Realme Buds Air 3 review: Good sound and best-in-segment ANC
OnePlus Buds Z seemed like a pair of true wireless (TWS) earphones that would be hard to beat around Rs. 3,000 at launch. But Realme had other ideas soon after. They launched their Buds Air 2, and packed it with features like active noise cancellation (ANC) and a fairly balanced sound output at a similar price point. Add to that multiple sound profiles and customisable controls through the Realme Link app, and the title changed hands quite easily. No product from the competitors or even Realme has managed to knock it off the pedestal over the past year or so. And now, Realme has launched its successor, the Buds Air 3 that promises to do one better than the Buds Air 2 in almost every department for a small premium. Be it sound quality, ANC or battery life, the new TWS buds seem to have every base covered on paper, and then some. Time to figure out if the Realme Buds Air 3 manages to raise the bar in the segment even further.
The Realme Buds Air 3 earbuds look a lot like their predecessors but with shorter stems. We got the Starry Blue variant for review, and the dark blue shade is neat. The stems have a slightly different shade as compared to the bud shells; a design language carried forward from the Buds Air 2. You also get a Galaxy White variant of this product if you prefer that color, and then there's the Nitro Blue variant too for a Rs. 1,000 more. I see no reason to pay that much premium for two white stripes on the case. Speaking of the case, it is noticeably different and feels a lot more compact. It is shorter, slightly wider but equally slim and pocketable as its predecessor's. Despite the smaller footprint, the claimed battery backup has been bumped up by 20%. The matte finish keeps smudges and fingerprints at bay. The case has a power indicator LED, Bluetooth pairing/reset button, and a USB-C charging port. The buds weigh just 4.2g each and the case weighs just a shade over 37g. Absolutely no complaints about the build quality or the strength of magnets that hold the buds in place inside the case. The buds have IPX5 water resistance, thus they can be worn to the gym or for a jog without worrying about sweat damaging them. The ingress protection hasn't been extended to the case though. The top half of the stems are touch enabled, and the touch sensitivity is generally good barring the odd triple tap gesture where the third tap fails to register sometimes. The earbuds are extremely comfortable to wear and the silicone tips provide good passive noise isolation with the right sized pair. Two more pairs of eartips are bundled and the app assists you in choosing the right one. The fit is snug and the buds don't pop out of the ear during workouts.
Each earbud is fitted with a 10mm dynamic driver and a couple of microphones for calling and noise reduction. The buds also have wear detection sensors to pause the audio when you remove a bud from the ear and resume when you put it back in; it works well. You hear a beep for every tap in the touch sensitive zones, which gives you an idea about the number of taps registered (single, double, triple) for the touch gestures. One of the best things about Realme earphones is the Realme Link app as it offers additional control over the product. Among other things, you can tweak the touch controls and assign play/pause, previous/next tracks, ANC toggle, voice assistant or nothing to double-tap, triple-tap or touch and hold gestures. The ANC toggle can only be assigned to touch and hold gesture, and you still cannot assign volume control to any. Touching and holding both buds simultaneously lets you switch to low latency (88ms) Game Mode. These earbuds are Bluetooth 5.2 compliant with support for AAC and SBC codecs. The buds are Dolby Atmos compliant too if the source device supports the feature. You get three ANC modes to switch between - ANC on, Normal and Transparency mode that lets ambient noise in when you need to be aware of your surroundings or talk to someone without taking the buds off. These buds can cancel up to 42db of ambient noise thanks to the new Realme R3 chip. 42db is unheard of in this segment as most of the competitors offer 25db noise reduction. The ANC here is easily the best I have come across in wireless earphones under Rs. 5,000, surpassing that of the more expensive OnePlus Buds Z2 too. It significantly cuts down on several low frequency sounds like the hum of an AC or a fan or the traffic buzz, and greatly reduces human chatter too.
The Transparency mode here is pretty effective too. It amplifies the ambient sounds, and while voices do not sound perfectly natural, it serves the purpose. No complaints about the wireless range either with the connection staying strong for over 10 meters with a clear line of sight. The Realme Buds Air 3 are fairly loud and perfectly audible around 50-60% volume level in most cases. The sound signature of these buds is a little different from the Buds Air 2. While its predecessor had a fairly balanced sound, the Buds Air 3 favors the lows a bit more. In simpler terms, the bass is a bit more pronounced here. Despite that, the mids have a good presence and there is ample clarity in the vocals. The instrument separation is average though. The highs are quite sharp with ample sparkle, and as long as you do not push the loudness beyond 80%, they do not sound harsh. As compared to the Buds Air 2, the overall sound feels more detailed and slightly more punchy, which the majority of its target audience will enjoy. The soundstage is not very broad though and the sound feels too centered at times. This is one department where the OnePlus Buds Z2 does a better job, and as a result, sounds better overall. There was no lag between the video and audio when streaming videos even without switching to Game Mode. The Realme Link app offers you three sound profiles - Balanced, Bass Boost+ and Bright, of which Balanced profile is the best of the three. The company has pushed the envelope a little further by providing a customized sound profile, wherein it enhances certain frequencies based on your hearing capabilities. This feature is not unique but is generally available in earbuds that cost twice as much. It didn't exactly make the output better for me, but might work for some.
The Realme Buds Air 3 can handle calls reasonably well but the call quality feels slightly inferior as compared to the Buds Air 2, probably because of the shorter stems that take the microphone further away from your mouth. The person on the line was perfectly audible and I was heard by the caller with reasonable clarity too, barring the odd complaint, irrespective of whether I was indoor or outdoor. The wind noise suppression works well, but at times you need to adjust the direction of the stems for better results. Traffic noises and other background chatter were kept in check pretty well. These earbuds come with multipoint support, meaning you can pair them with two devices simultaneously. The feature works well, but for some reason it is disabled by default and you need to enable it from the app. The overall battery backup of the Realme Buds Air 3 is pretty good with the company promising close to 30 hours of playback with the buds and case combined. With ANC turned on at all times, the buds lasted close to 4.5 hours at 60% loudness. And with ANC on half the time, they went on for an hour longer. The case can recharge the buds at least thrice more, thus taking the overall battery backup in the range of 18 to 24 hours depending on your use of ANC. Not what the company advertises, but not bad either. The Realme Buds Air 3 supports quick charging too. A 10-minute charge gives you close to an hour and a half of playtime in normal mode. The buds take about an hour to charge fully from zero, while the case takes another 45 minutes for a full tank. The battery level of each earbud as well as that of the charging case is visible in the Realme Link app which is available on Android and iOS both.
The Realme Buds Air 3 is priced at Rs. 3,999 with a one year warranty. That makes it Rs. 700 more expensive than the Buds Air 2. But you get more refined sound quality, sleeker design, better battery backup and much better ANC, which not just justifies the premium but makes it one of the best options under Rs. 5,000 in India currently. There are a handful of options in this price bracket that can surpass it in terms of sound quality, but none with better ANC. Its biggest competitor, though Rs. 1,000 pricier, would be the OnePlus Buds Z2. Though a notch lower in terms of ANC, the sound quality is certainly a notch higher and so is the battery backup. If ANC doesn't matter and you are looking for pure sound quality and solid battery backup in this budget, do consider the Soundcore Liberty 2 and Lypertek Levi. They lack features like ANC and touch controls, but the audio quality is even better than the OnePlus. As always, choose one depending on your needs and priorities.