The Best of Budget Sinobuds: A Deeply Personal Purchase Journey and a Day One Review of the Haylou W1 TWS Earbuds
There's this viral video on YouTube of an excited teenage girl receiving a brand new iPhone for Christmas. She squeals in delight when she takes it out of the bag, her eyes radiating a million thank yous.
In her hurry to place her hands on a premium assembly of rare minerals and human ingenuity, she opens the box the wrong way and drops the phone on the ground. Cautioning voices behind the camera instantly turn into gasps of frustration. She picks it up, looks at the screen, and bursts into tears.
You watch this and you think, "God! Why can't people be a little more careful with electronics!? Especially brand new ones!? Why don't they understand the value of money? What's wrong with some people!? I know she's just a kid but come on, as a teenager, she's old enough to know better!"
Today I dropped the charging case of my Haylou W1 TWS Earbuds as I was popping it out of its packaging. Sure, it's no iPhone but it did cost money and it is brand new. Thankfully, it isn't damaged (visibly at least).
Lesson learned. Don't judge people in viral videos.
Hello!? Can You Hear Me!?
I've been meaning to get a good pair of wireless earbuds for work. Like most of you stuck in a pandemic-induced WFH loop, I'm on calls for several hours every single day. It's really frustrating when you're tight on time but you can't hear someone clearly and you need to, again, run through a near-ritualized troubleshooting process:
- Is it my internet?
- Is it their internet?
- Is it my headset?
- Is it their headset?
- Is it my audio configuration?
- Is it their audio configuration?
- Is it Teams/Zoom?
- Do I need to restart my computer?
- Do they need to restart their computer?
- Can't we just get on a regular phone call?
I certainly didn't want to be the source of auditory annoyance for anyone else, much less my clients, so I've been using a trusty wired headset with a microphone extension for the longest time. I got it for cheap (less than 10 dollars or 2000 Sri Lankan rupees) but it's been great, people have been able to hear me well, and I'm very rarely the source of an issue.
Breaking the Dystopian Leash
Here's the thing about a wired headset though. After a year-and-a-half of working from home, it leaves you feeling like you're putting a leash on yourself each time you get on a call. There's only so far you can travel from your laptop before the jack pops out. And I've learned that I think and speak better when I'm on my feet and I'm pacing about. I've tried walking around with my laptop but after a while it feels like you're on a dystopian dog walk --- the robots are walking you!
There are also some calls like webinars or company announcements where you need to only be listening and I've been wishing I could break away from the screen and wiggle my body around a bit so it doesn't gradually freeze into a permanent sedentary state.
With all this in mind I had three primary requirements from a wireless headset:
- It needs to be relatively cheap and available in Sri Lanka. Like any decent Asian, I'm awfully sensitive to high prices, but like any decent techie, I also understand that you need to spend a bit if you want something good and will last long. This dichotomy was made worse by the fact that our import restrictions have reduced the flow of new electronics to a trickle and this trickle is now ridiculously marked up. With few good choices, this was going to be tough.
- It needs to have an acceptable microphone with good noise filtration. I'm not ashamed to admit that I talk for a living but this means my livelihood depends on the clarity of my voice. I tested out an old pair of wireless earbuds that I received as a gift a year ago but my ceiling fan made it sound like I was hanging off a helicopter. Noise reduction was a must!
- It needs to have satisfactory battery life. Last year I purchased a cheap single-ear Bluetooth headset. I wanted to feel like a busy corporate executive (in pyjamas instead of a fancy suit) that's always on the go (in my home instead of a bustling office). Unfortunately, it had a terrible battery life and had a very bad habit of announcing "Battery Low, Please Recharge" over and over again in my ear during the worst possible moments.
You'll notice that high-quality audio isn't in the list above. I love music, but I'm not an audiophile and my current pair of earbuds gets the job done for me. Besides, this is meant for calls and I was ready to sacrifice output for input.
In the end, I didn't have to.
Sri Lanka's good relationship with China has translated into almost every online electronic store carrying a wide range of Chinese goods.
I'm not complaining. Over the years Chinese electronics manufacturers have really upped their game. Their stuff is pure value for money now. I've been using a Redmi Note 9 Pro for the last 10 months and I haven't had a single thing to complain about. Now I'm not a flagship guy, but compared to the mid-range Samsung, Nokia, and HTC phones I've used, the Redmi has been nothing short of fast, snappy, and sleek.
