Truly wireless earphones might have shot into prominence ever since work-from-home policies became the norm and the likes of Realme and Xiaomi are leaving no stone unturned in catering to those looking for budget options. Both companies have launched several different products into the market and each one of them are very aggressively priced.
Realme moved the market first with the launch of its budget Airpods clone, the Buds Air and then returned with a more affordable version of it and named it Buds Air Neo. In the meantime, Xiaomi took stage (no, not literally) and launched two new TWS products – the Mi TWS 2 priced at INR 4,499 and the Redmi Earbuds S which cater to those with tighter pockets at INR 1,799.
To match the Earbuds S, Realme took a few weeks to launch its very own budget in-ear headphones, the Buds Q for a price of INR 1,999. Now, both of these offerings to be priced this cheap, you would immediately assume that corners would have been cut. But having tested both of them, I was definitely taken aback by how much both brands did right.
The TL,DR version of this detailed review is although the margins are smalled, I really do think that Realme pips Redmi overall this time around, but you’ll have to read on to find out how.
Super-lightweight & elegantly designed
The cobblestone-inspired case looks simple, yet elegant and the soft-touch plastic really feels nice to touch when you pick it up. The case is also quite compact and would easily slide into a watch pocket or a small backpack sleeve. There’s also an LED light at the front of the case which blinks red when you plug the charger and turns green when the earbuds are fully charged.
The earbuds themselves too carry forward the pebble-like inspiration and look like tiny cones that bulge towards one side. When you wear them, they don’t look weird or stick out of the ears awkwardly. As far as fit goes, I’d even say that the Buds Qs are by far the best-fitting earphones in its price range. The fact that these weigh barely 3.6 grams made me often forget that I was wearing them at all.
In terms of the build, both the earbuds and the case feel sturdy overall but the hinge did feel a tad flimsy. Silicone tips are included and you get four different sizes of ear tips in the bundle for different sized ears.
Unlike the Redmi Earbuds S, the Realme Buds Q is available in three colors- White, Black, and Yellow. I’m personally not a fan of the Realme yellow, but my friends are, so its nice to have that choice.
More than generous set of features
Each earbud is fitted with a fairly large 10 mm dynamic driver to produce the bass boosted sound signature that most listeners tend to prefer. If I had to nit-pick, I wasn’t super happy seeing the case charges via micro-USB, and Realme does provide a cable in the box.
These earbuds are also IPX4 rated sweat resistant, so it’s safe to take them to the gym or for a jog without worrying about sweat messing them up. The Realme Buds Q are also Bluetooth 5.0 compliant and support the AAC codec along with a low-latency mode for gamers.
The Buds Q also support touch gestures. You can double-tap on either of the earbuds to answer a call or play/pause music playback, while a triple-tap will take you to the next song. You can press and hold either of the earbuds for 2 seconds to end a call and also, press and hold both sides for 2 seconds to enter/exit gaming mode.
I did try and get accustomed to the touch controls, but I didn’t find the results being very consistent because the fairly small touch sensitive area on the buds themselves. Your fingers need to land perfectly on the glossy portion of the buds or your gestures simply don’t register. The Redmi Earbuds S with physical buttons offer a more consistent experience in comparison for on-bud controls.
Although the earbuds and the charging case feel light, the Realme Buds Q offer incredible battery life. Realme claims each earbud delivers 4.5 hours of battery life on a single charge and can deliver up to 20 hours with the help of the charging case, which is even better than what the Realme Buds Air deliver.
I didn’t really time myself with a stopwatch to check whether the Buds Q actually deliver 20 hours as promised, but I can say that the claims are fairly accurate as I found myself getting through a week with roughly 2-3 hours of listening time every day.
I mentioned earlier that the Realme Buds Q come with a low latency gaming mode. By pressing and holding the surface of both the earbuds for a few second, you can enable gaming mode by hearing the sound of a car engine. This is supposed to make your gameplay experience better by reducing the audio latency, which can be quite helpful in games like PUBG.
Decent range and simple pairing process
Syncing the Relame Buds Q with a phone was a breeze. All you need to do is get the buds out of the case, find them in the list of Bluetooth devices on the phone, and connect. The connection stays strong for up to 10 metres without any obstructions in between, and there were absolutely no syncing issues or delays between the two buds either.
However, if you need to pair these with a different device, it is advisable to disconnect them from the previous device (rather than just switching off Bluetooth on the phone) as they fail to show up in the device list at times if you don’t do that.
What’s Not Smashable
Audio performance is respectable but could have been tuned better
Throughout my time with the Realme Buds Q, I primarily streamed audio through two devices – the Realme X3 SuperZoom and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. These budget earbuds are powered by 10 mm dynamic drivers and offer support for AAC and SBC codec, something hard to find in this price-point.
The earbuds tend to amplify the low-end muffling the mids a fair bit. Vocals also tend to get suppressed by the low and there’s a distinct U-shaped sound signature where the bass and treble are emphasised. You can use an equaliser to tune the buds to your liking, but I would have loved to see a more balanced sound out of the box. Heck, even the Realme Link app doesn’t provide an equalizer yet.
The Realme Buds Q work well with genres like Hip-Hop and Electronic where you’d want to bob your head to the bass. So, songs like Mirza by Nucleya and Rockstar by DaBaby and Roddy Ricch sound like you’re in a car with a woofer in the trunk. The earphones also work well enough in softer, acoustic songs courtesy of the good sound stage where you can clearly distinguish the guitar and the piano. However, vocals in general lack depth which could be a tad disappointing for some.
I could also hear distortion at peak volume and to lower the volume for an optimal listening experience. This is not the case with the Redmi Earbuds S. The Xiaomi’s budget earbuds seems to have slightly better tonal balance than the Realme Buds Q.
The audio produced by the Redmi Earbuds S is somewhat cleaner and has more warmth to it. Moreover, the instrument separation also seemed to be slightly better on the Redmi Earbuds S at peak volumes.
Streaming music at 80% volume gave the best audio output on the Realme Buds Q. Overall, Realme’s done okay but could have definitely tuned these budget earbuds slightly better to make them sound cleaner and more immersive.
These aren’t ideal for calls
The Realme Buds Q are pretty average when it comes to call quality. With the microphone so far away from your mouth, the caller on the other end of the line will find it difficult to hear you if you’re say walking down a busy road or if you’re in a noisy environment. The stem design on the Realme Buds Air and Buds Air Neo are better suited for taking calls.
Price and Verdict
The Realme Buds Q are among the most affordable truly wireless earbuds you can find in the market, and this itself is enough to make it appealing to a lot of buyers out there. These earbuds offer a brilliant fit, stellar battery life, and a sound signature that would please most non-audiophiles. Considering its price of INR 1,999, these should be the go-to choice for most people, especially those who tend to game a lot. That said, the Realme Buds Q are not perfect.
The Realme Buds Q are far from being the best TWS earbuds for music listening. Without a balanced sound output, the earbuds work well only for specific genres of music. I also found the earbuds being particularly bad for calls, especially when it comes to blocking out environmental noise in the background. The audio can definitely be tuned via a software update but the latter is more of an inherent design problem that plagues most TWS earbuds, even the more premium ones.
But when it comes to sub-2k TWS earbuds, excellent audio quality isn’t something you ought to expect but that the one area where the likes of the Redmi Earbuds S, which are more affordable at INR 1,799, do score better. That said, the tuning issue can possibly be corrected via software updates and its that bit where the Buds Q takes the cake for me.