Not so long ago, you would have been right in doubting the quality of genuine active noise-canceling wireless earbuds that sell for less than $ 100. as it once was. These knobs still lack features like microphone quality and water resistance compared to more expensive competition from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Sony, but they are worth checking out if you are looking for good sound and decent ANC above all else.
Note: This review is part of ours summary of wireless and real wireless earbuds. Go there for details on competing products and our test methods.
From a distance, the EP-N5 earbuds look even more expensive than they actually are, in part because the design of both the cover and the knobs draws so heavily from Apple̵
The case itself is a steady and pocket-capable little thing, giving around 35 extra hours of play on top of the seven or so hours you get from the buds themselves without the ANC tipping over. With the ANC on, unfortunately, the buds’ battery life drops to about four hours, especially if you like listening to music at high volume. On the bright side, a row of four LED lights on the front of the case keeps you updated on how much juice the case has left, and the USB-C charging port ensures that you can easily find another cord to charge it with if you can not find the short wire that comes in the box.
It’s also easy to pair: I just opened the phone’s Bluetooth menu, pulled out the right button and put it in my ear, heard a British female voice say “Pairing”, and pressed the Aukey EP-N5 message when it appeared. You can also connect them to two devices, though you will need to disconnect them from one device before using the earbuds with another.
Turn it up
But the Aukey EP-N5 really showed its value when I put up my music – not too much, because these things are loud. I usually turn up the volume to maximum levels with most of my other earplugs, but I found myself flirting when I tried it with these. I noticed a few drops, even when I only had the phone in my pocket, but for the most part, the Bluetooth 5.0 technology keeps the music quality fairly consistent. I had to get about 30 meters away and lay two brick walls between me and my phone before the signal started to drop significantly.
The EP-N5 also sounds surprisingly good. The intermediate areas are not as clear as I would like, but these buds handle low areas well and do not slump with the highlights. However, the mileage varies depending on the power of the bass. Billie Eilish’s throbbing track “Bad Guy” sounds good on these buds, for example, but I can barely feel the drums of The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” at all. It is good that they sound so good out of the box, as there is no way to customize the equalizer with an app.
The catch? You need to find out which of the three sets of earplugs suits you best as soon as possible, as getting good bass from EP-N5 is very dependent on having a tight seal. Fortunately, the tips stay tight when in place, even to the point that I never worried about them slipping out while jogging through the neighborhood. On that note, the IPX5 waterproofness value makes them useful companions for workouts. Judging by the build quality, though, I would not actively try to expose them to anything wetter than general sweat or the occasional rain shower.
You will also experiment with the ear tips to get the most out of the active noise reduction, which is not as powerful as what you get from pricer models. Still, it works well enough for the desk fan to be noticeably quieter when I turn on the ANC, even though it does not mute the sound quite as some earplugs do.
The earplugs actually fit so well that they offer significant passive noise interruption alone, even to the point that I almost always had to remove the knobs if I wanted to have a conversation with someone nearby. It left me longing for “transparency” or “ambient” mode found in more expensive earplugs, but I’m not surprised by their absence in earpieces, this is reasonable.
The limitations of the Aukey EP-N5 really start to appear when you use the touch controls. The buttons are responsive to the basic action of pressing the left or right button once to pause music, but they struggle to distinguish more complex actions. Often when I tried to tap three times to activate my voice assistant, the buttons thought I was either tapping twice on the right button to skip a song or twice on the left button to play a song again. Making more conscious, slower taps does not help either, as the knobs I think are just trying to play or pause the music. Worst of all, sometimes nothing happens.
Still, I found these quirks livable for the price, as I mainly only use the play and pause actions on my earplugs anyway. Instead, it was the dual microphones that really failed me, as they make me sound like I’m talking through a walkie-talkie, whether I’m recording voice memos or calling. At least the sound never stopped. An advantage of the dual-microphone setup is that you can make calls with just the right earplug if you wish. Unfortunately, you cannot use the left microphone alone.
The bottom line
For just $ 60 – and often less on Amazon – the Aukey EP-N5 offers far better sound quality and active noise reduction than we normally expect from earplugs in this price range. If you’re fine, they’re a great budget pair. But just remember that the price comes with some sacrifices, including poor microphone performance and weak touch controls.