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Home / Reviews / Audio / Headphones / Motorola Buds+ review: with a little help from my friends

Motorola Buds+ review: with a little help from my friends

Moto brings in Bose for affordable ANC expertise

Motorola Buds+ review design

Stuff Verdict

Comfortable in-ears with effective ANC at a sensible price – but the Motorola Buds+ aren’t the last word in sound quality in a very competitive class.

Pros

  • Buds are comfy, case is compact
  • Respectable ANC-on battery life
  • Effective noise cancellation

Cons

  • Tuning and volume could be more impactful
  • Rivals have more comprehensive companion apps

Introduction

There’ve been true wireless earbuds wearing Motorola logos for almost as long as the tech has existed – even if not all of ’em were made by Motorola. That included the Verve Ones+, the first pair of true wireless in-ears I ever tested back in 2016, which were actually built by Binatone. Things have changed a little since then, with Motorola proper back in charge for the new Buds+.

These Bluetooth earphones aim to bring high-end features down to a much more affordable price point, a bit like the Edge 50 smartphone series they launched alongside. That includes Hi-Res playback, Dolby Atmos spatial sound with head tracking, and adaptive ANC. Motorola has even teamed up with Bose on the noise cancelling algorithms (yay!) and sound tuning (yay?) to gain an edge over the sub-£150 segment.

Launching at £129/€149 (there’s no word on a US launch just yet), are these the perfect partner for your smartphone – whether it has a Motorola badge or not? Or do established players including the Sony LinkBuds S, Apple AirPods 2nd gen and the soon-to-be replaced Nothing Ear 2 retain their lead? After a week of listening, I think it’s a bit of both.

How we test headphones

Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.

Find out more about how we test and rate products.

Design & build: pocketable pebble

The Buds+ are a big styling step up over previous Motorola earphones, which looked a little generic. These stem-style in-ears are all about soft curves and minimal branding, in a choice of Forest Gray or Beach Sand colours. My review unit was the latter, with silver trim on the end of each stem adding a splash of personality.

I love the textured finish; it gives a good amount of grip but only covers the part of the earbud that doesn’t touch your ear. The other part is smooth, rounded and angled downwards, which creates a very comfortable fit. You get the usual selection of different sized silicone ear tips in the box, which are worth experimenting with until you get a firm seal; I had to mix and match sizes, otherwise one bud was looser than the other. After that, I was able to listen for hours at a time without discomfort.

The compact charging case has everything you want and nothing you don’t. The flip-top lid makes it easy to get the buds out, and strong magnets ensure they’re always seated correctly for charging when not in use. A tiny LED gives a rough guide as to how much battery is left (green is good, yellow is low and red means “get to a plug socket sharpish”). Even the Motorola and Bose branding is on the subtle side.

Features & battery: wear ever I roam

The Buds+ use tap inputs instead of squeezable stems to control playback; they can be more prone to accidental activations in some earphones, but that wasn’t the case here. I find tapping less fiddly, and faster to boot, so had no complaints about usability. They’re fully customisable, too, letting you pick exactly what a double- or triple-tap, or a tap-and-hold does on each earpiece. Or you can disable them altogether if you prefer, which is a surprisingly rare option among wireless earbuds.

In-ear detection can be switched off as well, though it worked well enough I never felt the need to deactivate it during my testing. Head-tracking spatial audio thankfully isn’t enabled by default, and there’s no on-device upmixing option either; I maintain this is a gimmick that doesn’t actually improve anyone’s listening experience. The Buds+ do support Atmos spatial audio, as long as your streaming service of choice does too.

The triple-mic array inside each earbud did a decent job at stripping background noise from my voice calls, meaning my contacts could hear me well enough while walking down a busy city street – but not a level that was better than any rival available for similar cash.

Motorola’s promise of eight hours’ listening sounded great, until you realise that’s with ANC switched off. I got closer to six hours of uninterrupted playback with noise cancelling on, which is about average. Volume and Bluetooth codec play a part, too, so your mileage may vary. At least the case charges the buds in double time, meaning a ten minute stay in the case is good for several more hours of music. It supports wireless charging, too, if you prefer a Qi pad to a USB-C cable.

Interface: Material gains

The Moto Buds companion app borrows heavily from Motorola’s latest Android UI, with icons and colours inspired by Google’s Material design language. It’s simple, with a straightforward layout, and easy access to the most useful features.

That includes having the various ANC modes front-and-centre, along with clear battery life percentages for both the case and the buds themselves. That’s handy, as the buds don’t audibly tell you how much juice they have left when you pop them in your ears. A toggle for dual device connectivity seems out of place on the homescreen, though; I turned it on to try the feature, then never touched it again.

