A Deep Dive Into iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds
Earbuds have become increasingly commonplace over recent years, especially since the release of Apple’s AirPods just over four years ago. Of course, as beautiful and popular as AirPods are, not everyone can afford them. So there’s been a noticeable rise in the number of cheaper alternatives in this wireless earbuds space.
With it, manufacturers have to work to ensure that their products don’t get lost amongst the competition, whether this is by design, sound-quality, or innovation of which they have to work to stand out amongst the big-name competition. The brand iLive is trying the latter route with their Truly Wire-Free Earbuds.
From the name alone, you may ask “what’s so different?” But that simple-sounding name only reveals half of the product’s concept, but we’d say much more than half of its appeal.
Want to know why, and what makes – or indeed if – iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds stand-out from the crowd? We used, tested, and reviewed these buds to deliver our honest verdict. Let’s find out!
Who’s It For?
The concept behind iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds is extremely clever and appealing, and at the same time simple, that you’re left wondering why no manufacturer had thought of it before. They’re totally wireless earbuds, not unlike AirPods and very many others, but when you put them in the charging case, that case turns into a speaker. So, you can use these as either earbuds, or singularly with just one bud, AND as a portable Bluetooth speaker, connecting to phones, tablets, computers, or any other Bluetooth-enabled device.
As reviewers, and music-lovers, we’ve tried and owned many different ‘truly wireless’ earbuds over the past few years but hadn’t yet come across one whose charging case doubled as a speaker. Increasing its appeal is the low price point of around or less than $55. That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than rival offerings from the big brands. Plus, they work without the need for an app or any other software, which keeps things refreshingly simple.
Who’s it for then? Well, obviously the budget-minded consumer who will especially enjoy the benefits of effectively two products in one. But don’t discount also ‘early-adopters’ who like to be, and also say that they were the first to own the latest gadget.
What We Like About iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds
These iLive earbuds feature a 16mm driver and approximately six hours of battery life when listening when used in the ear. Using them as a speaker reduces that to four hours. While those specs are nothing special, it certainly makes iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds a handy and convenient device. Of course, that battery life can be extended by the portable charging case which packs enough juice for nearly two full charges.
The fit was good, and you’re able to wear them for hours without any discomfort. They come with a selection of three different sizes of silicone ear tips which, along with the round knob shape of the earpieces provide a fairly secure fit without the need for ear fins. They do block out an impressive amount of once you get a good seal in your ear canal. Even while running and working out, they resisted a medium amount of sweat with no noticeable effects.
Setting up iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds is easy. Just take out the buds from the case and hold the single buttons on the outside of each one to power them on. Once they are, pairing is automatic and confirmed by an in-ear voice prompt. Now you can connect your device to them via Bluetooth, which was just as easy as any other Bluetooth device. In fact, even easier, when you consider that no software or app is required.
There are circular surface panels on the back panel of each bud that act as a touch-sensitive control. You can play/pause with one tap of either, skip backward with a double tap on the left earpiece, skip forward with a double-tap to the right earpiece, or activate Siri with a triple tap.
The earbuds work well indoors, with no distortion, and you can use either as a standalone, which is great for podcasts, audiobooks, or calls. Talking of which, the call quality was fine. We tested them with several calls in quiet conditions. One caller said that they could hear us clearly and normally, another that we sounded distant or quiet, while the third said that it sounded better than the usual phone quality! The mic also allows voice prompts to Siri or Google Assistant.
While they don’t automatically de-sync upon removal from the ears which might be an inconvenience to some, this is made even simpler by the function of converting them into a speaker when they’re placed in the charging case.
And this is a genuinely new and cool idea, and what really sets iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds apart from others. The case looks like the typical, pill-shaped plastic case with a flip-top lid that you’d expect. It’s even half-covered in black cloth and a half in faux leather that adds a premium feel. The case is fairly compact considering the surprise inside. Certainly, you can still carry it in a pocket.
Opening the case reveals the 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 points and close the top. Your device will remain connected to the iLive Truly Wire-Free earbuds plus charging case with the speaker, using the same connection until you disconnect it in your Bluetooth settings.
You now have a sound that can fill a small room. The speaker was better than we expected for this small form factor. It will fill that small room nicely, and it reminded us of better-than-average laptop speakers. Mind you, as many phones, tablets, and laptops have pretty terrible speakers, this would definitely be an upgrade and you could share audio with multiple people.
In fact, the bass kicks better than you’d expect and, much like earbuds, when sound compares favorably to Google’s Pixel Buds, the speaker makes up for its lack of high-end audio quality with pure loudness. While I used it to listen to music, it was listening to audiobooks and podcasts where it was most useful and performed better.
