A wild summer thunderstorm gushed down on the city just as the virtuoso pianist sat down to play. The musician’s fingers began to dance out a solemn Mixolydian melody; outside the windows behind him, the tempest besieged the streets of Midtown Manhattan. In spite of the mighty sheets of rain and flashes of lightning, the only sounds to be heard in the hotel lounge were those of the haunting piano performance.
This was the scene at the launch event for Ausounds—a start-up headphone company that is positioning its products for discerning musicians—and it couldn’t have been scripted any better. The performance by five-time Grammy Award-winning producer Brian Kennedy in the soundproofed room in the 1 Hotel Central Park poetically captured the goal of the company’s debut product, the AU Stream ANC (active noise-cancelling) wireless earbuds: great sound in pure isolation.
Like Apple’s AirPods, the AU-Stream ANC features a stalk-like earbud design and flip-top charging case, but adds higher-quality components and both passive and active noise-cancelling elements to replicate the feeling of Kennedy’s stirring performance in all manner of environments.
Featuring 13mm titanium drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, a total of 20 hours of battery life (15 from the charging case), and IPX5 water resistance, the AU Stream ANC is a very solid offering at its $150 price point, which is $50 less than the latest AirPods.
As a musician and a bit of an audio snob, I tend to look upon all earbuds with derision (drivers small enough to fit in your ear can never produce as rich a soundstage as over-ear headphones). However, I have been intrigued by the sheer practicality of AirPods, especially as a New Yorker who has to carry things with him on the go. So, after nearly a week of reviewing the AU Stream ANC, I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised by their level of performance, both in terms of sound quality and usability.
The earbuds, which feature a matte black finish and a premium feel, turn on and connect automatically to your phone when you pull them out of their case. With rubber tips in three sizes, the earpieces fit snugly in my ears, providing some degree of passive noise cancelling. A long press on the touch-sensitive outer button activates the active noise cancelling technology, which the company claims provides a -25db reduction in ambient sound.
The ANC technology works wonders for droning sounds—like idling car engines and running air conditioners—but other kinds of noises, like the jingle of my dog’s collar, still creep through. For loud environments like the subway, the AU Stream ANC does a great job of cutting down a great deal of the background noise, enabling listening at a comfortable volume level.
In terms of sound quality, the AU Stream ANC really delivers on the company’s mission of providing musician-pleasing performance. Its large-diameter drivers churn out rich bass that doesn’t overpower the midranges and high frequencies, which are both nicely defined. There’s a little lack of overall detail, but you’d be hard pressed to find better sound quality in such a compact and convenient package.
Microphones are positioned on the ends of both of the headphone stalks for use in making phone calls and communicating with AI voice assistants, the latter of which I’ve found to work quite reliably. As for the former, my experience so far has been limited; however, I could both hear and be heard on the far end without issue (I made a call while walking outside in Manhattan, and my wife reported that she could hear me as if I were talking normally into my phone).
Though I didn’t precisely track my usage, the battery life seems to live up to the spec of 5 hours of listening time. Recharging is as easy as popping the earbuds back in the case and plugging it in with USB-C, or setting the case onto a Qi wireless charging pad.
Overall, Ausounds’ inaugural offering is a thoroughly impressive product. Though they won’t replace my go-to over-ear headphones, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get almost the same amount of usage, as I can take them anywhere I go. And as I venture out into the manic metropolis, my music will be the only thing I hear.