Review: MuseMini UberBuds Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds
Company: MuseMini/Muddy Compass
Compatible: All Bluetooth-compatible iPads, iPhones + iPods
First, Jaybird released a $170 pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones BlueBuds X. Then, Plantronics debuted BackBeat GO 2 for less than half the price. Now, MuseMini has released UberBuds ($130), a third model that's so incredibly similar in broad strokes that we're virtually certain that this is an OEM design with customizations for different customers. As such, we'll refer you back to the original BlueBuds X review for most of the particulars, and focus mostly on the differences here.
Just like the earlier versions, UberBuds is a pair of water-resistant battery-powered in-ear canalphones connected by a flat cable, interrupted solely by a three-button remote controller. MuseMini currently offers UberBuds in black plastic with black or yellow cabling, and a red-cabled version has been shown in pictures; the cabling is notably around 3” shorter than BackBeat GO 2 and 2” shorter than BlueBuds X. Once again, there’s a lifetime guarantee against sweat, as well as ear stabilizers to keep them from moving around, but UberBuds uses a different charging system called BudClip: this is a custom USB cable that grips the edge of the right earpiece, using two charging pins to refuel UberBuds’ integrated battery. While we’re a little concerned about the wisdom of exposing the charging pins to sweat, and the need for a proprietary charging cable — issues that the earlier models avoid with pop-off micro-USB connector caps — the warranty here at least mitigates the first concern. A simple puck-shaped carrying case and silicone eartips are included in the package to fit different sizes of ears.
One of UberBuds’ changes is the replacement of the Bluetooth 2-based chips in the earlier models with a more recent Bluetooth 4 chip, which promises an eight-hour run time and 30-foot broadcasting range. That’s similar to what BlueBuds X offers, and longer battery life than the $80 BackBeat GO 2 can get on its own, though Plantronics sells the latter in a $100 bundle with a battery-extending case. Bluetooth 4’s key asset for UberBuds is offering nearly immediate pairing and re-pairing with recent iOS devices; an on-screen battery meter can be seen during pairing, but unlike BackBeat GO 2, volume mirroring between the earphones and device isn’t supported.
As a result, you’ll need to separately adjust the iOS device’s volume and UberBuds’ in order to achieve a sonic balance similar to BackBeat GO 2’s. Depending on where you set the volume on each device, you might find the audio reasonably neutral or somewhat bass-slanted with just a little clipping during low notes; one person’s preference might be less than ideal for another person. Regardless of volume, we did notice a light hum in the audio signal during quiet moments — not a huge surprise given that there’s commonly a little something evident in wireless streaming, but not ideal, either.
UberBuds manifested a bit of unexplained weirdness when we were making an iPhone phone call without using the headset. For reasons unknown, UberBuds kept retaking control of the iPhone mid-call. This could have been an iOS bug, but it was surprising nonetheless, as we’ve never had issues like that with another Bluetooth headset. We also noted that the wireless streaming began to break up at roughly 20-foot distances, so this isn’t the best pair of wireless earphones to choose if your iOS device will be a room or more away during listening.
Our key issues with UberBuds were in comfort, remote/microphone performance, and pricing. While MuseMini’s bullet-shaped earpieces aren’t hugely different in size or shape from their earlier rivals, they tended to pop out of our ears unless we added the ear stabilizers. Like BackBeat GO 2, they only came in one size versus the two advertised on MuseMini’s web site, and the three bundled with BlueBuds X. While we found the set we received to be completely fine with the stabilizers installed, ear shapes and sizes vary, so what worked in our ears may not work in yours.
Second, the three button remote unit has been changed substantially from the other models, and not for the better. MuseMini switched from a hard plastic housing to a totally rubberized one with only the slightest visual or touch indications of volume up, play/pause, and volume down controls. Oddly, the company appears to have sealed the microphone inside the rubber: callers told us that we either sounded like we were at the other end of a tunnel or were so soft that we could barely be heard when using the microphone. Thankfully, despite a remapping of the typical button, UberBuds lets you access the Siri voice control feature by pressing the power and volume up buttons together to trigger or stop it. When held down alone, the center button turns UberBuds’ power on and off.
The last issue with UberBuds is the pricing. Depending on the MuseMini page you visit, the company’s either selling them at a $130 MSRP or for $150 with a $20 discount — either way, that’s at least $30 too much considering what you’re getting here. From a functional standpoint, there’s very little reason to prefer UberBuds over the considerably less expensive BackBeat GO 2, and the microphone performance is the worst we’ve seen in any of these models, as well. Our suggestion would be to stick with BackBeat GO 2 or BlueBuds X unless you’re really interested in MuseMini’s color options or adoption of Bluetooth 4; given the price, it’s worthy of a limited recommendation.