Simply, opening the case again disables the speaker and sends sound back into the earbuds.
What We Don’t Like About iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds
Design-wise, these are about as plain as you can get, as simple black buds with a single indicator LED and no branding. The entire back panel of each earpiece is touch control, and it’s very easy to play or pause your music accidentally when you touch each one to insert, remove, or adjust them in your ear. And sometimes have to push them hard enough to register that they’re a little painful.
As iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds don’t automatically de-sync or pause when you take them out of your ears, be wary when using them in public, especially in places like school or a library. If you don’t disconnect your Bluetooth device by its settings before, your sound is going to blast out over the speaker as soon as you place them inside. An actual switch or button to change between earbud and speaker would have resolved this potential problem so that you don’t accidentally disturb other people.
Also, if using while exercising, just be aware that while they are advertised as sweatproof, no IP rating is actually listed.
According to iLive, a full charge of the buds can last up to six hours at half volume, and the speaker up to five hours at half volume. The charging case gives about 1 and a half-full supplies to the earpieces before itself needing charging. All of these numbers are fairly short compared to other true wireless headphones we’ve tested; accepting that none of them have a built-in speaker.
Equally unimpressive is the audio performance in both modes, as it’s neither crisp nor powerful. Densely produced songs with lots of instruments playing at once tend to sound flattened out due to a lack of depth. Bass drum in our test comes through with very little low-end presence, offering only a minor thump with no real sense of force, even at maximum volume. Any treble finesse is also lacking.
We found that every aspect in a busy mix gets equal attention; no element shines with any significant low-end or high-end presence. It all just sounds a bit, clustered around the mids to high-mids more than anything else, and so a bit busy and flat. When playing out aloud, as there is only one speaker, you don’t get stereo sound.
But at least you consistently get some sound! As earbuds, the sound output is adequate in the best of circumstances, but those moments can be hard to come by.
Bluetooth interference is common, with significant syncing issues, when you venture outside with them. The two earpieces would lose connection with each other, dropping the audio in one ear and leaving only the other channel. A connection could be restored by holding the earphones close together but would drop again when let go. And it seemed to be regardless of where or how busy it was outside at the time.
Pretty much any moving objects caused interference. Neither did it matter where the phone was in relation to the earbuds. Because earbuds are most useful away from home, that’s not good!
- Great concept!
- Convenient that they convert to a speaker
- Good and comfortable fit
- They’re like two devices for the price of one!
- Inadequate sound
- Kept dropping the Bluetooth connection
- Did not live up to expectations!
A pair of wire-free earbuds, the charging case with a built-in speaker, three sets of ear tips, a USB charging cable, a user guide, and a warranty card.
Overview Of Features
With no messy wires to get in your way, iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds do as they say. Even more! The included recharging (by Micro-USB cable included) case not only protects and charges your earbuds but it is built-in 16mm driver speaker allows you to play your sounds out loud.
The sweatproof earbuds are paired together right out of the box, so all you have to do is connect via Bluetooth to your device. With the push of a button, your voice assistant (Siri or Google Assistant) can play your favorite music and more. Touch control (play, pause, phone, on/off) on the buds themselves, a built-in microphone for calling and voice prompts, charge indicator, and LED power indicator amplify the convenience.
The technical specifications are as follows:
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Nominal impedance: 16ohms
Sensitivity: 98dB +/-3dB
Charge time: 3 hours
Battery life (earbuds): up to 6 hours at 50% volume
Battery life (speaker): up to 4 hours at 50% volume
We wanted to like these earbuds because the convertible form factor is innovative. It is also the main and unfortunately, possibly only, attraction. But the earbuds just did not work in the situations where you’d want and expect them to.
The brand’s hybrid attempt here is admirable, and something that others might look to imitate soon. Indeed, if iLive could sort out the Bluetooth performance, then their Truly Wire-Free Earbuds would probably be worth consideration.
When you want to combine earphones and a speaker in a single package and keep it under $60, you’re going to end up making some compromises. Average sound, you might be able to live within favor of the convenience of having wire-free earbuds that also have a portable speaker option. But obviously, their core function shouldn’t be what is compromised.
That’s the problem with the iLive Truly Wire-Free Earbuds and charging case with its built-in speaker. Even at their low price, their performance doesn’t hold up. Aside from wireless connectivity issues, the earphones have little dynamic range, and the speaker sounds tinny. Unfortunately, iLive tries to do too much and ends up getting too little right. And that’s a shame, as their idea is a great one.