I’ve made no secret about my fondness of Bluetooth ear/headphones ever since going wireless with the original Jaybirds Bluebuds X back upon its release. Thus, I welcomed the opportunity WRZ Tech provided to review their S8 Sports BT earbuds. While it comes in at the lower price point of BT5 earbuds (starting at $19.98 for the black and $21.98 for the other colors [Blue, Grey/Green, Red, Purple & White] as of the time of this review), I can confidently say after weeks of testing that the S8 punches above its “weight” class. Read on to see why I feel that way.
PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
The S8 comes in the typical carboard packaging and a bevy of accessories that include: 3 x different sized ear tips, 1 pair of ear hooks, 1 pair of stabilizers, micro-USB charging cable, cable management clip, manual as well as a nice zippered carrying case.
Here are the specs as published by WRZ:
- Bluetooth chip: BK 3266
- Bluetooth version: V5.0
- Charging way: USB
- Sensitivity: 91±3dB
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Harmonic distortion: ≤5%
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
- Battery Capacity: 110mAh
- Operation Range: 33 feet/10m
- Play Time: 10 hours
- Standby Time: 220 hours
- Charging Time: 1.5 hours
- Cable Lenght:55±3 cm
- Waterproof: IP65
DESIGN & FEATURES
The S8 follows the majority of BT earbuds by placing the inline controls on the cable (as opposed to buttons on the earpieces) and on the right-side with the typical three button arrangement and a LED indicator on the front side, a mic port on the back and a covered micro-USB charging port on the side.
The following controls are available (in order of button closest to the right earpiece) with each button serving multi-functions depending on quantity and length of the press:
- Vol + (or next track [by pressing and holding 1.5 secs])
- Multi-Function Power/Pairing Button (MFB)
- Media use: play / pause
- Calls: answer [incl. 2nd incoming call while ending or holding current call] / switch calls / hang-up / reject / re-dial
- Vol – (or prev track [by pressing and holding 1.5 secs])
One minor nitpick I encountered is that the powering-on actually requires three seconds vs. the stated two. One second seems trivial except when you’re rushing out the door to catch the bus and want to turn these on before zipping up (and hiding the controls) before heading out (it’s winter here after all).
There are verbal cues (e.g. “Power On / Off”) and audible beeps for most of the major controls but another quibble from me would be the use of the words “Connecting” and “Connection failed” to indicate the state of connectivity. The former leaves you wondering if it actually “connected” (it has) and for the latter, it’s not technically wrong but I suppose I’ve just grown accustomed to hearing “Disconnected” with the vast majority of other BT devices that offer verbal cues.
There are short, low volume beeps to indicate playback controls and a longer loud beep when you reach max / min volume (in which case they are differentiated by a high- and low-pitched beep respectively). This may sound silly on iOS with direct volume control but on an Android device, the S8’s volume can be adjusted independently of what’s indicated on the device and the Max indicator is welcome, however, unlike some other BT earbuds, the volume controls can not be operated when media is not playing.
Battery Life / Charging
By playing my library with various genres at medium volume (8 clicks from mute on iPod 5) I got roughly 8.5 hrs straight. While it falls short of stated specs there are two important caveats though, unlike with my flashlight reviews where I can utilize ANSI FL1 standards, there’s really no standard for conducting BT runtime testing so it’s unknown what test criteria WRZ (or the rest of the industry for that matter) uses. The other is that the iPod 5 is on BT4 and thus may not be taking advantage of the reduced power consumption of BT5 (though I’m not sure if both the source and the S8 both need to be on BT5 to achieve this). I’ll re-run the tests in the future when I can spare my LG V30 (w/BT5) for that amount of time but in the past few weeks of near daily use paired either with the V30 or a iPhone 7 Plus (BT4.2), it has lasted my 12 hour work day (including commute) with intermittent breaks for meetings dispersed throughout and listening mostly below 50% volume (which I prefer).
Using an USB tester, charging completed in ~1.5hrs from completely empty matching specs with just a little over 90mAh capacity replaced. The S8 will also automatically power-off as soon the charging cable is plugged in so you don’t need to do that manually.
