Just prior to 2020 making its long-anticipated close, I took a look at British hi-fi maker Cambridge Audio’s first head-fi effort – a true wireless earbud called the Melomania (you can find that review here). Long story short, I loved the sound but hated the fit. I know “hate” is a strong word. But in this case, it is completely accurate. I could not achieve a stable and secure fit which inevitably became a compromise I was not willing to make no matter how much I enjoyed the sound.
Whether or not I was alone in experiencing these fit issues, I can’t say. Although having kept abreast of the review community’s impressions of the Melomania I suspect I was not. Anyway, what I can say is that in January Cambridge Audio released its follow-up to the Melomania – the Melomania Touch.
As you can see, the Melomania Touch represents a radical departure in design from the original Melomania. They have thankfully dispensed with the bullet-like form factor in favour of a design much closer to wireless earbuds like the Samsung Buds+. We reviewed the Buds+ and found them, in comparison to the Melomania, to have superior comfort and fit but inferior audio quality. The sound isn’t bad, but really not nearly as good as the Melomania. (You can check that out that review here)
So the question becomes is there the possibility of a happy ending to this Goldilocks-like tale? Or am I doomed to suffer the fate of unwanted compromise as far as value for money true wireless Bluetooth earbuds are concerned?
Well, long story short, I am happy to say that the happy ending is at hand (minds out of the gutter please…) thanks to Cambridge Audio’s Melomania Touch. At least sort of… As with most things in life, the answer is never that simple. One flaw in the Melomania Touch’s execution holds it back from being a slam dunk More about that later…
First, let’s dispense with the specifications. The Melomania Touch uses the latest Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity and support aptX, AAC, and of course SBC as far as CODECs are concerned. Like their predecessors they have dynamic drivers with a graphene enhanced diaphragm, the difference being that the driver has been enlarged to 7mm on the Touch. Battery play time is stated to be up to 9 hours plus a further 41 hours from the charging case. However, these run times can only be achieved when the Melomania Touch are in Low Power Mode. I tried Low Power Mode. Unless you are desperate to achieve these super long run times, you shouldn’t. It compromises sound quality and quantity in a number of dimensions. In the wayyy more preferable High Performance Mode, battery life drops to 7 hours plus 33 hours from charging case. Still competitive but a step down from the original Melomanias.
Thankfully Cambridge Audio has made the switch to USB-C for charging. The Melomania Touch are also IPX4 splash resistant, so should be fine for gym use if that’s your thing. They are also compatible with Siri and Google Assistant via the touch interface. Hmmm, the touch interface. More on that later but suffice it to say for now that you can control a number of functions via the touch-sensitive (and I do mean sensitive) outer surface.
The Melomania Touch come in either gloss white or gloss black. I went with white. The charging case’s outer finish is some kind of vegan leather. Which at first I found kind of chintzy; but has grown on me over time. I quite like it now. The case has 5 LED dots on the front to indicate the charging case’s battery level. Quite handy. Less likable is the flattened pill shape of the case. It’s quite compact, but still a world away from the pocket-friendliness of Apple’s AirPods.
Call quality on the Melomania Touch is satisfactory. I have not had any complaints from callers while on calls with them. They boast some degree of noise cancellation but not active noise cancellation like the AirPod Pro or the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. They do have an ambient noise transparency mode which is adjustable via the Melomania app. Speaking of the app – it’s nice! It allows control of a number of functions through a very clean and modern UI. In particular, the app has a very useful Equaliser allowing custom EQ settings and perhaps most useful of all allows customisation of the touch controls, meaning that you can turn off the touch controls that annoy you the most and be left only with those that are unobtrusive and actually helpful. I for one found the touch controls on the Melomania Touch to be way more annoying than they were useful. Almost the entire outer vertical surface of the earbuds is touch sensitive. So any attempt to adjust them while in your ear caused playback to stop or some other function to be activated. Congratulations to Cambridge Audio for recognising that some users don’t find touch controls beneficial! The ability to turn them off individually is a very welcome feature.
