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Active noise-cancelling on the cheap


Audio products are a key pillar of smartphone accessory ecosystems. In emerging markets like India, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Realme are all focused on bridging the gap between premium features and affordability through their cut-price audio products. Now, following a wave of budget-priced true wireless earphones, active noise-cancelling is the next challenge. Realme is offering just that with the Realme Buds Air 2.

In this Realme Buds Air 2 review, we’ll find out if it is possible to build a quality pair of true wireless earphones with active noise-cancelling, while keeping affordability in mind.

About this Realme Buds Air 2 review: I wrote this review after spending a week with the Realme Buds Air 2 as my primary listening device. Realme India supplied the device.

How’s the design of the Realme Buds Air 2?

Realme Buds Air 2 in ear

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

You better like bling if you plan to get the Realme Buds Air 2. Realme pulls out all the stops to get its noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds to standout from the crowd, but the first time I laid eyes on these ‘buds, I was rather taken aback by the design choices. The side stock is obnoxiously large and dangles below my ear, which made it look like a gaudy accessory.

Then there’s the color; the shiny silver stalks complement the white buds, but might be too opulent for a lot of buyers. The earphones are available in black as well which helps tone down the design a bit, but not quite enough. The silver stems still look wildly out of place.

Realme Buds Air 2 review case in hand

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While the cosmetic design of the earbuds doesn’t fit my taste, Realme did an excellent job with the fit. With the medium-sized silicon tip, the earbuds slot in perfectly against my concha and create a secure seal to my ear canal that blocks out background noise. The plastic construction also makes the earbuds suitably light, so you can listen to music all day long.

The white, plastic pebble charging case doesn’t exude quality. The gloss finish is prone to scratches and smudges, but at least it’s easy to open with one hand. A USB-C charging port lies at the bottom, while a button on the side lets you put the earphones in pairing mode. Straight and easy.

Do the Realme Buds Air 2 stay connected?

Realme Buds Air 2 side profile of earbuds and case

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The Realme Buds Air 2 support Bluetooth 5.2. They remained connected to my phone so long as the devices were within 10 meters of one another. Bluetooth codec support includes SBC and AAC which is pretty standard when it comes to budget true wireless earphones.

Learn more: Bluetooth codecs 101

Most modern Android phones should default to the AAC codec though connection reliability can vary depending on the source device. I faced no issues at all even while walking around my apartment streaming music over Spotify. Meanwhile, iPhone users will only be able to stream high-quality audio over AAC.

Is the sound quality any good?

Realme Buds Air 2 case and earbud placed outside

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Budget true wireless earphones usually feature a consumer-friendly frequency response with amplified bass, and the Realme Buds Air 2 are no exception.

The Realme Buds Air 2 amplify bass just a smidgen too much. In fact, even at mid-volume levels, I could feel the 10mm drivers rumbling away. The bass frequencies tend to mask vocals as I observed while listening to Killshot by Magdalena Bay.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, treble is also amplified. This is often done to hide auditory masking by making it easier for you to perceive high-frequency sounds (where instrumental detail falls), but Realme has taken this too far. Tracks with hi-hats and cymbals are uncomfortable to listen to, because of the treble emphasis. I had a tough time enjoying jazz music with tracks like Crystal Silence by Chick Correa.

Overall, the earphones will do best with more bass-heavy tracks and I wouldn’t push the volume levels too far above the 50% mark.

The Realme Buds Air 2 can recreate an expansive soundstage.

Where the earphones do impress is in the soundstage. While the rendition of Tell Me A Bedtime Story by Herbie Hancock wasn’t the most accurate sounding, you can most definitely place instruments all around you in space — a feat not many budget earphones excel at.

The Realme Link app lets you adjust a few more settings, including setting one of three preset EQ options. The default offered the best experience, and the bass boost function feels a bit redundant given how bass-heavy these earphones already are.

How’s the active noise-cancelling?

Yes, the Realme Buds Air 2 have active noise-cancelling support. No, it isn’t the last word in cutting out ambient noise. Realme claims up to 25dB of noise attenuation. Realistically, it did a decent job of cutting out low drones like ceiling fans now that summers are here in Delhi. However, I could still hear ambient traffic noise. Paired with a good seal and music, you should be able to isolate yourself reasonably well, but not to the point of cutting out the outside world.

You might like: Best noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds

Unlike many competing options, the Realme Buds Air 2 include a transparency mode, which amplifies the external sounds to keep you aware. It works reasonably well though the piped-in audio sounds artificial. Given the price point, it’s not a huge issue.

Does the battery last long?

Realme Buds Air 2 USB Cc charging

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Realme claims battery life of five hours, but that’s with ANC turned off, and the volume set to 50%. In real-world testing, with ANC enabled, I clocked just under 3.5 hours on a single charge. Your mileage will also depend on volume levels, though I rarely felt the need to push the Buds Air 2 beyond 60%.

Meanwhile, the included case can charge the earphones four additional times, giving you a claimed usage time of up to 25 hours. Realistically, the earbuds will fall short of that figure by a few hours. Charging the earbuds takes an hour, though a 10-minute fast charge should get you 120 minutes of playback out of the Realme Buds Air 2.

Is the Realme Buds Air 2 any good for calls?

The Realme Buds Air 2 are perfectly fine for phone calls. Audio sounds clear, and the microphones do a very good job at environmental noise cancellation. While there is a hint of echo, these true wireless earphones will serve in a pinch for making phone calls.

Realme Buds Air 2 review: The verdict

Realme Buds Air 2 Affordable noise cancellation

The Realme Buds Air 2 bring noise cancellation to the budget segment. Complementing it is a bass-rich sound signature and competent battery life, all for a price point that should be approachable to all.

If budget noise-cancelling earbuds are what you’ve been looking for, the Realme Buds Air 2 should be a good fit for you. Sure the sound quality isn’t the best for the money, and the bass and treble emphasis will be off-putting to more serious audio enthusiasts, but it’s a good start for listeners who don’t have a ton of money to spend. The Buds Air 2 are a credible, affordable option with decent good battery life, and a bling-heavy aesthetic. Additionally, priced at just Rs. 3299 (~$44), they certainly make for a budget entry-way into the world of active noise-cancelling true wireless earphones.

Related: Best true wireless earbuds under $50

For those looking for other options, the Oppo Enco W51, in particular, comes across as a much stronger alternative. The true wireless earphones offer active noise isolation, but more importantly, the sound quality is significantly better for not too much more money. The Oppo Enco W51 is priced at Rs. 4,990 (~$67).

Unless you are a bass head, spend a little more for one of the other budget true wireless earphone options.

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