Last year when Apple revealed that they believed in a “wireless future,” many audiophiles were upset. Some cried out in anger (on the internet). We admit, we’re still a little uncomfortable with the thought of always needing to charge our headphones. If there is one good thing to come out of this trend towards wireless, however, it’s the proliferation of low-cost Bluetooth headphones available in just about every size and shape imaginable, with feature sets to match any use. This week, we review one of the best-selling Bluetooth IEMs on the market — the Anker SoundBuds Slim. In short, there’s a reason why they’re best-selling: they’re very good.
China-based internet darling Anker earned its fame by selling low-cost, high-quality gadgets mostly through Amazon. They keep costs down by selling direct, rather than re-branding their goods through a brand more established in America as many other Chinese manufacturers have done. Their batteries, adapters, dongles, speakers, and headphones have won by making it easy to accessorize our expensive smartphones and laptops while earning the consumer’s trust with actual quality. It’s a great business model, and it’s been very interesting to see others follow suit.
For such an inexpensive headphone, there’s a lot in the SoundBuds Slim’s box. Five sizes of ear tips are included (most headphones include only three), plus three sets of silicone ‘wings’ that help secure the SoundBuds Slim in the ear. With all this customization gear available, we had no problem achieving a secure and comfortable fit with the SoundBuds Slim — really, no complaints here. In addition to the fit options, Anker has also included a short micro USB charging cable, alligator clip, cable shortening “FitClip”, and a small storage pouch. The driver housings are also magnetic, which makes it easy to reduce the risk of losing the SoundBuds Slim when they’re not being used.
Like nearly every headphone we come across, Anker promises “crisp, clear” sound from the SoundBuds Slim. While we found that to be mostly true, there is a significant bass emphasis with this headphone though not enough to be overpowering. They don’t deliver an audiophile-grade sound, but we doubt anyone is expecting that from a $25 Bluetooth headphone — or, at least, nobody should. There’s no aptX or aptX-HD support in the SoundBuds Slim. Still, we think they sound good for the price.
The SoundBuds Slim is controlled using a familiar three-button control pod that hangs just below the right ear bud. Its buttons are well-spaced and easy to discern, with the familiar control scheme of short-press for volume, long-press for track change. It’s not much bigger than that of the Jaybird Freedom we tested some time ago, but still manages to include a standard micro USB charging port. These controls mostly work as expected, though we occasionally found that the volume controls would lag behind our iPhone — not registering, then suddenly registering three at a time — or track controls would only register when we released a button, instead of the simple long-press that we’re used to. We don’t know whether these issues were the fault of the headphone or just being in a noisy Bluetooth environment, but they were uncommon enough not to spoil the experience.
The SoundBuds Slim is the smallest wireless headphone in Anker’s lineup. It’s positioned as one for an “active lifestyle, with advertised light weight (15 grams) and IPX4 rating (resistant to splashing water).” We put them through weeks of torture tests — our NYC subway commute, daily workouts, and all-day weekend bike rides. On the plus side, we can verify that they can survive sweat and water, and that they do fit securely enough for workouts. Unlike some of the other sport headphones we’ve reviewed recently, we think the cable length is just about perfect. We did find, however, that their shape can let in a lot of wind noise (similar to the JayBird X2 we reviewed last year), and that its battery life wasn’t stellar — we ended up charging it at least every two days just to be safe. We also noticed that the control pod tends to flop back and forth during workouts — our theory is that this is because the SoundBuds Slim uses a round cable, as opposed to a flat cable that might be more resistant to movement.
With almost 2,500 reviews on Amazon at the time of this writing, we’re far from first to the SoundBuds Slim party. We have, however, been on a quest to find the perfect low-cost Bluetooth headphone to recommend. The Anker SoundBuds Slim isn’t quite perfect, but at under $25, we think it is a very easy headphone to recommend.
Company and Price
Model: SoundBuds Slim