Realme changed the game in the budget true wireless (TWS) earbuds segment with the launch of the Buds Air 2. Never before had one seen features like active noise cancellation (ANC), customisable controls, multiple sound profiles, wear detection along with good sound quality, altogether well under Rs 4,000. That pair of earphones is still hard to beat in the segment.With the competition coming close, Realme is looking to raise the bar further with the launch of its successor, the Buds Air 3, that promises to do one better than its predecessor in almost every department. In addition to better sound quality, the new Realme buds claim to offer better battery backup and 42 dB noise cancellation, a huge jump from 25 dB that’s considered par for the course in this segment. Are these indeed the best TWS earphones under Rs 5,000? Let’s find out.
Realme Buds Air 3: Design and Comfort (8/10)
The design language of the Realme Buds Air 3 has been borrowed from its predecessor. The shape is similar but the new buds have shorter stems. We got the Starry Blue variant for review, which looks elegant. Just like the Buds Air 2, the stems have a slightly different shade of blue in comparison to the bud shells. You get two more shades to choose from – Galaxy White and Nitro Blue. While the buds look similar, the case here is a lot more compact and equally pocketable. The metallic blue matte finish looks nice and doesn’t attract smudges or fingerprints. Despite the petite body, it packs a higher capacity 546 mAh battery that claims to deliver 30 hours of playback on a full charge. We will verify that claim shortly. The case has a tiny power indicator LED at the front, Bluetooth pairing button on the side and a USB-C charging port at the bottom.The case weighs just 37.2 gm while the buds weigh 4.2 gm each. The build quality of the buds as well as the case leaves no room for complaint. The sturdiness of the buds is boosted further by an IPx5 rating for splash resistance. So you can wear them to the gym or for a jog without a worry. They can handle more than a few beads of sweat. Unlike the OnePlus Buds Z2, the case isn’t protected against the elements. The earbuds have a snug fit and are extremely comfortable to wear for long hours. The silicone tips sit well in the ear canals and provide good passive noise isolation. Three pairs of eartips are bundled, and it is important to choose the right sized pair for optimal ANC. The companion Realme Link app assists you in choosing the right one in case you can’t decide on your own. The top area of the stems is touch enabled, and the touch sensitivity is generally good.
Realme Buds Air 3: Features and Specifications (9/10)
At the heart of the Buds Air 3 is the new Realme R3 chip that claims to be more power efficient and better at noise cancellation. Each earbud hosts a 10 mm Liquid Crystal Polymer driver and a couple of microphones for calling and noise reduction. Just like the Buds Air 2, you get wear detection sensors to pause the audio when you remove a bud from the ear and resume when you put it back in. It works as expected.
You hear a beep every time you tap the touch enabled zones. It gives you an idea about the number of taps registered for various controls. Touch gestures work well most of the time with the occasional exception being triple tap. The third tap fails to register at times if you tap too fast. You can always assign something less important to that gesture, thanks to the Realme Link app (available on Android and iOS both) which lets you configure controls.Through the app you can assign play/pause, previous/next tracks, ANC toggle, voice assistant or nothing to double-tap, triple-tap or touch and hold gestures. For some reason, the ANC toggle can only be assigned to touch and hold gesture here. In Realme’s earlier releases like the Buds Air 2 or Buds Q2, you could assign it to triple tap too. You still cannot assign volume control to anything though. Touching and holding both buds simultaneously lets you switch to Game Mode, where the latency can drop down to 88 ms.
The Realme Buds Air 3 is Bluetooth 5.2 compliant and supports AAC and SBC codecs. The buds support Dolby Atmos too if the source device is Atmos compliant. You get three ANC modes to switch between — ANC on, Normal and Transparency mode that lets ambient noise in. As I mentioned earlier, these buds can cancel upto 42 dB of noise which is a significant increment from 25 dB that most of the competition offers. Even better, it works great!
Realme Buds Air 3: Performance (8/10)
Decibel numbers aside, the ANC on the Realme Buds Air 3 is easily the best I have come across in TWS earbuds priced south of Rs 5,000. The fact that this product is priced under 4K makes it even more commendable. Though understandably not in the league of premium earphones from the likes of Sony that are priced 4 to 5 times higher, the ANC here noticeably cuts down on low frequency sounds like the hum of an AC or the whirr of a fan when indoors. It significantly reduces traffic noises when outdoors and some human chatter too in public transport or at work.