CONNECTIVITY / RANGE
The S8 features BT5 via an unfamiliar (to me) BK 3266 chip set. Unfortunately, Google searches return conflicting results with some spec sheets showing this to be by Beken Corp and only BT4.2. While I have no way of confirming the exact BT version (if anyone reading knows how, please do chime in), I’ve been impressed with the ease of pairing and especially the range (which BT earbuds [especially class 2 devices like this] are not really known for) in which I was able to get to about 56 feet away from the V30 on my table before the transmission drop outs started. This is with an open doorway in between so not exactly line of sight either (this bested my Jaybird Bluebuds X2’s connection by about 5-7 feet using the same test).
In a tougher test, which involved me making a trip to grab a cup of coffee in the backroom of the kitchen on the 1st floor while leaving my V30 on the office table on the 2nd floor, the S8 remained connected with no drop outs and this is with a lot of obstacles, and a wood-covered steel spiral staircase in the way. The X2 started dropping out after I hit the bottom of the spiral stair case which was still over 25 feet away from the coffee machine! I was very surprised by this given I felt this was the tougher test of the two but in the first test, I was near my WiFi router when the drop outs started so that might have been a contributing factor whereas in this test, my path does not bring me near the router (on 2nd floor).
The S8 has one key (albeit not new) feature that I really wish more BT ear/headphones would support and that is Multipoint; with this, you’ll be able to connect to two devices simultaneously and for the most part, operate seamlessly between them. In my case, I have two phones of which the V30 has a data plan and an old iPhone 7 (iP7) which I dedicate for work purposes. Given I use iTunes to sync my library, I tend to listen to the Bible and music on the iP7. Now that I’m able to have the S8 connected to both devices, when a call comes in on my V30, it’ll automatically pause playback on the iP7 when I answer the call on my V30 and then resume it once I end my call. When I’m at home, I can have it connected to my PC and V30 and this saves me the hassle from my normal routine of removing one earbud (and if I remember, to pause the music or my video editing) so I can field a call. Yeah, I know, first world problems but again, it just shows the little quality-of-life improvements that can be had with the right tech features.
CODEC / SOUND / ISOLATION
The S8 supports only the SBC codec and it’s a fairly good implementation in that it provides very good sound quality though I still feel it lacks behind AAC/aptX due to a very slight graininess. IMO, the X2 has one of the best SBC implementations out of the many BT ear/headphones I’ve tested with that codec. Given it’s the only other SBC-only BT earbud I’ve used for a while, I’ll be drawing comparisons between the two.
The X2 has a neutral-ish profile but with elevated treble. It’s not DT1990 bright but overall, I feel it’s a bit exaggerated and gives the (false) impression of it being highly resolving and ultra-detailed. To those who are accustomed to and enjoy this profile, the S8 will sound dark by comparison due to its powerful, impactful sub-bass / bass that is reasonably well controlled (the driving bass line starting at 0:21 on Brothers (Tanlines – Mixed Emotions) remains distinctly pulsating whereas on ear/headphones with bloated bass, it comes across as distorted and jumbled). While it does offer decent treble (e.g. the tabla drums at the start of Mask [Keiko Matsui – Dream Walk] are still crisp but they sound recessed by comparison to the X2’s. Using the same track, the forward mid’s causes the piano notes and the escalating chants of “ha’s” between 1:34-1:47 to blend together and not heard as distinct layers as on the X2. However, I do find the relaxed presentation of the S8 to be very enjoyable while listening to the trumpets on ‘Round Midnight [Miles Davis], on the X2, they are slightly piercing at volumes above 40%.
In the end, let’s put it this way, those considering the purchase of these earbuds would not be using them for critical listening to discern the precise position of the fly buzzing in the middle of an orchestral arrangement. With that said, the sound stage is comparable to that of the X2 which is decent. I do feel the overall sound profile and elevated bass would be welcome by the targeted demographics and that is those with active lifestyles hitting the gym or doing a lot of outdoor activities. Speaking of outdoors, I felt the isolation runs about mid-pack (using the included medium sized tips) on my daily commute via bus/train. It also does a fairly decent job of drowning out noisy colleagues in the office and allows me to maintain my moderate listening volumes. I did initially struggle to get a good seal with the tips but after breaking them in, I get an excellent seal in both ears. The silicone has a premium feel unlike some of the low-quality rubber tips included with some Chi-Fi TWE’s I’ve been testing recently.
