When you want to combine earphones and a speaker in a single package and keep it under $70, you’re going to end up making too many compromises. That’s the problem with the iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds With Charging Case and Speaker (IAEBTS410), a pair of true wireless earbuds with a charging case that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker for just $69.99. Unfortunately, between mediocre sound quality, inconsistent wireless connectivity, and poor battery life, iLive tries to do too much and ends up getting too little right.
Out of the case, the IAEBTS410 earpieces look about as plain as wire-free earphones can be. Each earpiece is a simple, black plastic knob with a single indicator LED and no branding. A circular recess on the back panel of each is a touch-sensitive control surface that can play/pause with one tap, skip backward with a double tap on the left earpiece, skip forward with a double tap to the right earpiece, or activate Siri (other voice assistants aren’t supported) with a triple tap. There are no volume controls on the earphones themselves. Because the entire back panel of each earpiece is a touch control, it’s very easy to play or pause your music accidentally when you insert, remove, or adjust the earphone in your ear.
A selection of three different sizes of silicone eartips are included, which, along with the round knob shape of the earpieces provide a fairly secure fit without any earfins. Be wary when using these earphones at the gym, though; while iLive calls them sweat proof, no formal IP rating is listed.
The charging case is what really sets the IAEBTS410 apart from other wire-free earphones. It looks like a typical, pill-shaped plastic case with a flip-top lid that’s covered half in black cloth and half in faux leather. Opening the case reveals the big surprise: a built-in driver that lets the case function as a standalone Bluetooth speaker when the earphones are plugged in. Just insert the earphones into the charging recesses, close the top, and the same Bluetooth connection that sends audio to your ears through the earphones can now fill a small room thanks to the single driver in the case. Opening the case again disables the speaker and sends sound back into the earphones.
According to iLive, the earphones can last up to six hours at half volume, and the speaker case can last up to five hours at half volume. There’s no estimate for how much power the charging case supplies to the earpieces, but it seems to be a single charge or so. All of these numbers are fairly short compared with other true wireless headphones we’ve tested.
The earphones work well indoors, but I found significant syncing issues when using them outside. The two earpieces would lose connection with each other, dropping the audio in my left ear and leaving me with only the right channel. I could restore the connection by holding the earphones close together with my hands, but once I let go they dropped the connection again.
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As for sound quality, the earphones aren’t particularly powerful or crisp. The bass drum in our test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” comes through with very little low-end presence, offering some minor bass thump but no real sense of force, even at maximum volume. On the bright side, there’s no distortion.
Yes’ “Roundabout” sounds balanced, but limited. The opening acoustic guitar plucks get some sense of resonance and string texture, but they lack any palpable bass force or treble finesse. When the track fully kicks in, every element in the busy mix gets equal attention, with the guitar strums, cymbals, and vocals easy to hear against the bassline. No aspect shines with significant low-end or high-end presence, though, leaving every part of the mix clustered around the mids to high-mids more than anything else, sounding a bit busy and flat.
The emphasis on the high-mids makes the vocals and guitar riffs in The crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” stand out at the front of the mix as they should. However, without the low-frequency response to support the driving backbeat, the track lacks the ominous, industrial force it should have.
The speaker case offers similarly mediocre audio quality. It can get loud enough to fill a small room, but it offers almost no bass, resulting in a crunchy, tinny sound. “Silent Shout” fails to provide any thump even at maximum volume, and distorts easily. The opening notes in “Roundabout” sound tinny and a bit crackly. “Born Too Slow” sounds best because the speaker’s harshness complements the exciting guitar riffs, but the backbeat is overly poppy, with little bass response. I found the case useful when listening to podcasts while I was doing other things in my apartment, but it isn’t good for listening to music.
Master of None
The iLive IAEBTS410 wire-free earphones are affordable and have an interesting gimmick, but even at $70, their performance doesn’t hold up. Aside from wireless connectivity issues, the earphones have little dynamic range, and the speaker sounds tinny. There are much better wire-free earphones in this price range, like the $50 EarFun Free and the $80 Anker Soundcore Liberty Air, both of which offer better connectivity and sound quality. And if you really want to spend as little as possible for both wire-free earphones and a Bluetooth speaker, consider pairing the $30 JLab Go Air earphones with a $40 JBL Go 2 speaker.
iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds With Charging Case and Speaker (IAEBTS410) Specs
|Active Noise Cancellation||No|