One minor issue I would like to point out is that the buds sound slightly different with ANC on and off (a tad more detailed in Normal mode). Most may not even notice the difference but it needs to be fixed in a future firmware update. The Transparency mode, though doesn’t sound perfectly natural, gets the job done. It amplifies the ambient sounds to let you be aware of your surroundings or have a conversation without removing the buds from the ears. The wireless range is good with a strong connection at 10 metres distance with no obstruction between the source and the buds.
Speaking of sound quality, it is a little different from its predecessor. While the Buds Air 2 had a fairly balanced sound, the Buds Air 3 has slightly boosted lows with more prominent bass. Thankfully, it is fairly tight and punchy and doesn’t overshadow the mids much. The mids reproduction is pretty good here with ample clarity in the vocals. The instrument separation is not that great though, which might be a result of a fairly narrow soundstage that makes the sound seem like it’s crammed in a smaller space. The highs are quite sharp; they are generally tempered well and yet have ample sparkle. However, they tend to sound a little sibilant if you push the volume beyond 80%, which you won’t need to do very often. All said and done, the overall sound output feels a bit more refined and more likeable than that of the Buds Air 2, and will appeal to the masses. There were no latency issues with no noticeable lag between the video and audio when streaming videos. These Realme buds are loud enough around 50% to 60% volume level in most cases. As always, the Realme Link app offers three sound profiles – Balanced, Bass Boost+ and Bright, of which I found the Balanced profile to be the best. The company has a bit more for you this time in the form of a custom sound profile. It enhances certain frequencies based on your hearing capabilities and creates a personalised equaliser. The concept is similar to the Audio ID feature found in the more expensive OnePlus Buds Pro. It may or may not make the buds sound better than the Balanced profile for all but is worth trying out.Realme Buds Air 3: Call quality (7/10)The call quality is pretty decent on the Realme Buds Air 3, but I cannot term it as an improvement over the Buds Air 2. The shorter stems here add just that extra little distance between the microphones and your mouth, probably resulting in a slight drop in voice clarity in comparison. People on the line were perfectly audible to each other indoors as well as outdoors. But occasionally I had to repeat myself at the behest of the listener.Wind noise suppression generally works well, but not flawlessly. At times you need to adjust the direction of the stems to cut out the wind noise. The buds managed to keep other ambient noise in check pretty well. Another enhancement here is multipoint or dual pairing support. The Realme Buds Air 3 can connect to two devices simultaneously, and it works well. Strangely, this feature is disabled by default, and you need to enable it from the app.
Realme Buds Air 3: Battery life (8/10)
The company promises 22 hours of playback with ANC on and up to 30 hours with ANC off for the buds and case combined. During our testing, with ANC turned on at all times and loudness around 60%, the buds lasted close to four and a half hours. And with ANC turned off, they went on for almost 6 hours. The case can recharge the buds at least thrice more, taking the overall battery backup in the range of 18 to 25 hours depending on the amount of time for which ANC is switched on. This may not meet the advertised numbers but the battery backup is more than satisfactory for the segment. These buds support quick charging too. A 10 minutes charge gives you close to 100 minutes of playtime in normal mode. The buds take about an hour to charge fully from zero, while the case takes a little over 90 minutes. The battery level of each earbud and the charging case can be seen in the companion app.
Realme Buds Air 3: Price and verdict
The Realme Buds Air 3 can be purchased for Rs 3,999 with a one year warranty. It is a few hundred Rupees more expensive than the Buds Air 2, but you easily get your money’s worth thanks to the more refined sound quality, better battery backup and most importantly, category leading ANC. These features also make it one of the best TWS earbuds under Rs 5,000 in India currently. The prime competitor of these Realme buds is the OnePlus Buds Z2 that flaunts similar features. Its ANC may not be as good but the sound quality and battery life are a little better for a thousand bucks extra. If ANC is not a requirement, nor are touch controls, and you seek excellent sound quality and solid battery backup in this budget, you should strongly consider the Soundcore Liberty 2 and Lypertek Levi. But if you are looking for a feature-rich pair of TWS buds with the best ANC under 5K, it is hard to look beyond the Realme Buds Air 3.