While the included cable management clip does allow me to adjust for overall length around my neck, the cable does still introduce some microphonics into the earbuds, though not as bad as some other similar models I’ve tested (the Senheisser CX 6.00 BT were particularly bad in this regard). This is where Jaybird’s cord management clips really shine as it allows one to tighten the cable around the back of one’s head precisely thereby pretty much eliminating any microphonics at all. I’m not sure if they have a patent on it, but I’ve yet to see another company utilize it.
Even without the use of the clip, the controls on the right side are not so heavy as to constantly tug the cable completely over my right shoulder which I’ve experienced with other models.
The Multipoint feature makes it a breeze to field calls when connected to two different sources. The buttons also allow advanced call-handling features beyond the simple Answer / End though I didn’t get to test them all as I really don’t spend much time on my phone. The overall sound quality on my end is good but I can’t really say it stands out above my bevy of other BT earbuds. However, given the lack of cVc for noise-canceling on the mic (which is believe is only on Qualcomm chips) it does tend to pick up every little background sound. In one instance, I was standing near an ice machine which generates mostly low frequencies but the person I called was complaining that the sound was just too loud and they couldn’t make out what I was saying. Otherwise, the mic does do a fairly good job of picking up my voice in mildly noisy environments, with callers stating that I came through loud and clear but did also pick up some background noise as well. Overall, I’ll rate this fair but will continue to test it further as I spend more time with the S8.
FIT & FINISH
I’m not expecting much at this price point but the S8 does feature a very solid if plasticky build (then again, the same can be said of the X2 as well which sold for multiples higher when first released). I’m a sucker for well implemented tactile / haptic feedback (I HATE mushy buttons and yes, I love my mechanical keyboard) so I’m happy to report that while the buttons require an above average amount of force to activate, they reward you with a crisp tactile feedback for the extra effort. The controls could stand to be just a teeny bit more responsive (usually under .5 secs for non-timed activations like Play/Pause) but that’s just my personal preference as I hate lag/latency as well.
While I haven’t tested the water resistance, the rubber cover over the charging port does press into place securely and looks like it’ll provide a good seal (one does need to pay attention to ensure the entire cover is pressed in since the stalk is a little stubborn to do so).
Speaking of that stalk, while it looks like it’s circular, it doesn’t really swivel out of the way forcing you to bend the cover (and the stalk) in order to allow charging. I noted that the point where the stalk meets the cover turns white when bent (usually indication of the beginning of breakage like when you start bending a plastic piece too much) so I’m going to pay attention to see how this piece holds up as I’ve had other covers with this arrangement break off before.
The magnets at the ends of each earpiece generate just about the right amount of force allowing them to “snap” securely in place when hung around your neck but not so much that you can’t easily detach them one-handed. The cable is also of good quality and doesn’t become brittle and stiff despite exposure to the frigid weather we’re having.
The S8 faces a now very crowded market and a quick search of the term “sports Bluetooth earbuds” on Amazon will return over 10,000 results (not that all are displayed though…). To me, what really make these stand out at this price point was the outstanding range, the above average sound quality and the inclusion of the multi-point feature. By comparison, the X2 in spite of its elevated treble does offer better SQ but even though it’s now discontinued, it’s still selling for ~3-5x the asking price of the S8 as of the time of this review. It also doesn’t have the multi-point connection and features an inferior connection utilizing BT4.2. To be fair, the X2 was released back in 2013 and while I do have other earbuds with BT5, they are True Wireless and won’t exactly provide apples/apples comparison thus I’ll update this review should I get another BT earbud that is more comparable. For now, here are my thoughts:
- competitively priced magnetic earbuds with good number of accessories including carrying case included but most importantly are quality silicon tips that mold well with my ear canal
- above average sound quality with deep impactful sub-bass and bass but with some mild bloat in the mid’s and slightly recessed treble
- outstanding range for a class 2 device
- Multipoint connectivity allows ease of use between two different sources
- might be considered dark by those accustomed to elevated treble sound profile (i.e. Beyer/Grado fans)
- no noise-canceling for mic so not the best choice for heavy callers
A quick browse through of their site (https://www.wrzaudio.com/) does show they currently have other models available and while this is the first exposure I’ve had to their products I do look forward to checking out their other releases, especially if they ever release a true wireless model. For those interested, these can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HSTXJP9 (I do NOT make any referrals for this).
The pair of S8s were provided by WRZ Tech for review.