After Apple killed the 3.5 mm headphone jack in 2016, it started aggressively promoting the wireless AirPods. Even though I’m a huge Apple fan, I never liked these hard plastic pods, not even the original wired version.
It has to do with the shape of the buds, and with the rigid material these pods are made of. For some reason, they never stayed put, and I found these buds uncomfortable because they had no soft silicone tips.
Lastly, I was never blown away by the sound. If sound could be described by a color, these AirPods were definitely a boring dark grey I call “Meh.”
What I did like, was the freedom these wireless earbuds gave me. I could walk around without a long wire hanging out of my ears that was plugged into a device. Exercising in my gym became a lot easier since I didn’t have to worry about wires getting stuck in the equipment.
The biggest bonus of going wireless, however, is the intense feeling of being immersed in sound. That happens when you forget you’re wearing earbuds. With headphones, no matter how comfortable they are, you always know there’s something clamped onto your noggin.
Many types of wireless earbuds are pressed into the ear canal, giving you the feeling the sound is in your head. This makes for great recreational listening, but would these tiny buds also be suitable for audio editing? Can the small driver (the component that converts electrical signals into sound) inside the buds give enough depth and detail? I’ll answer that question at the end of this review.
Now, why did I choose the Melomania 1’s by Cambridge Audio*? Melomania, by the way, means “great enthusiasm for music.” My main reason for picking these buds was the alleged sound quality.
Whenever I make a new investment, I always read and watch as many reviews as I can find. Almost every review of the Melomania 1 mentioned that they sound much better than one would expect based on the price (I wanted to spend less than $100).
Many of these earbuds have a hyped bass which might be great in the gym, but I hate it. Not the Melomania. Cambridge Audio calls them “audio monitors” because the idea was to make them quite neutral sounding.
I have tried Apple’s second generation AirPods, TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79 earbuds, and most recently the Jabra 75t elite active earbuds. Compared to the Melomania 1, Apple’s AirPods sound tinny and flat. The SoundLiberty sounds muffled and dull. The Jabra’s were okay but unexciting, especially at their price point. FYI, I had to return two renewed sets of Jabra’s because of persistent crackling sounds and frequent loss of bluetooth connection.
Before I talk about the Melomania earbuds themselves, I have to mention the packaging they came in.
As one of very few manufacturers, Cambridge Audio has done an outstanding job to make the attractive packaging biodegradable. It’s mostly corrugated cardboard. Even the plastic that was used was made out of corn starch which can be 100% recycled. Kudos for caring about the environment, and for making the box easy to open! I wish more companies would do that.
Let’s now talk about the earbuds. Cambridge audio is including eight different tips. Most of them are silicone, but two pairs are made of memory foam (my favorite).
While fit depends on the size and shape of your ear canal, I found it very easy to get a good seal thanks to the unique bullet shape of these buds. This allows you to twist and turn the buds into place, something that’s not possible with more conventional looking earbuds that rest inside the outer ear. A good seal is critical in getting this rich, immersive sound I was talking about earlier.
Please note: Third party ear tips may not allow these buds to charge when put into the charging case. Cambridge Audio sells a Pack of 10 Replacement Memory Foam tips on Amazon.
These earbuds don’t have a HearThrough or Transparency mode which lets you hear ambient sounds as you are wearing the buds. Be careful when you take them out for a run. You may not be able to hear surrounding traffic very well.
Comfort is highly subjective, and to me, these earbuds are so lightweight and unobtrusive that I quickly forgot I was wearing them. At no point did they slip out of my ears, even when I was running up and down the stairs. Because of the bullet shape, they do stick out of your ears a bit (see top photo), but it didn’t bother me.
I never use earbuds for making phone calls, so I’m not going to critique the microphones in these buds. I can reveal that most reviewers aren’t crazy about them.
WHAT ABOUT THE SOUND QUALITY?
As a professional voice over who wears high-quality headphones all day long, and as someone with a background in classical music, I am a very critical listener. I don’t need bass heavy headphones, but I do want a balanced and detailed soundscape.
I always test new equipment using music I am very familiar with. If I start hearing things I didn’t hear before, my interest is peaked. In that respect, the Melomania 1 wireless headphones did not disappoint. Once you have a good seal, the outside world is pretty much closed off, and you enter an acoustic bubble filled with a rich, balanced and almost audiophile sound. No active noise canceling needed.
I first listened to the last movement of Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony (the 3rd), where the composer literally pulls out all the stops. Wearing these earbuds took me inside the concert hall, surrounded by the majestic sound of a pipe organ. It felt as if the music was inside of my head, instead of trapped in headphones.
