TWS true wireless earphones - under $50
FOUR STARS - The QCY HT03 offers surprisingly good ANC active noise cancelling for its 40 dollars-price point, but don't expect the most refined pair of wireless earbuds.
QCY HT03 specs and features:
Bluetooth 5.1 with AAC codec
4,5 - 6 hours playtime (ANC on/off)
Charging case can charge earpieces fully 4 times
Comes with three ear tips and USB-C cable
Below this QCY HT03 review, you will find comparisons of the QCY HT03 vs QCY T13, Realme Buds Air 2 Neo, and Earfun Air Pro 2.
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Design, comfort and battery life
The QCY HT03 must be one of the most generic-looking wireless earbuds released lately. The charging case looks like one of the gazillion 15 dollars crap-earphones with a Lenovo logo slapped on them - which aren't reviewed on Scarbir.com because they're not worth writing about. Still, despite how cheap it looks, even for a $40 earphone, the HT03's form factor isn't bad. The subtly sparkled case is very slim and rounded and easily slides into any pocket.
The earbuds, too, have a familiar design. They consist of a short stem attached to an oval upper part that goes into your ears. This oval part stays in your ears snugly and comfortable for hours, and there's enough room between the upper part and the stem so that the stems don't press against your cheeks. Unfortunately, QCY doesn't provide a waterproof rating for the HT03.
The battery life is slightly above average for ANC earbuds for this entry-level price, reaching up to 4,5 hours with Active Noise Cancelling on, and 6 hours with the function turned off. The case can recharge the earbuds four times fully before needing new power itself - via the USB-C port on the bottom. A single LED light on the front of the case shows if the remaining battery status is above (green light) or below (red light) 50% percent.
Controls and connectivity
Like Apple's AirPods Pro, QCY puts the touch panels of the HT03 in the stem. You activate the controls by pinching the stem. This doesn't require much pressure at all, and this means you can and will accidentally activate functions when you take an earbud out or put it in.
Double-pinch L or R to play/pause music
Pinch R for 1,5 seconds to cycle between ANC, Transparency mode, ANC off
Pinch L for 1,5 seconds to (de)activate low-latency gaming mode
Triple-pinch R to skip to the next track
Triple-pinch L to activate the voice assistant
As the QCY lets you activate all kinds of modes and the voice assistant from your earbuds, basic commands take a hit. It's not possible to return a song or change the volume from the earbuds directly. The beeps that confirm the (de)activation of the gaming mode could have been clearer as well. It takes testing to find out two beeps activates the gaming mode, and three beeps deactivates it.
However: you can change the controls to your liking with the free QCY app. By adding single-pinches, it's possible to add volume controls - and you can also exchange the voice assistant for returning a song, for instance. Delightful.
Overall connectivity is good on the HT03. The earbuds have a strong Bluetooth connection up to about 9-10 meters away from your device, and you can switch between listening to one or two earbuds all the time - convenient if you want to listen to an earbud while charging the other, for example.
Calling and watching movies
The QCY HT03 handles phone calls decently: your voice has plenty of clarity and fullness. Yet, in more crowded areas, things starts to get a little compressed. For example: the QCY cuts off the highs of an accelerating scooter quite well, but makes audible processing sounds to counter it. When these come into play, your voice sounds less clear. Wind noise is a treat to the call clarity as well.
Video calls sound a bit muffled with the QCY HT03. There's audible compression and some crackles on the line, and your voice sounds a little too soft - while background noise comes through easily.
Watching videos is easy with the HT03, with flawless synchronization between audio and video on Android and iPhone. It's great for gaming as well. By holding the left bud, you activate the gaming mode (two beeps). It immediately reduces the delay in sound effects when you're playing games - there's still a minor delay between shooting and hearing a shot in Fortnite - but that's standard even on gaming earbuds.
App support of QCY HT03
Like every other new wireless earphone of QCY, the HT03 is supported by the QCY app you can download for free on Android or iPhone, and doesn't force you to create an account. It comes with several neat options:
Check the battery status of both earbuds
Add and change controls to the earbuds (like changing volume and returning a track)
Switch between ANC, Transparency, and ANC off
Activate the Gaming mode
Switch between different equalizers or create your own EQ
Update the firmware
Reset to default
As mentioned, it's fantastic to be able to add and change controls - but not everything from the app works so well. After several attempts, it's still unclear what the warning ‘OTA upgrades can only be done in monaural mode’ means - but it's this warning that prevents the earbuds from updating the firmware.
QCY's equalizers, once again, leave a lot to be desired. You can only change the sound signature with ANC turned off, but you probably won't, as any equalizer drains the mid and upper-mid tones and makes music sound like you're hearing it from the echo in a cave.
ANC Noise cancelling test of QCY HT03
The Active Noise Cancelling of the QCY HT03 is a pleasant surprise for its sub-50 dollars price point.
