I take a lot of walks and hikes, and when I do, I’m usually listening to audiobooks or podcasts, so lightweight earbuds with good battery life and easy controls are important to me. Up until now, I’ve been using a pair of first-generation Apple AirPods, which have served me well. But since the folks at Cambridge Audio sent me a pair of their new Melomania 1 wireless earbuds to try out, I’m strongly considering making a permanent change.
The buds themselves look standard wired earbuds that have had the cords cut off. That’s exciting because most of the units on the market today are larger and often heavier so that they need some kind of hooks to go over the backs of your ears. The Melomania 1 buds are light and will fit snugly in your ear without fear of falling out with the standard silicone tips (provided in S/M/L). Indeed, for my ear shape, they actually sit more securely than my AirPods, giving me a lot more confidence that I won’t have one drop out if I decided to up my walking to jogging at any point. There’s also much better noise reduction from these than AirPods, so I don’t have to keep the volume turned up quite as much.
The case is obviously an homage to the Apple version, slightly larger, but with the same solid feel, crisply-closing top, and handy magnet-assisted system for holding the buds in their docks. Because the Melomania 1 buds are shorter and squatter than AirBuds, with their long tails, the bays they fit into are broader and shallower, which may make it easier to clean down the road (something I really need to do with my AirPod case. The 5 lights on the front indicating the charge status of the case are very useful, and when you put the buds into the case, a gentle ring of light will glow around the end of each bud to tell you they are charging. These are all smart designs.
The Melomania 1 buds are, obviously, driven by Bluetooth connectivity, so they don’t have the extra-special Apple pairing and hand-off functions, but that’s not a huge deal. I had no issues connecting them, and keeping them connected as I went around my daily hikes. They are using Bluetooth 5, so in the power-efficiency and audio-quality departments they are with the current state of the art.
And power efficiency is a key point. While you can find wireless earbuds that have those around-the-neck connecting cables, or the chunky kind that hang off your ears, with battery life in a similar neighborhood as Melomania 1, none of the pure wireless buds on the market right now (including the Apple AirPods) come close to these. 9 hours of listening time just for the buds. The case will add another 36 hours of listening charge, bringing them up to 45 hours total potential listening time without needing to plug anything in. That’s the sweet spot that everyone else should be trying to get to. But Cambridge Audio got there first.
As for audio quality, here’s the thing: no wireless earbud is ever going to replace a good set of wired headphones for overall sound quality, dynamic range, or sound stage. We’re not wearing these to hear every nuance of a lossless recording of your favorite band. So, with expectations metered, the Melomania 1 earbuds sound fine. They are clear and crisp, favoring the upper-mids and the high end. They have a larger sound stage, and better dampening of outside noise than the AirPods, but less lower-end.
As for how you control them, here’s another place where I prefer them over the AirPods. The dimpled outward-facing end of each of the buds (look at the picture above) are buttons with which you can control all the standard features like play/pause, volume control, and more. The push-and-click response of the buttons, and the fact that you’re pushing inwards against your ear, means, you’re highly unlikely to accidentally tap them and make them fall out (like I’ve done with the AirPods). It’s an excellent tactile control that lets you know you’re doing exactly what you’re doing without wondering if you’ve tapped too lightly or done something else wrong.
There are a lot of wireless earbuds for sale online in the $40-$60 price ranges, and most of them fall into a very specific look and feature set that are fairly standardized. The Melomania 1 from Cambridge Audio are obviously a next-generation product that has learned from what came before, both from Apple’s work and all those other designs. It ups the ante for having a comfortable, snug fit, easy-to-use controls, and a best-in-class battery life. At $130 a pair, they’re not cheap, but they are very clearly the quality Bluetooth-only alternative to Apple’s AirPods, which they beat in price by $30.