Moving on to a different piece, I especially enjoyed the punchy brass section in Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony (last movement). In typical Bruckner style, it was a wall of sound. Powerful, but never overpowering to the point of overmodulation. These tiny earbuds really surprised me!
I also wanted to find out how the Melomania’s sounded with a smaller ensemble. Here’s Lea Desandre, one of my favorite mezzos, singing a feisty Handel aria.
I loved the fact that I could distinguish each individual instrument, from the low bassoon to the theorbo (a kind of lute). The recording sounded very transparent and spacial, with the mezzo in the middle of the action. It’s as close as one can get to a live performance!
Speaking about the spoken word, these earbuds are just terrific because they are so neutral. The podcasts and radio programs I listened to, sounded crystal clear. I had a feeling the presenters were speaking to me, personally. This intimate experience continued while I listened to an audio book.
WE HAVE A WINNER
In my subjective experience, the Melomania 1’s blow all the other ear buds I have used out of the water in terms of sound quality, especially at this price point (they’re on sale as I write this review). It’s pretty incredible that these small “bullets” can produce such an amazingly rich sound stage. Again, during the day I wear $350 cans, and I actually prefer listening to these lightweight buds, if only for sheer comfort.
In terms of battery life, my praise goes on. I have used these tiny earbuds for over a week for at least an hour a day (usually more), and there’s still juice in them. By the way, the compact case (one of the smallest in the market) has a very handy battery level indicator.
According to Cambridge Audio, the Melomania 1 can last up to nine hours on one charge, with a further 36 hours within the charging case. This depends on the volume level, of course, but for such small buds this is impressive and convenient.
There are three things I like less. One is the lack of an app, such as the one Jabra is offering. This Jabra app allows the user to refine the sound with presets and an equalizer. Firmware can’t be updated either. Lastly, to charge these buds one needs a micro-USB cable instead of a USB-C cable. That seems a bit outdated.
Other than that, I’ve become a huge fan of these tiny buds. If you’re a lover of acoustic music, audio books, and podcasts, these musical true wireless earbuds offer unparalleled freedom, and tremendous value for money. And no, Cambridge Audio did not pay me to say that.
And finally, here’s the question I promised to answer: would I use these or other wireless earbuds for audio editing purposes? No, I wouldn’t, and the reason why can be summarized in one word: Latency.
Latency is a fancy word for delay. Wireless earbuds connect to any device via bluetooth (a Dutch invention, by the way). In a regular wired connection, the typical audio latency is 5-10 ms. In a wireless connection, Bluetooth latency can go anywhere from 34 ms up to 100-300 ms for true wireless earbuds and headphones. If you’re just listening to music, or to a podcast, you won’t notice it.
If you’ve ever tried to watch a video using wireless headphones, you probably experienced that the sound was slightly out of sync with the picture. As I was attempting to edit a voice over track using my earbuds, the same thing happened.
I noticed a slight discrepancy between the visual sound wave in my DAW, and the actual sound in my ears. The sound was always running a fraction behind. Practically speaking this means that you first see the edit you want to make, let’s say a lip smack, and then you hear it. This may seem no big deal on paper, but in reality this is very annoying.
So, I’m back to doing sonic surgery using my all-revealing (and wired) Austrian Audio Hi-X55 headphones.
Airpods Max case (photo credit: Apple)
In January 2021, Cambridge Audio will be releasing the new Melomania Touch True Wireless Headphones with an advertised FIFTY hours of battery life, an app, and a transparency mode, letting outside sounds in. These buds look more like conventional earbuds that resemble hearing aids, so if you don’t like the fit or look of the Melomania 1’s, these might be the ones for you ($149).
Alternatively, you can buy Apple’s new AirPods Max (to be released in the USA on December 15) for the low price of $549. They’re headphones, not buds, but they are wireless. You’ll love the cool, soft Smart Case! Or not.
HEADPHONES AND HEARING LOSS
One final word of warning: noise-induced hearing loss is real! The World Health Organization estimates that “1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices,” in part from listening to music via headphones or earbuds. Cheap, low-quality earbuds fail when it comes to blocking outside noise, leading listeners to turn up the volume even more.
Get this: The maximum output of many devices can get up to 115 dB, which can cause permanent hearing damage in as little as 8 to 15 minutes!
If you wish to protect your ears you have two options: buy active noise-canceling headphones/earbuds, or noise-isolating earbuds like the Melomania 1’s.
To prevent permanent hearing loss, listen to your music or voice over tracks for no more than 60 minutes at a time at no more than 60 percent of your device’s maximum volume.
Do you hear me?