Known for speakers and headphones with high-quality sound at affordable places, China-based Edifier plans to release a new set of true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC) this month, the NeoBuds S. They closely track the look and feel of the well-regarded, high-resolution NeoBuds Pro the company rolled out in July 2021 — but with some promised improvements.
Edifier sent Cult of Mac a set of NeoBuds S to try out and see how well the company’s beefed-up noise cancellation and sound quality perform, among other features.
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Edifier NeoBuds S True Wireless Noise Cancellation In-Ear Headphones
Edifier NeoBuds S come in two colors, white and black. At a glance they look like the NeoBuds Pro’s twin. Visually, the main difference is the decorative metal piece on the charging case, which is silver on the NeoBuds Pro and black on the NeoBuds S.
Both cases feature an appealing, rounded shape with a sand-blasted surface. They’re reasonably compact, though not the smallest ones out there.
Another aesthetic change between the two is the look of the charging/pairing indicator light bar on the cases. On NeoBuds Pro, the light bar is red by default. On NeoBuds S, you can choose from eight colors in the Edifier Connect app.
Neither case charges wirelessly, instead relying on a USB-C cable. That’s not a huge concession on earbuds at this price point, but I’ve found cheaper buds with wireless charging cases.
‘-42dB depth noise cancelling’
The earbuds use hybrid ANC technology, which can filter out ambient noise. Edifier claims the buds reach the noise cancelling depth of 42 decibels, with little sense of pressure in the ear.
Edifier NeoBuds S obtained the “Wireless Headphone Noise Cancelling Ability Test Grade-A Certificate” from the China Electronic Audio Industry Association, for what that’s worth.
Noise cancelling turns on when you wear the earbuds. NeoBuds S offers five noise-cancelling modes: standard, high noise cancellation, low noise cancellation, ambient sound and wind reduction.
In the high noise-cancelling mode, I found the buds did a good job or blocking out most of the summer sounds of passing airliners and lawn-mowing drifting in through open windows.
It helps that the buds are designed for use in the ear-canal, so there’s some physical blocking of sound (more on fit below).
The other ANC modes seemed like subtle gradations. It wasn’t so easy to tell how different they were from each other.
However, activated ANC seemed to help the sound quality on the NeoBuds S, as it did with NeoBuds Pro and some other earbuds I’ve tried.
Fit and finish
When NeoBuds Pro came out, I purchased a pair during the crowd-funding campaign, saving about $50 off the future list price of $129.99.
I found them impressive out the box, with a significantly fancier presentation than many other earbuds. They were an Edifier anniversary edition. The box was nice, and so was the box inside that box.
Once I got in there, the charging case sat like a jewel amid nice accompaniments. Those included a fabric travel pouch and seven — seven! — different sizes of color-coded eartips.
The NeoBuds S offer nearly the same experience. And the sense of quality carries through to the earbuds and their charging case, too.
But I can’t rave about how the NeoBuds Pro and NeoBuds S fit, however. Next to sound quality, fit is the most important characteristic of earbuds. Both are highly subjective, of course. But if the buds won’t stay in or they don’t feel good, you’re not going to wear them for long.
I tend to favor in-ear-canal buds rather than danglers. For me, both sets of Edifiers feel like they’re in-between the two. They enter the ear canal, but something about the shape of the casing or the substantial stems blocks them from going in much in my case. So they fit a bit precariously, like they might fall out.
And that’s what happened with the NeoBuds Pro. I lost one of them at the gym within about two weeks of buying them. I won’t be wearing the NeoBuds S at the gym, but I found they stay in pretty well during a brisk walk.
None of the seven provided ear tip sizes made the buds feel secure or particularly comfortable over time. The medium-sized ones were closest, in my case.
Snapdragon Sound audio technology
Known for bookshelf speakers and a growing line of other products, Edifier prides itself on sound quality. NeoBuds S follow the Pro set’s patented dynamic and armature dual-unit acoustic system, using a built-in Knowles armature driver and a composite diaphragm dynamic driver that work together.
But the main difference between NeoBuds Pro and NeoBuds S is that the latter uses Snapdragon Sound audio technology, a different hi-res specification (24bit/96kHz) from the Pro set.
Snapdragon can retain a lot of detail in the sound. And it dynamically adjusts the audio transmission rate to best resist interference and stabilize connections.
