How do I test and review audio products?
1. Who am I, and why do I do this?
My name is Bart Breij, born in 1985 and living in the Netherlands. In my daytime job, I am an online editor for a regional news organisation. Next to that, I cope with a serious audio product fever. :-)
In 2017, I fell in love with a ridiculously low prices wired earphone from China - the KZ ATE. It had (and still has) a nice smooth bass, warm sound and most importantly: I heard new details in the songs I listened to for years. Even though I already had a sweet speaker setup at home and the much praised 300 dollar Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series II headphone. I was flabbergasted, and knew I wanted to try out much more cheap audio, in search of more pearls like the KZ ATE.
Well… that hobby kind of exploded. Two and a half years and 150+ audio products tested later, I decided to start this site for honest reviews.
2. What do I mean by honest reviews?
The deeper I searched for more great affordable audio, the more I discovered that it's a world of many traps. Products that sound bad, can simply have the same raving user reviews as products that are genuinely good. Bad products sometimes carry up to twenty different names on AliExpress, and another twenty on Amazon. There are many fake user reviews out there, there are bad sponsored earphones and headphones... and then there's some (happily not all!) YouTube reviewers rather making a commercial about a product to make a quick buck, then to properly describe and review a product. So even when looking for reviews, it can be really hard to pick out the true affordable gems.
Finding gems is what drives me. I love a great audio product for an ever greater price. That's why, with over 150 earphones, headphones, Bluetooth sports earphones, earbuds and true wireless earphones tested, I setup this site for elaborate and honest reviews on audio products, starting of with my favourite true wireless earphones category. No commercial fakery here. :-)
I only write reviews after elaborative testing of the products. In the end, I include the pros and definitely also the cons of products in my reviews - because they matter. Then I add a 1-5 star score and take the product into account on all of my further tests.
I may not be the fastest earphone reviewer, because my honesty causes me to buy most of the earphones myself - rather than receiving them from manufacturers. What I lack in speed, I hope to make up for in extensive testing and honesty.
3. What do my review scores stand for?
I've separated my collection into five ratings. Please take note: price-quality is always taken into consideration!
FIVE STARS *****: Excellent. Always one of the best choices you can make, for their price and in general, incredible value for money.
FOUR STARS ****: Very good. I recommended this product for its price and in general.
THREE STARS ***: Worth considering. Decent or good for its price. Please pay special attention to possible cons. The product may be good for you, perfect even, but there are soms cons to take into account.
TWO STARS **: Disappointing. May please some people, but probably not us, looking for great audio quality for great prices.
ONE STAR *: Trash. Avoid and look further. There are so many better choices to make.
4. How do I test products?
True wireless earphones: I listen to the earphones on my iPhone X and Xiaomi Mi A1 with stock Android; test their comfort and listen music on them for hours. I watch videos with them on both phones to check for audio lag, make calls, test out the controls, battery life, charging case and take the items outdoor - on my bicycle and while walking or running. I also try out the different delivered ear tips to get the right seal in my ear - it makes a massive difference in the sound quality. After I get a solid first impression, I take out competitors to compare them directly. I check the sound quality - bass, mids, highs, soundstage, tonality and detail retrieval - on several instances, on a technical level, but also just to see if I like the sound when I just pick up the earphones at random times.
Headphones: I think two things are most important when it comes to headphones: sound quality and comfort. To that end, I put headphones on my head for hours on end, with and without glasses on. If they're Bluetooth and wireless, I also test them on my bike and while walking, and test their call quality and audio video synchronisation quality. Noise cancelling headphones, of course, are mainly tested on their noise cancellation quality - which I then test with and without music playing through the headphone. I also check for the difference between the sound quality with noise cancelling turned on or off. Here too goes: after I get a solid first impression, I take out competitors to compare them directly.
Bluetooth sports earphones (wireless earphones with a chord between the two earpieces): Because I don't really sport intensively myself, I ask a friend of mine to test the Bluetooth sports earphones on their comfort and fit while running for long amounts of time. In addition, I test the sound quality, battery life and button controls myself. Of course I test them directly against competitors.
Wired earphones: Of course, I test wired earphones on sound quality mainly. Secondly but still really important are the fit and the cable quality - do I have to wear them over the ear or cable down? How is the fit and how much noise does the cable make? And last but not least: how do they fare against the competition for the same price, more expensive and cheaper?
5. How do I decide my 1-5 star rating?
I get that some of you would like to see the most objective star review score as possible, but it's so, so hard, if not a mission impossible to be totally objective. The comfort, the fit, the connection between a Bluetooth product and your smartphone, the power of the device you play music from, preferred sound signature: all are really personal. There simply are too many variables.
That's why I don't claim to have an objective scoring. After reading a review, you may feel like 'this reads like a four star review, yet it gets three stars'. Or: 'watching movies and calling gets two stars, still this product gets five stars overall'. It's true.
My overall score is decided directly on how the product fares against competitors, but just as important to me is: will I pick this up as my go-to audio product the next morning? Will I take this to work? Will I pick this one if I want to really enjoy listening to music for the next hour? Can I keep on listening without wanting to listen to another earphone or headphone? The more likely it is I answer yes to those questions, the more likely a five star rating is within range. :-)
By the way: if there is a game changer for a certain price, I'll make sure to update and readjust other scores and reviews when needed.
6. Do I buy all my products myself?
Most all of them. Some of them I buy with a discount, some of them are sent to me for free for reviewing purposes. I test all products equally honest however. If I don't like it, I'll write it.
7. ‘I am a manufacturer of audio products, can I send a review example?’
If you are a manufacturer of earphones, headphones or other audio products and you accept my honesty as described on this page - and would like your product reviewed, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Please take note: I don't do commercial actions, giveaways or sponsored reviews. Honesty is all I care about.
8. ‘Can I do review suggestions?’
I am not sure if I can handle your review request, but sure, you can do review suggestions! Please head over to the contact page. :-)
9. ‘If you have to buy most of the earphones yourself, can I support you?’
I actually got this question a couple of times. So yes, now you can donate via PayPal! It is greatly, greatly appreciated.
Happy hunting for great affordable audio!