Cords, cords, cords. So many times I’ve thought how awesome it would be if that spaghetti jumble wasn’t littering the floor under my desk or that one pesky cable poking out under my TV cabinet would go away. If only everything, everywhere could be wireless!
Everything that is, except earphones/earbuds. Up until recently I was firmly of the view that earphones need wires (and in some respects, I still am 🙂 ). The degradation in sound quality over the presently available means of audio signal transmission (read: Bluetooth) is, IMHO, outweighed by any gain in convenience presented by the absence of a cord. Let’s also not forget that no (passive) corded headphone has ever run out of batteries…
For a long time I eschewed the world of wireless head-fi, preferring to stick to my purist guns. Why anyone would want to forego such a significant degree of reproduction quality simply to get rid of a wire? It didn’t make sense. As much as I hate cables, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
In retrospect, it was a pretty narrow-minded view of things. Totally at odds with my usual “don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it” approach to new technology. I also started to take a horses-for-courses approach and thought that there might well be some contexts in which the lack of a cable might outweigh the loss of sound quality. The gym sprang to mind. Not having your head tethered to a smartphone or audio player might well turn out to be something of a boon. So with that renewed perspective, I took the plunge into Bluetooth headphones for gym use. Happily, my suspicions were correct. My first experiment was with a set of Jaybirds. I found the sound was OK – certainly tolerable. It was warm and bright, but lacking in expression and staging. I found that I didn’t mind a bit because I could roam free!
Sadly, the Jaybirds gave up the ghost after about a year. Sadder still, the replacement model was a terrible fit for me. So the quest started to find something else. I tried a bunch of options, finally landing on the Bose SoundSport. I have to say that is mostly because of the fit. The sound signature is very, well, Bose. If that tickles your fancy then you’re in luck. I find it just a little bit overdone for my taste. Kinda boomy, doughy and creamy. I prefer things a little tighter, cleaner and airy. I don’t use the Bose for anything but the gym/exercise. The fit is so good that I am willing to accept the Bose sound. Don’t get me wrong here – they don’t suck – in their own way they are actually quite entertaining. Did I mention the fit? So good! The only earphones I have, corded or not, that do not exhibit a trace of boom or microphone effect when I walk. Love that.
During this time, the game-changing AirPods from Apple arrived on the scene. I stayed off the bandwagon for a time – for no particular reason. Eventually though, after reading one too many reviews trumpeting the view that the AirPod represented the single greatest gadget in years, I gave in. After living with them for a while, I got the hype. They had both form and function. Function from the point of view of ease and pleasure of use; certainly not from the point of view of sound quality. They sound terrible. But in an age where earphone listening is moving rapidly away from just music to include podcasts, YouTube, Twitch, games etc, the AirPods sheer ease of use and decent enough sound quality made them almost indispensable.
So, I had created a nice sweet spot with the SoundSports and AirPods for the times when wireless earphones made more sense. That was until my wife started a new job with a fairly lengthy commute by train. She was getting into podcasts too and like everyone else, wanted something convenient, easy to use and decent sounding with which to listen them. I took one for the team and suggested she give my AirPods a try…
After they disappeared into the depths of her handbag, never to be seen again I guess I could have just bought another set. But, I thought, what if, just maybe, there was something better? That is, after all, the Bullfinch spirit. Of course, I knew there were “better” wireless in-ears than the AirPods. Sony’s WF-1000XM3 and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless to name but two. Better indeed, but almost twice the price. In this instance, I was not really interested in just paying more to get better. Any clown can do that. And I am not just any clown. I was interested to know if there was something out there I could live with that was around the same cost as the AirPods. I scoured the internet for an answer and it turned out that not much comes close to the AirPod for the price. I have to say that I was a bit surprised by that. But, undaunted, I pressed on.