I figured I'd choose among the many Chinese earbuds and when I started my search, one brand, in particular, stood out because they've flooded the market with a variety of models: Haylou. They're quite a new company but they've secured funding from Xiaomi who are the manufacturers of my phone, so that earned them a nice, big, green check-mark of approval in my book.
Despite being relatively new to the market, they're certainly not obscure. They've got quite a decent following of product reviewers and quite a number of customer reviews too. When I couldn't decide between the Haylou GT3 Pro, the Haylou GT5, the Haylou Moripods and the Haylou W1, these guys came through for me. To the ones who've added chapters to their YouTube videos that allowed me to immediately skip ahead to the microphone test: thank you, I hope you are blessed with everything you desire in life.
With all the information I had, I rolled the dice on the Haylou W1 and bought it for roughly 7,800 Sri Lankan rupees (or 40 USD). I really wanted the blue version but every store I checked selling it for a reasonable price had only the white. I'm not disappointed though, the white still looks pretty neat and overall, I think the price is a steal given the microphone's quality.
Impressing with Impressive First Impressions
Full disclaimer: I've been using the Haylou W1 Total Wireless Earbuds for only a day now, but like all narcissistic product reviewers I believe that to be sufficient enough time to share my detailed observations with you. In fact, I've come up with my own framework for reviewing these earbuds. It's called BATMAN or Battery, Audio, Touch, Microphone, Aesthetic, and Noise.
Let's start with the microphone since that's one of the primary reasons I bought this. I've been on calls the entire day and everyone's been able to hear me very clearly. Somebody even said that I sounded better through this microphone than the one on my wired headset. Huge win and that's probably down to the 4 microphones this bad boy has in its stems, 2 in each earbud.
The best part is the noise cancellation. I decided to be a bit of a jerk and generate some noise in the background while speaking to a friend and they weren't able to tell I was being a jerk! This is fantastic! I can now freely dash pots and pans in the middle of frustrating meetings and totally get away with it.
I'm not a monster, I did listen to a bit of music and one podcast with it (audio in other words). Now I can't comment on highs and lows, or bass and treble, or whether some hips are more truthful than others, but what I can tell you is that it's very decent for its price point. Imagine Dragons sounds good, Kanye sounds good, Doja Cat sounds good, and you can hear the tea-toned specks of saliva flying off British lips during the BBC's World Service (that's an exaggeration but they do sound good).
All this while I've been draining its battery but it's doing just fine. Some earbuds tend to stutter and lose connectivity when they're low on charge, but I haven't had that problem yet. The website promises 6 hours on a single charge and 20 hours overall with the case. I can only speak non-stop for 4 hours a day so I think I'm good.
The touch controls are very simple so they're perfect for my simple mind. If you wanted me to summarize them I'd say: touch to stop, touch to start, touch touch to skip, and touch touch touch to call the nice Google lady on your phone. I was afraid it would be too sensitive and switch off every time I brushed my ear but it turns out I don't brush my ear as much as I thought I did.
Finally, the aesthetic. There's definitely a little bit of AirPod Pro copycatting going on but there are hints of their own style as well, especially with the stem. They're light and they fit snugly so you can wear them comfortably for hours while blocking out some noise. I recommend wearing them while meditating so you can hear the therapeutic beats of your heart. I'm not crazy about the build of the charging case. The lid seems a little loose (although that could be from when I dropped it), it's shaped like an egg, and it's smooth and plasticky, but this is probably just me being pedantic.
All in all, I'm impressed. I definitely believe it's worth 40 USD.
Before You Leave, A Message From Our Sponsors
I'm kidding, Haylou didn't sponsor this article.
I was curious about what Haylou meant. I figured it was something about audio in Chinese. Probably something meaningful. Perhaps renewing or augmenting our basic human auditory capabilities.
Turns out, I was both right and wrong. Haylou is just how they pronounce "Hello" over there. But that "Hello" can spark a deep appreciation of the human voice...and for some reason, of the ocean through a conch shell.
I'm not kidding, here's what's on their website:
The brand name is taken from the homonym of the English word "Hello". > We believe that we can resonate with the sea through conch and listen > to the voice of the ocean together, and we can also listen to the > voice of users through Haylou and share the beauty of the voice > together. Haylou is the messenger of sound and the medium through > which we resonate with our users.
Whatever their copywriter was smoking that day, I want some.