A few years back, I reviewed Optoma’s NuForce BE Sport3 wireless earbuds. They performed pretty well for a set of affordable wireless earbuds. However, true wireless buds are all the rage now. And Optoma recently introduced an affordably priced option: NuForce BE Free5 true wireless earbuds.
Initial Impression and Setup
The earbuds themselves are attractive enough, with matte plastic construction and a high gloss stylized finish on the outer surface. The charge case is also made of matte plastic.
At first glance, the matte treatment may seem a little budget-looking, but in reality, it is much more user-friendly than having high gloss plastic everywhere. I’ve tried dozens of wireless earbuds at this point, and the ones that look gleaming and shiny are often difficult to get a grip on and adjust. I’ve come to dread high gloss charge cases. They can be difficult to open and they are fingerprint magnets, especially the black ones. I far prefer the approach of the Optoma NuForce BE Free5s. The buds themselves are easy to get ahold of, the case opens easily and it doesn’t show fingerprints.
It’s also one of the better-designed cases in terms of bud placement. Some can be frustrating, as you rotate the buds and switch positions in an effort to get them to connect properly for charging. Not here. Each bud slides easily into place and gets pulled in by a magnet for a perfect connection.
One of the nice things about the BE Sport 3s was the huge selection of ear tips and wings Optoma supplied. With the BE Free5 earbuds, that selection is trimmed down: three sizes of ear tips and three sizes of ear fins. Some combination of those should fit most people, although I was never able to get the buds as snug as I would like with the included accessories. I suspect adding some third party foam tips like a set from Comply would improve the situation.
Setup was reasonably straightforward. For some reason, my iPhone wouldn’t see the buds in pairing mode until I rebooted it. Then they were there and connected, no problem.
NuForce BE Free5 Specs
• 5.6mm dynamic graphene audio drivers with 20Hz – 20kHz frequency response
• Bluetooth 4.2, SBS and AAC codec support
• Integrated, noise-cancelling microphone with support for voice calls + Siri and Google Assistant
• IPX 5 sweat proof and weather resistant
• Includes silicon SpinFit ear tips in three sizes, ear wings in three sizes
• Battery life rated at up to 4-hours, fast-charge support
• Charge case holds three complete charges (16-hours use total)
• Micro USB cable for charge case included
• Available in black or blue
• Buds weigh 0.44oz, charge case weighs 2oz
• MSRP $99
Not a Fan of the Buttons
I’ve probably made the point ad nauseam by now, but I prefer wireless buds—with a cable connecting the two buds—to true wireless. One of the reasons is controls. With wireless, they’re typically mounted inline. With true wireless buds, there’s nowhere to put them but on the buds themselves. And that means pushing the bud into your ear to activate the button, and multifunction buttons that trigger different actions depending on the nuance of that push or a sequence of pushes.
For example, with these double-clicking the right button summons Siri or Google assistant, clicking once pauses music playback, holding it for two seconds increases music volume, but hold it for four seconds and they power down.
The BE Free5 buttons have a real mechanical click to them and required enough force to register that I sometimes knocked the bud out of its “locked in” position. They may not bother everyone, but I ended up sticking with my phone for controlling music.
Audio and Performance
Given the price, I was reasonably happy with the audio performance of the BE Free5 earbuds. In general, they tended to emphasize the midrange and highs, but there was some low end. In particular, I found the sound fairly balanced at volumes under 50%. With many earbuds, at these lower volumes, bass can be virtually nonexistent. And while it wasn’t a powerful presence with these, there was no sense of music being tinny at low volumes—it was quite listenable. However, at loud volumes, the midrange became a little overpowering in the mix.
I should note that my fit wasn’t perfect; if you are able to get a really good seal, the bass performance should improve noticeably.
Maximum range is about 30 feet from your Bluetooth music source. And I found wireless performance was pretty much flawless. Other than that initial hiccup with the iPhone’s Bluetooth connection, I experienced no drop-outs and both buds remained in sync.
Another of the frustrating things about true wireless earbuds is battery life. There is only so much power you can store in a cell small enough to fit in an earbud. While inexpensive earbuds tend to have lower battery life—sometimes just three hours—the Optoma NuForce BE Free5s are rated for up to four hours on a charge. I ran them through three cycles during testing. While I usually had the volume at or under 50%, I typically exceeded the four hours by at least 30 minutes. That’s pretty good, although battery life will go down if the volume is cranked up.
There is a voice warning when the battery is low, but in my experience, it came a little late—there was less than five minutes between the warning and the buds going dead.
The charge case holds an additional three charges, so in total, you can expect about 16 hours before having to find an electrical outlet. 15 minutes of fast charge gets you an hour of listening, while a full charge from empty takes several hours.
A Good Option for Your Kids
If you have tweens or teens who are clamoring for the cool factor of true wireless earbuds, the NuForce BE Free5 are a good option. And here’s why:
• $99 MSRP is relatively affordable (more affordable to buy upfront and less painful to the wallet if they end up losing one)
• Sweat proof and weather resistant
• Decent sound
• 4-hour battery life
• Charge case is easy to open, easy to use
If you want something that’s up a notch in audio quality, I’ve had a pair of Optima’s BE Free 8 true wireless earbuds for evaluation. For $50 more (actually at time of writing you can find them for $119 on Amazon) these also offer support for aptX LL. However, I find both the buds and the case slippery compared to the BE Free 5s. For kids, I would definitely stick with the NuForce BE Free5 option.
Disclosure: Optoma provided NuForce BE Free5 earbuds for evaluation but had no input into this review.