There’s a Hi-Res toggle in the Sound menu, to make sure you’re getting the best possible quality, and a gaming mode that minimises (though doesn’t eradicate) latency for better audio/video syncing. Dig deeper and there’s a 10-band custom equalizer, in case the three basic EQ presets aren’t to your liking.

I found the ear tip fit test only partially useful; it actually checks for a good sound seal, so reported a good fit even though I knew the right earbud was sitting looser than the left one. Don’t take the result as gospel if you can feel movement, and reach for one of the other sets of included ear tips instead.

What you won’t find is any Dolby head tracking controls; while the Buds+ support the tech, you also need a compatible Motorola phone and content. I’d also have liked a personalised sound test, which is far more useful for non-audiophiles at getting enjoyable audio than a bunch of EQ sliders.

Sound quality and noise cancelling: mellow Moto

Bose was never going to give Motorola every ingredient for its secret noise cancelling sauce, meaning the £130 Buds+ wouldn’t upset the £300 QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds – but they still do a commendable job when it comes to ANC. The low-frequency hum of commuter trains was dialled back to a very low level, and chatty fellow passengers weren’t a distraction either.

This was using the adaptive mode, which dials the cancellation amount up or down based on ambient noise. It was fairly quick to react to sudden loud sounds, though not to the same level as ANC champs from Bose’s own stable. The main ANC mode puts cancellation on full whack, with a noise floor that’s only perceptible when listening to spoken word podcasts; it’s drowned out by even quiet music.

The loudest parts of the London Underground are a litmus test even the best ANC earbuds can’t cancel out, and the Buds+ are no exception. I think the Nothing Ear 2 does a slightly better job with passing traffic, and the Sony WF-C700N has them both beat.

A transparency mode lets in background sound, which is handy when out in public and you need to be aware of your surroundings; I used it while working from home and could hear my partner calling me from downstairs, so you’ll have no trouble hearing train station announcements and the like. You can disable ANC altogether if you like, but there’s no fine-grain customisation here.

It’s sound quality where I think the Buds+ stumble most, which is a surprise given Bose was also tapped up to help with audio tuning. Firstly I found them far too conservative when it came to volume; across multiple devices, these were significantly quieter than the handful of rivals I had to hand, despite being set to the same level. To match them for loudness, I had to increase the volume to a level that activated my phone’s ear damage warning.

‘Fun’ and ‘energetic’ were almost certainly words used in the planning meeting for these earbuds. Using the out-the-box ‘flat’ preset, there was an overabundance of sub-bass, which didn’t carry across into the rest of the low-end frequencies. Electronic tracks like Figure’s Raining Blood sounded overly muddy as a result. At the other end of the range, I experienced a little sibilance in some vocal performances that wasn’t there in rival earphones. This crisp high-end gives the impression of detail, but can sound harsh with certain genres.

It’s a shame, because it only took a little tweaking at either end of the custom EQ sliders to get a more balanced sound – though that couldn’t address the volume deficit.

Motorola Buds+ verdict

Motorola Buds+ review aerial

They’re comfortable to wear for long periods, have effective noise cancellation for the cash, and last a decently long time between top-ups. If that’s all you want from a pair of wireless earphones, the Moto Buds+ will be a sound investment. But audio tuning, at least fresh from the box, doesn’t quite land a bullseye.

Overbearing sub-bass and a sharp high-end mean you’ve got to tweak these buds to get them sounding their best – and then still have to contend with lower volume than some rivals. When those rivals also have more well-rounded EQ, and offer personalised audio tuning through their companion apps, the Buds+ are a harder sell.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

Comfortable in-ears with effective ANC at a sensible price – but the Motorola Buds+ aren’t the last word in sound quality in a very competitive class.

Pros

Buds are comfy, case is compact

Respectable ANC-on battery life

Effective noise cancellation

Cons

Bad stuff 1

Bad stuff 2

Motorola Buds+ technical specifications

DriversDual dynamic
ANCYes
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5.3
Codecs supportedAAC, SBC, LDAC
DurabilityIP54 (buds)
Battery life8hrs/38hrs (ANC off, buds/case)
Dimensions
Profile image of Tom Morgan-Freelander Tom Morgan-Freelander Deputy Editor

About

A tech addict from about the age of three (seriously, he's got the VHS tapes to prove it), Tom's been writing about gadgets, games and everything in between for the past decade, with a slight diversion into the world of automotive in between. As Deputy Editor, Tom keeps the website ticking along, jam-packed with the hottest gadget news and reviews.  When he's not on the road attending launch events, you can usually find him scouring the web for the latest news, to feed Stuff readers' insatiable appetite for tech.

Areas of expertise

Smartphones/tablets/computing, cameras, home cinema, automotive, virtual reality, gaming

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