Discussion of how well the Melomania Touchs fit can be kept short and sweet. Thanks to their complete redesign, stable fit and seal are achieved pretty well immediately. Even better, that initial good fit is maintained for the whole time they are in your ears. For me the Melomania Touch fall into that rare but highly valued class of earbuds that are so comfortable they all but disappear (from a fit perspective, at least). I hope your mileage does not vary as far as that is concerned. Different ear sizes and shapes are catered for by Cambridge Audio via the inclusion of three tip sizes and three sizes of rubber fins that help secure fit in the outer ear.
Sonically the Melomania Touchs do anything but disappear. Audio quality, at the price point (and even beyond) is great. Compared to the original Melomania, they are a touch more V shaped and a dollop more creamy. This results in a little less transparency and resolution; but the gain in vigour and excitement is tangible. They are not the last word in dynamics or staging – which is squarely “in” your head rather than around it. But at this price point, to expect more would be unreasonable. Where they excel is in their overall presentation and depth. Expect to really enjoy the music when you stick a pair of these in your head! That creaminess I mention does reflect a slightly bass heavy sound signature. I found at times with the EQ settings on neutral, the bass was a touch bloaty and although not overwhelming, I felt like I’d prefer it if the bass was dialed back a little. I dived into the Equaliser provided in the Melomania app and created a custom EQ with the low end dialed back a notch or two. Voila! Sound signature that lines up with my personal preference achieved.
Well, so far so good. But if you’ve been reading up on the Melomania Touch on other review sites (as you should), you may well have seen that despite excellent build quality and great sound, the Melomania Touch is not scoring 5 stars. What Hi-Fi’s otherwise glowing review of audio quality (here) still only resulted in them awarding the Melomania Touch 3 stars out of 5. The reason? Unfortunately, the Touch seem to have (for now at least) an Achilles Heel. And What Hi-Fi was not alone in experiencing it. My set suffers from it too and it’s problematic enough to prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending the Melomania Touch to you in their current state. The issue described by other reviewers is that the Touch is afflicted with Bluetooth connectivity and pairing issues. In some cases this happens only on the initial attempt to pair the earbuds with a playback device. Those reviewers are fortunate. The problems I’ve experienced go much further than that.
I have to say that my experience with the initial pairing of the earbuds with my Android phone with the Melomania app installed was problem free. The earbuds paired straight away and the app found them instantly. The problem came later after I had placed the earbuds back in their case and after a time tried to use them again for a listening session. This time, either the phone would not recognise them or it would see them as paired via BT but the earbuds would not operate. A twist on this very annoying circumstance is the times when I got sound from one earbud but not the other. Unfortunately, there is no simple workaround and when this issue is experienced, it can only be fixed by a factory reset and then re-pairing them all over again. The frustration is compounded because sometimes despite carefully following the reset instructions, the earbuds refuse to reset. I might have been able to overlook the issue had it only happened once, or even twice. But it occurs with alarming regularity – probably about 50% of the time. As much as I enjoy using them, the pairing/connectivity issue has become annoying to the degree that I hesitate to use the Melomania Touch.
I can’t help but think that the prominent inclusion of a yellow card in the box explaining how to reset the Melomania Touch means that Cambridge Audio may well have been aware that they had software issues prior to launch. I can only hope that it is just a software issue and that future firmware updates will provide a much needed fix.
So there you have it. The good and the not-so-good. The Melomania Touch are an easy recommendation based on build, specs, fit and sound quality. When only those considerations are taken into account they are easily my favourite bang for buck true wireless earbud. But I can’t say that you will experience consistent hassle-free operation; and such considerations of convenience are a critical aspect in weighing up this class of earbud/headphone. For that reason, I can’t unreservedly recommend them. But if you’re happy to put up with the occasional connectivity glitch (and are willing to put your faith in a future firmware fix), you won’t otherwise be disappointed.