Realme Buds Air 3S review: Impressive feature set, bass-heavy sound
Realme already has far too many TWS earphones in the Indian market. They probably have half a dozen options under Rs. 3,000 itself. And I am not even talking about the ones from their sub-brand, Dizo. To be honest, half that number would have been good enough to have a stranglehold on the segment, and the other half just makes up the numbers anyway. Case in point, the Realme Buds Q2 with good sound and an unreal feature-list (that includes ANC) for TWS earphones priced under Rs. 2,000 is good enough to take on most that sell all the way up to Rs. 3,000. The rest with Neo and 'S' suffixes can barely make a case for themselves while the Q2 continues to exist. We now have a new product from the company, which despite the 'S' suffix, boasts of some newer features that even the higher priced Realme TWS buds do not offer. Say hello to the Realme Buds Air 3S.
While this belongs to the Buds Air series, it looks nothing like its predecessors. While the new buds design is quite cool, that of the case is quite boring. The charging cases of the Buds Air series have mostly been quite sleek and pocketable, but the one here is neither. It is bulky, looks plasticky and doesn't feel like a Realme design. Even worse, the transparent lid that's supposed to give it some character gets scratched quite easily. The finish is a lot better on the inside, courtesy of better quality materials. A charge indicator LED is placed inside the case, and a USB-C charging port is located at the back of the case. The case is not too heavy, and neither are the buds. The exact weight hasn't been specified for either. As I touched upon earlier, the buds look stylish in a matte black coat with a hint of gloss at the back of the tiny stems where the touch zones are located. The touch sensitivity is good, and the buds support double tap, triple tap and touch-and-hold gestures. The presence of silicone fins gives the buds a more prominent look. But strangely, they do not assist in securing a more snug fit as they didn't even touch my earlobes. I needed to adjust the buds a couple of times during a jog to keep them in place. The fit may not be snug but the buds feel extremely comfortable in the ear, and cause no fatigue even after using them for a few hours at a stretch. The right sized silicon tips (medium in my case) offer decent passive noise isolation. Two extra pairs are bundled along with a charging cable.
The Realme Buds Air 3S are IPX5 rated splash resistant, and you can wear them to the gym or a jog without worrying about sweat damaging them. Each earbud is fitted with an 11mm dynamic driver and a couple of microphones for calling. You do not get active noise cancellation (ANC) or wear detection sensors, which is fine for this segment, despite the Buds Q2 spoiling us with the former. These earbuds are Bluetooth 5.3 compliant and support SBC and AAC codecs. There's Dolby Atmos support too when paired with compliant devices. This product boasts of a lower than usual 69ms super low latency in Game mode. You need to install the Realme Link app to access all the features of these earbuds. The app lets you alter the sound profile, configure the controls, update the firmware and a few more things. They support dual pairing after you enable the feature from the app. You can assign different functions to double tap, triple tap and touch-and-hold gestures for the left and right earbuds. You can choose from play/pause, previous/next track, voice assistant and volume control. It's good to have the whole playback spectrum at your fingertips. Typically Realme would let you choose between three sound profiles on the majority of their earbuds - Bass Boost, Balanced and Bright, but there's more on offer here. The company has replaced the usual three profiles with four here - Nature Balance, Clear Vocals, Clear Bass and Bass Boost. In addition to that, you also get a six-band equalizer to create your own custom sound profiles. This functionality is always welcome and it's great to have it on budget products too. The first two profiles are the best of the lot, while the other two aren't so great as they add even more bass to the already bass-heavy sound. More on that in a bit.
The wireless range is good with the earbuds retaining a strong connection up to 10 meters with a clear line of sight. There were no latency issues even when Game mode wasn't enabled with no noticeable lag between the video and audio when streaming videos from popular OTT platforms. These buds are loud enough at 70% volume level, and probably need to push it to 80% when outdoors. Alternatively, you can switch on Volume Enhancer from the app which makes the buds equally loud around the 50% mark. The default sound output of the Realme Buds Air 3S is bass heavy, and the Nature Balance preset gives you a semblance of balance, though the sound is largely V-shaped. An average user in this segment will find it quite energetic. However, the extra bass causes significant auditory masking and engulfs a chunk of lower midrange frequencies. The vocals get affected too but just about hold their own, except in bass-heavy tracks. The highs are reproduced quite well without sounding sibilant. The soundstage is fairly narrow though; passable for the segment. If you do not like excess bass and prefer better vocal clarity, you should switch to the Clear Voice profile. The bass isn't weak here but a lot tighter giving the mids their own space to flourish. It is certainly worth a try unless you are a basshead. It is also handy in voice heavy content like podcasts. You get two more profiles dedicated to bassheads, but Bass Boost might be a bit too much for them too. If you are the DIY type, you also get a six-band equalizer to create your own sound profile. In fact, you can create more than one if you wish for different genres of music.
The overall call quality on the Realme Buds Air 3S is average. It is perfectly fine in quieter areas, and you are clearly audible to the person on call, though the voice sounds a bit soft. In noisy areas, despite the extra microphones and the claimed 'AI ENC Call Noise Reduction' algorithm, the mics pick up a lot of background noise which is clearly audible to the person on the line. Probably the extremely short stems on these buds do not help in this case. I had no complaints about the battery life though. The company claims a backup of seven hours for the buds and 30 hours overall with the charging case. Given that there's no ANC here to take additional toll on the battery, the Buds Air 3S gets close to those figures. At 75% loudness without volume enhancer, the earbuds last for close to six hours and 15 minutes, and the case can recharge them thrice over and a bit more. That translates to an overall battery backup of 26 hours for the buds and case combined, which is impressive. These buds also support fast charging, and those numbers are quite impressive too. A 10-minute charge promises close to five hours of playtime, which is excellent for the segment where the majority of the products offer an hour or two of playtime tops in as much charging time. The buds charge fully in about an hour, while the buds and case can go from empty to full in less than two hours. The battery level of the earbud and the case can be seen in the Realme Link app.
The Realme Buds Air 3S can be purchased for Rs. 2,499 with a one year warranty. For that price, you get a pair of cool looking TWS earbuds with energetic sound output, multiple sound profiles along with a provision to create your own profiles. Let's not forget a capable companion app, configurable controls and impressive battery backup. You do not get ANC, which I frankly do not expect in this segment; Buds Q2 is an exception rather than a norm. Speaking of which, the Realme Buds Q2 is an obvious alternative for a good Rs. 500 less. While you get ANC there, you will have to put up with lower battery backup, 3 sound profiles without a custom EQ and lack of volume control on the buds, but the sound quality is a tad better on the Q2. As for more options, there are two that will give the Buds Air 3S a tough fight. I am talking about the OPPO Enco Buds2 and the OnePlus Nord Buds. The OPPO buds offer a more lively sound output and similar battery backup (sans comparable fast charging) for up to Rs. 700 less. They score in the aesthetics department too. You do not get an option to create a custom sound profile but the three presets available there are good enough. The Nord Buds are evenly matched in terms of features, performance and price to the Realme Buds Air 3S, and have a unique design too. Again, it is hard to pick a clear winner in this lot, but there are no losers here for sure.