ANC mode strength: While the HT03's Active Noise Cancelling doesn't rule out all sudden and louder sounds from closeby, the ANC effect feels natural on these earbuds. Constant sounds, like distant traffic, the humming of a fridge, or background people chatter, are much softer or disappear entirely. Both lighter and darker sounds are removed with the function turned on - even when you're not playing music. In quieter areas, prepare to hear your own breathing. This ANC brings rest to your head during your workday.
Transparency mode strength: The Transparency mode, meant to let you hear traffic and chatter around you in moments you need it, is called PassthroughT by the tacky Chinese voice prompt and goes into overdrive. It emphasizes ALL brighter sounds around you, up to a point you will hear traffic EVERYWHERE and can't distinct and locate cars and other vehicles anymore. Even when you're playing music up to around 50 percent volume, your surroundings will take over so hard, the music fades. It's not very convenient in traffic then, but it is quite handy if you want to listen to a conversation around you while listening to music.
Wind noise reduction: As the ANC mode of the QCT HT03 lets in some wind noise, and the Transparency mode reveals a lot of it; it's convenient to have the option to turn ANC off straight from the earbuds. Wind noise is gone immediately.
Sound quality of QCY HT03: A bit muddy
Unfortunately, sound quality isn't a forte of the QCY HT03 wireless earbuds. It's all a bit muddy.
The QCY HT03 has a very warm sound, as it puts lots of weight in the lower mid-tones. Drums are emphasized, and darker electronic tones in modern dance genres are all around the place. Typical mid-instruments like piano play and guitars are dragged towards these warm lower tones and sound darker than average. Lower male vocals, often occurring in rock, blues, and country music, have a hard time appearing more prominent than the instruments around them. They're recessed - male singers often drown in the wealth of lower tones.
Like the cheaper sibling QCY T13, the HT03 also boosts the bass quite a bit. On the T13, it's a matter of taste whether you like such a rumbling, thick bass, but it at least gives enough room to the other parts of the music. On the HT03... not so much.
When the bass enters the stage, it's boomy and muddy, with little detail and texture in acoustic basslines or electronic bass thumps. Intertwined with the boosted lower mid-tones, the abundance of lows attacks the clarity, even the tonality in songs. Higher-pitched male and female vocals sound off in crowded musical pieces - metallic, thin, out of tune - and the level of detail takes a hit. While the QCY HT03 can position music around you in easy-going, instrumental songs, things become blurry in crowded parts, with little room and separation between instruments and layers.
Turn the noise-canceling off, and the sound becomes a bit clearer, with a slightly slimmer bass and increased openness in the upper-mids - and some other sound options, as this mode allows you to choose another equalizer. These aren't really worth the trouble though.
And yet - all of those problems aren't so big when you listen to music on background to moderate volume only. If you're just looking for a pair of earphones that can play some music while you're using noise cancelling at work, the QCY HT03 may suit you fine. It's just not very refined.
QCY HT03 comparisons
QCY Ht03 vs QCY T13: Which is better?
The cheaper, non-ANC-bearing QCY T13 also has a thick, rumbling bass - one that can strike harder and deeper than the one on the HT03. However, the bass leaves the rest of the music on the HT03 more intact. The T13 has more forward and full-bodied vocals, and more mid-presence, giving guitar and piano play a more natural tonality. The T13 has a bigger soundstage and more details, with better separation between instruments and more precise positioning. It lacks the solid noise cancelling of the HT03, but does boast 7,5 hours of battery life on a single charge and better call quality.
QCY T13 review ($25)
QCY HT03 vs Realme Buds Air 2 Neo
The Buds Air 2 Neo by Realme is another sub-$50 wireless earphone to actually have good Active Noise Cancelling. The performance is comparable on both models: sudden and constant brighter background sounds still come through, but other sounds are much softer or even completely inaudible. The Transparency mode is better on the Realme, making it easier to distinguish and place sounds around you. The QCY, however, fares better in phone and video calls. While the QCT HY03 can also sound more immersive and warm in instrumental songs, the Realme has a more balanced sound, with more forward lower vocals, a colder and more natural tonality.
QCY HT03 vs Earfun Air Pro 2
Raise your budget by $20 - that's still up 50%, mind you - and you get yourself a more versatile, all-round pair of wireless earbuds with ANC. The noise-canceling of the QCY removes a bit more mid-tones from the background than the Earfun, but the Earfun's Transparency mode and clarity in phone calls and video calls are more usable. Music playback also has more clarity, as the Earfun forwards upper-mids and extends highs further. The Air Pro 2 has a hefty bass, but it can strike deeper and is better separated from the rest of the music than the QCY's. Thanks to the boosted lower-mids, the QCY sounds much warmer and thicker - more fun perhaps in instrumental songs, but tonality and balance are better on the Earfun.
Earfun Air Pro 2 review ($60)
The QCY HT03 offers a comfortable fit and capable active noise cancelling, but don't expect the most refined wireless earbuds at its 40 dollars price point.
FOUR stars - Good
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I received the QCY HT03 from the manufacturer to test and review. My reviews are 100% independent and non-commercial. I test and review all audio products equally honest - read about it here.
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