Although there are plenty of solid budget-friendly headphones out there, it’s still difficult to make dirt cheap earphones sound good, and even harder to make dirt cheap Bluetooth earphones that are worth using at all. So it was with a healthy amount of skepticism that we approached the $29.99 Altec Lansing Waterproof In-Ear Earbuds. After all, they are the cheapest wireless pair we’ve seen in some time from a big-name manufacturer, and they’re waterproof to boot. Is there any way these drivers can produce an even semi-decent audio experience? Surprisingly, the Waterproof In-Ear Earbuds deliver some deep bass without distorting, in the least expensive wireless configuration we’ve tested. If a low price tag is high on your list of priorities, read on.
The Earbuds are rated IPX7, which means they can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. Merely having a waterproof design is an accomplishment in and of itself in this price range, but the earphones are also resistant to dust and shocks, so you don’t have to worry about throwing them in your bag.
9mm dynamic drivers are situated behind black eartips that include a stabilizing fin that rests against the ear for a more secure fit. There are three pairs of tips included in small, medium, and large sizes. Other than the eartips and charging cable, our Earbuds didn’t ship with any accessories, despite a claim on the Altec Lansing website that there’s a carrying pouch included.
A plastic piece inscribed with the words Sporty Gel rests in the middle of the cable that connect the earpieces. It rests against the back of your neck, and depending on your exercise routine, it’s possible you’ll feel the plastic piece as you move, which can get annoying.
An inline remote is located closest to the right earpiece—the compartment houses the micro USB port for charging (a micro USB cable is included), as well as three buttons. The central multifunction power/pairing button also controls playback, track navigation, and call management, depending on how many times you press it. The plus and minus buttons are dedicated volume controls that work in conjunction with your mobile device’s master volume levels. The compartment also houses a status LED and a pinhole microphone for phone calls.
Altec Lansing estimates battery life to be roughly six hours, but your results will depend largely on your volume levels.
Can $30 wireless, waterproof earphones possibly sound good? Obviously, audiophiles and purists have no reason to be reading this review. At this price point, your expectations should be very low. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Earbuds actually deliver a palpable thump and somehow avoid distortion. The highs seem insanely sculpted—far too bright and crisp at times.
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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with very little deep bass in the mix, gets some added bass depth so that the drums have a heavier-than-necessary thump. Again, it’s the high-mids and highs that sound off—the guitar strums, percussive hits, and especially Callahan’s vocals all receive an extra bright, sibilant, sometimes harsh coating. It’s better than things sounding muddy, because at least you get some clarity and definition, but things are far too sculpted in the highs at times.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence, allowings its attack to remain sharp and slice through the mix. The sub-bass synth hits are delivered with an intense depth—surprising from earphones this affordable. The vocals again sound a bit sibilant, but of the three tracks mentioned here, this one seems best suited to the earphone’s abilities.
It should also be noted that the in-ear fit can vary significantly, and can impact the ear-to-ear fit of the earphones, and thus the balance between ears. Fiddling with the earphones and swapping out eartips to ensure the best fit will also provide you with the best possible audio experience.
The Waterproof In-Ear Earbuds’ $30 price means you shouldn’t expect to be blown away. With that in mind, the audio performance slightly exceeds expectations, in that the bass is fairly powerful and doesn’t distort. The highs can use some work, but when you factor in that these are also wireless and waterproof, their value starts to become apparent. If you’re looking for better-sounding wireless earphones, consider the 808 Audio Ear Canz, the Skullcandy XTfree, or the JBL Reflect Mini BT. And if you don’t need wireless audio, the wired JBL Reflect Mini are a solid budget option. But Altec Lansing’s Earbuds check off boxes that plenty of pairs twice as expensive can’t claim—who cares if they don’t sound amazing?