NeoBuds S supports aptX, aptX Adaptive, AAC and SBC audio encoding (codecs). NeoBuds Pro supports LDAC and LHDC, if you have a smartphone or other player that supports those (Apple devices don’t).
To my ear, Edifier NeoBuds S captured rich and articulate musical details, well-balanced through low, middle and high frequencies. With lesser earbuds, sounds can run together too much or wash each other out. That’s not the case here.
Getting aptX and AAC codex support on a Mac
Given that the NeoBuds S boast Snapdragon Sound technology and aptX codec support, I thought I’d see how that sounded on a Mac compared to Apple’s preferred SBC codec (which the NeoBuds S also support).
That’s not something you can do on an iPhone, as far as I know, but my 2021 MacBook Pro let me force it to bring aptX or AAC to the fore, which can boost Bluetooth headphones’ performance.
I used the following method in the Terminal app to enable aptX and AAC support:
- Launch Terminal on Mac via Finder > Applications.
- To enable aptX, enter the following command and press return: sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod “Enable AptX codec” -bool true
- To enable AAC, enter the following: sudo defaults write bluetoothaudiod “Enable AAC codec” -bool true
- To verify that the changes occurred, enter the following: sudo defaults read bluetoothaudiod
- The resulting lines should show the aptX and AAC codec values are now “1.”
- Toggle Bluetooth off and on, and reconnect your headphones.
In a couple sets of Bluetooth headphones, I noticed the change produced a touch more fullness and detail in the sound. Audio quality felt quite satisfying in a pair of Sennheiser Momentum 3 over-ear, closed-back headphones as well as with the NeoBuds S.
The earbuds can’t quite pull off the fullness of the soundstage of a high-end set of closed-back headphones, but the clarity and detail in the audio impressed me.
Clear voice calls and improved latency performance
Edifier NeoBuds S are equipped with Qualcomm aptX Voice technology for phone calls. It can significantly reduce vocal distortion and poor reproduction, Edifier said.
Sound quality on calls seemed quite clear, without much if any tinniness, distortion or delay.
For those who play games, lower latency is a benefit. Edifier said NeoBuds S game mode achieves latency of 89ms, “which is shortened by nearly 45%.” That should result in tightly-synced sound in most gaming situations. But let’s face it. If you’re a gamer, you probably have a proper gaming headset.
Edifier Connect app
Like the NeoBuds Pro, the NeoBuds S works with the Edifier Connect app. I like that a lot, as I prefer using an app to tap controls on the earbuds themselves (see tap control info below). The system’s UI seems improved, too, so it’s a little more fun to use than the first time I tried it.
After accessing the app, you can view the earphones status and switch among the five noise-cancelling modes, as outlined above.
The second screen lets you select from “classic,” dynamic” and “customized” Sound Effects modes. There is no equalizer for actual customization. That third “customized” mode is actually a fixed setting. And the differences among the three settings are subtle, to say the least.
The third screen lets you switch game mode on or off. And on the fourth screen, you can choose from eight colors for the light on the charging case, which is fun.
In terms of protection, Edifier NeoBuds S has the same IP54 dust and water resistance as the NeoBuds Pro. You can perspire on or wear them in a light rain.
Edifier improved NeoBuds S battery life over NeoBuds Pro, too. With ANC turned on, the new buds are rated for 5.5 hours versus the Pro set’s 5 hours. Overall battery life of NeoBuds S with refreshes from the charging case increased by 1 hour, reaching 25 hours. I found no reason to doubt those figures.
In addition, NeoBuds S also features a fast-charging function, so 10 minutes of charging gets you an hour of listening.
Edifier NeoBuds S key features:
- Bluetooth V5.2 with aptX/aptX-Adaptive
- -42dB depth noise cancelling
- 5.5- / 6-hour playback (ANC on/off)
- Charging case can fully charge earbuds 4 times
- Knowles armature + composite dynamic driver
- Snapdragon Sound audio technology
- IP54 dustproof and waterproof rating
- 89ms game latency
Touch controls for Edifier NeoBuds S:
- Double tap R earbud to play/pause music
- Double tap L or R earbud to answer or hang up a call
- Double tap L earbud to switch modes
- Triple tap L earbud to turn on game mode
- Triple tap R earbud for next song
Available July 1 in the U.K. and Germany, recent delays mean the Edifier NeoBuds S launch on Amazon in the U.S. on July 30.