connects to a device by bluetooth, it also has a simple audio queue as well.
Alpha also did a solid job of building in a simple user-interface on the buds, especially since each one only has a single button. However, the only shortcoming here is that there is no way to change the volume without either adjusting it on your device, within the app, or using something like an Apple Watch (this works great for running).
On a more basic level, the Skybuds also have the design features you’d expect from wireless earbuds. They are sweat and water resistant, there are several eartips included to ensure a proper fit, and they come in three different colors: silver, white, and black. Most importantly, the earbuds are incredibly lightweight, which means they fit comfortably in your ear.
Overall the Skybuds team did a great job on the design and user experience tied to both setup and regular use.
- 5.18mm balanced armature driver
- Frequency response 20Hz – 20KHz, <2% THD at 1K
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Weight: 0.18 ounces
- Passive noise cancellation
- Sweat-proof and water resistant
Pros and Cons
- Great connectivity
- Awesome user experience
- Neat unique features like awareness mode
- Volume change done on associated device
- Not much bass
- Sort of expensive
Should you buy the Skybuds earbuds? If you’re active, prefer low profile earbuds, and want something reliable, Skybuds are for you. Over the next few years we’ll continue to see wireless earbuds hit the market, but as the competition stands, Skybuds offer a lot of bang for the buck. Sure, they are a bit expensive, but overall the sound quality is ideal and the added features seal the deal for us. We give Skybuds a 4 out of 5 due to the overall offering being good, but a bit lacking in bass, battery in the right bud, and competitive pricing.
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