The world of “truly wireless” earbuds is very much in flux. What was once an extremely niche product category has, in 2017, seen many manufacturers add their own spin on the form factor. Some offer high-tech AI-driven lifestyle companions, while others go for simplicity with buds that do nothing more than play music. Given the state of battery technology and reliability of wireless connections, we tend to prefer the latter. Optoma’s BE Free8 is a new “truly wireless” earbud that shoots for simplicity, but has some technical quirks that soured our experience.
At first glance, the BE Free8 has a lot of potential. They have a unique look — each bud’s housing is made of gloss black plastic with a tasteful ribbed design to keep things interesting. Each bud is small and light enough to sit comfortably in the outer ear, and the included silicone tips (provided by SpinFit) vary in depth, width, and shape for a customized fit. There are no touch controls, sensors, AI tricks, or companion apps — just a single button on each bud that handles power toggling and, on the left ear bud, play/pause. According to Optoma, the BE Free8 have an IPX5 water resistance rating, support AAC and aptX-LL Bluetooth codecs and, using the included gloss-black (fingerprint magnet) charging case, a battery life of up to 16 hours (4 hours per charge). The integrated microphones worked surprisingly well on phone calls, though we were only able to activate Siri once through the BE Free8 in our testing. Assuming you can get a good seal (never guaranteed with “true wireless” buds), the BE Free8’s 6mm dynamic drivers sound quite good, with just enough bass response for a fun sound. If we could end the review here, we would have been very happy with the BE Free8.
Unfortunately, we ran into some issues with BE Free8. First, we think its volume is way too low. Even in a silent room, we had to set the volume level of the iPhone well over 50% for normal listening volumes; outdoors, you’ll often find yourself at maximum volume. When in quiet surroundings, an audible hiss is present whenever the BE Free8 is “active” (whenever music is playing, and for about 8 seconds after pausing). The BE Free8 uses Bluetooth to connect the left bud to the phone, and Near-Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI) to connect the left bud to the right bud; though the connections were often strong, we occasionally had problems getting the right bud to wake up and sync with the left. It’s fine that the BE Free8 don’t automatically shut off when put in their case, but it’s not fine that even after manually shutting them off, they seem to automatically turn back on and re-connect with the iPhone at random, changing the sound output and draining their battery. Each are minor frustrations on their own, but taken together they wore us down over time.
In many ways, the BE Free8 is a direct competitor for Apple’s AirPods. At almost the same price, the BE Free8 trades touch controls and Siri integration for a more secure fit and better sound. We like the BE Free8’s specs, design, and sound performance, but the oddities we encountered while using the BE Free8 kept us from falling in love.
Company and Price
Model: NuForce BE Free8