A contender floated up from, at least to my mind, an unlikely quarter. I knew Cambridge Audio as a maker of traditional hi-fi equipment (stereo amplifiers, speakers, network audio streamers and the like). Indeed I started out with one of their very good entry level phono stages when I put together a “return to vinyl” 2-channel rig a few years ago. But had no idea they made headphones of any kind, let alone the Melomania 1 true wireless Bluetooth earbuds. No doubt in my mind that Cambridge Audio had chops – but wireless IEM chops? If nothing else, my curiousity was well and truly peaked. Particularly because the Melomanias were earning some very complimentary reviews. I was super keen to try them. Only problem is, here in my home base of Hong Kong, it is all but impossible to test drive mainstream IEMs. A customer-friendly retail paradise it is not. By a long stretch. If you wanna try ’em, you gotta buy ’em. So buy them I did. At about USD120 they come in slightly cheaper than the base model AirPods without the wireless charging case. The Melomania also lack wireless charging, which is completely forgivable at the price point. What is less forgivable is that Cambridge Audio did not include USB-C, sticking with a micro USB charging plug.
The first thing you notice about the Melomanias once removed from their packaging is the very nice feel and build quality of the charging case. The plastic case is solid and has a soft, almost velvet feel to it. I went with black and so far it has held up well and the finish had proved quite resistant to fingerprints. The hinge mechanism is an all plastic affair and not a patch on the AirPods endlessly satisfying metal hinge. The case also has 5 small LED’s just below the lid line to indicate the case battery level. They illuminate and remain lit every time the case is opened. The charging case can supply the earbuds with 36 hours of playtime – an additional 4 charges over the 9 hour playtime the earbuds can hold. Forty-five hours is a very impressive level of battery life; by comparison, AirPods are only good for 5 hours per charge and about 24 hours in total.
As is the norm these days, the Melomanias do not ship with a charging brick. They do come with a short micro-USB cable; as well as an array of different sized ear tips in both silicone and memory foam. I found the silicone tips to be the best – but given my comments later about fit, your mileage may definitely vary. The earbuds claim an IPX5 rating for water resistance. Meaning they are probably OK with the odd splash, but I wouldn’t get them too wet. Meaning gym wear might not be advisable. On a more positive note, the Melomanias do support both Siri and Google Assistant.
The Melomanias support Bluetooth 5.0 and A2DP, so I found connectivity to be a breeze. I had no problem connecting via Bluetooth to my Android phone, iPad or laptop. Once connected I was immediately impressed with their sound. Compared to the AirPods it was night and day. The Melomanias are fuller, richer, and possess actual tangible sound staging capability. Dynamically speaking the Melomanias are striking. Mid-range is great as is treble; things get a little looser in the low range. Bass is a bit woolly for mine, but really nothing you can fault at this price.
Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not just that a true wireless earbud exists capable of producing this level of sonic quality, but that it does it for less money than a set of AirPods. Everything was proceeding swimmingly. Well … not everything …
The fit. Almost as important to this reviewer as the sound, is the fit. And here the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse. As good as the Melomania sound, the fit (and there is no way to sugar coat it) sucks. At least in my tiny shell likes. You might be lucky and they fit your ears like a glove. Not me though. Not a bit of it. I can get an OK fit and provided I don’t move around too much, things stay that way. But I never really feel like I have a good seal and then something I like to call “fitnoia” sets in.
Fitnoia is a condition that sees the sufferer, even though a reasonably good fit may have been achieved, continue to fiddle endlessly on the mere suspicion that the fit doesn’t seem right or could be better. It eventually causes the victim to lose the will to live or at the very least, to never use those earphones again.
The Melomania’s gave me a nasty case of fitnoia. I think the problem lies in their distinct bullet shape, which is comfortable enough in the ear canal, but lacks any protrusion to secure the balance of the IEM in the bowl of the ear. If anything it relies on catching the ridge of the ear just above the lobe to secure it in place. For whatever reason, this does not work for me at all.
Fitnoia is a terrible affliction, to be sure. But what is worse is that there is no known cure. The only remedy is to either put up with the condition or look elsewhere for your listening pleasure. In this instance, as much as I really enjoy the Melomanias sound, the fit issue is too great to make the compromise on the fit. So, look elsewhere I must. I have read some positive reviews of the new (-ish) Samsung Buds+. MKBHD’s very positive review on YouTube was enough to sway me (super jealous of those red ones!!). So, how is the fit? The sound quality? Did the dreaded condition rear it’s ugly head again? Well, for answers to those questions and more – stay tuned for the thrilling second part of this two-part extravaganza where we delve into the details of the Samsung Buds+…