What started with the Apple AirPods has spawned into an industry of its own and there are more being launched every day. Everyone wants a page out of Apple's playbook where they aim to create their own ecosystem of products, purportedly providing seamless and better-combined experiences.
The two newest players, OnePlus and Vivo both come with their corresponding phone launches too. OnePlus with the Nord and Vivo with the premium X50 series. But what are they like in spite of sharing a lot of similarities and are they a worthy opponent to the leader of their tribe?
(The OnePlus Buds cost ₹4990 and Vivo Neo TWS are priced at ₹5990)
Vivo TWS Neo
Looking more like an AirPods clone, the TWS Neo in white looks like a 2018 design with a rounder face. It’s not special but it’s also par for the course now. A single pairing button and LED to indicate charging status are all you get. The earbuds themselves are what you’d expect, clones of AirPods again and offer touch controls at the tip and even the stalk, which can be used as a volume slider and works well.
Packing in more colour and distinction, the OnePlus Buds are similar in shape but a matte blue finish makes them suaver looking and a perfect match for the Blue Marble finish on the OnePlus Nord. Flip the top open and things get racier on the inside with a lime green interior contrasted with the blue earbuds. The fit a little deeper than the Vivo Neo and hence offer a more secure fit but lose out on the sliding volume control on the stalks. They do get touch controls on the buds which can be programmed for track changes, play/pause or calling up a voice assistant.
Vivo TWS Neo
Using a lot of HD and Hi-Res centric terms, Vivo is clearly trying to herd users towards the X50 Pro with its built-in DAC as the perfect tango partner to the Neo. Dig into the settings and you’ll stumble upon a ‘Hi-Fi’ mode and while it’s unclear what it actually does, it clearly doesn't have Apple Music. Spotify, Netflix, Prime Video and the native music app are supported, though the difference in sound quality was negligible to none. The Bluetooth settings for the Neo also has three EQ presets aimed at voice, bass and boosting highs. Driver size is a large 14.2mm and the Neo comes with an IP54 rating so should be ok with light splashes or sweat. Vivo also likes to claim a really low-latency of 88ms, enhancing gameplay and even timing with movies. There’s a Find My TWS Neo feature too that emits a subtle beep from the earbuds themselves should you have misplaced them. The beep though emits from the earbud drivers, making it hard to locate in a noisy environment.
With a simpler interface than the Vivo and correspondingly fewer features too, the Buds offer HD-audio support for AAC so Apple Music subscribers should have reason to rejoice. Again, the difference between it on or off is debatable, not to mention that AAC itself isn’t a hi-resolution codec. But OnePlus Buds do have an inherent bass boost, environment noise cancellation with the help of three external mics and built-in algorithms to help suppress ambient sounds. Low-latency and IP certification feature on the Buds too, making them closely matched to the Vivo TWS Neo on paper.
Vivo TWS Neo
With a claim of 22.5hrs of total battery, the TWS Neo can also go for about 4.5hrs on a single charge and that’s not bad for something that weighs less than 5g! Qualcomm’s low-power wireless chip is attributed to this greatness. USB-C ensures quick and fast top-ups too.
Along with the case, the Neo holds 22.5hrs of playback capability.
Claiming an even more incredible 30hrs of charge stored between the buds and the case, OnePlus is taking no prisoners. Moreover, a quick 10min charge helps you get a full 10hrs of playback so you might never really be without music. 7hrs and 4.3hrs is the claim for the earbuds to last on one charge for music and phone calls respectively.
Vivo TWS Neo
With their lightweight and easy fit, the Vivo’s struggle to keep ambient noise out even though they are comfortable to wear. They also tend to come off more easily than the OnePlus Buds. Due to the air gaps though, the bass is weak from the get-go and no amount of sound-enhancing really helps. AptX Adaptive and the built-in EQ presets tend to deliver inconsistent sound, where the bass just drops suddenly, phase shift errors and random lack of high frequencies. This could be an easy fix with a software update but for now, the Vivo TWS Neo feels like a WIP. The Vivo X50 Pro which I have on hand proudly proclaims the inclusion of an HQ DAC as part of its hardware spec but the TWS Neo didn’t reward back with any audible benefits between it on or off. Eventually, the sound lacks body or richness and after a while of listening, the tinniness wears you out. On rockers such as Alligator from Of Monsters and Men, the tambourine doesn’t’ sound like one, instead is an incoherent mess of a powerful opening. Timbral accuracy isn’t one of its strong points and playing around with different EQ modes will only accentuate this fact. They fare slightly better on electronic music like Dancing With a Stranger by Sam Smith but you have to ensure they’re securely fitted in your ears and even the slightest gap robs it of bass.
Although not as full-featured as the Vivo TWS Neo, wearing the OnePlus Buds instantly creates a better seal between your ear canal and the outside environment. It also misses out on the volume control slider function on the stalks but overall, feel more secure once you have them on. Sonically, they instantly feel more mature and polished in their presentation with a solid weight to the low frequencies that immerse you into music more effectively. Their timing is great too and they do well on all kinds of music with an even hand on the midrange and highs too. Push them hard though and like the Vivo, they too will start disintegrating but at normal listening levels, the OnePlus Buds are just a lot more accomplished, in some areas even more so than Apple AirPods. Playing the same track as on the Vivo TWS Neo, Alligator by Of Monsters and Men, the Buds offer more insight into the recording with a more clear jangling of the tambourine and a propulsive bass line that sets the tone for some feet tapping. Electronic music is played back with enthusiasm and verve, punching much above its weight and make the AirPods feel overpriced. But in its own category, which is swelling by the day, the OnePlus Buds should have no trouble holding their own.
With a price difference that is negligible, the OnePlus Buds clearly take this round due to their better sound. Maybe, their aesthetic too, if you like pop and neon colours. They do make for the perfect partner for the newly launched OnePlus Nord which is available in a similar shade of blue. The Vivo TWS Neo does sound promising on paper with a lot of features, larger drivers and support for Hi-Res music but eventually, don’t end up being as involving or balanced as the OnePlus Buds.