(June 29: See updates at the end.)
UK audio company Cambridge Audio recently released their first truly wireless Bluetooth earbuds, the Melomania 1, so I gave them a try. With an MSRP of $130, they are about the same as the Apple AirPods, and almost half the price of the new Apple Powerbeats Pro.
- Good passive noise isolation (with foam ear tips)
- Small size (earbuds and case)
- Good audio quality
- Good microphone pickup in quiet locations
- Reliable pairing (so far)
- Bluetooth reception not particularly strong
- Microphone pickup not good in noisy locations
- Controls leave something to be desired
I was excited to get these and ordered as soon as I saw them become available. I have spent a week or so with the Powerbeats Pro and have been impressed with their ability to hold a connection. For comparison, I’ve only spent a little while with the Melomania. For reference, I am comparing these to BeatsX and Powerbeats Pro and using with an iPhone XS and MacBook Pro.
These earbuds are a lot smaller than the Powerbeats Pro. Consequently, the charging case is also a lot smaller. I would say that it is about the same size as the AirPods case. This makes it much more convenient to keep in the pocket with other things. By contrast, the Powerbeats’ charging case it bulky and uncomfortable for pocket carry.
External noise isolation
I use all earbuds exclusively with foam tips (Comply and whoever manufactures them for Cambridge). Isolation with the supplied foam tips is better for the Melomania than for the Powerbeats Pro. The real test will come on a plane trip where I found that I had to turn up the volume quite high with the Powerbeats Pro.
So far so good both for music, podcasts, and calls. I’ve also tried using a single earbud while driving for a call — more on that later. The external noise isolation helps the sound quality quite a bit, in my opinion.
It isn’t obvious to me where the microphone is located. There are two small holes diametrically apart on the earbuds, and these are located furthest from the ear. Since the whole thing is symmetrical, I don’t know how I’m supposed to wear them. I opted to do so with the L/R lettering to at the top of my ear. I tried recording my voice and talking to people from various locations.
- Backyard: quality was fine.
- In my car: quality was fine.
- Parking lot: fair amount of ambient noise, but voice was quite clear.
- Coffee shop: voice was mostly unintelligible over the ambient noise.
My conclusion is that these earbuds not suitable for noisy locations. To be fair, I’ve not tried the Powerbeats Pro in the same situation.
I paired the left earbud, and the right one was automatically paired (on my phone). On the Mac, once I paired the left earbud, I was prompted to accept a pairing request from the right earbud. Confusingly, only the “Melomania/L Cambridge” device shows up in the Bluetooth menu, and while battery life is reported on my phone, it is not on my Mac.
I usually have my phone in my right pants pocket. With the phone in my hand, there are no audio issues, and there have been no sync issues between the left and right earbud. With the phone in my pocket, the connection deteriorated and on one occasion dropped. I tried to pair the right earbud instead. In very brief testing, it seems to have alleviated the issue, but I need to test some more. I had tried the RHA TrueConnect and returned them immediately partly because they were unusable with the phone in my pocket. Pulling the earbud out of the charging case causes it to instantly connect to my phone just like the Powerbeats Pro.
Controls are always going to be a challenge for this type of device. There’s simply no room for many of them. Each earbud has a push button, so it needs to perform different duties. Volume control is a long press with the left earbud decreasing the volume, and the right earbud increasing it. If plan to use one earbud (while on a call say), this could be problematic because using the physical button, you will only be able to control the volume in one direction! A workaround could be to use integration with a voice assistant or simply use the physical buttons on the phone.
The charging case has LEDs to show charge level but to see them light up, you need to flip open the case. This isn’t really an issue, but it is worth noting that there’s no “charge level” button to press. Both the case and the earbuds themselves are fingerprint magnets — at least this is true for the black finish.
Hopefully this gives you enough information to make an informed decision.
- I’ve noticed that if you just want to use on earbud (say for a phone call), you have to use the one that was used to pair with the phone, i.e. pulling the other one of the case does nothing. This is not the case with Powerbeats Pro.
- The Powerbeats do a much better job of noise reduction on the microphone. I tried this in a coffee shop with moderate ambient noise — my voice through the Melomanias was barely intelligible but through the Powerbeats it was quite clear. Similarly, outside walking down the street, the Melomanias are OK if there’s little to no wind but moderate noise seems to overwhelm them.
- Battery life is fantastic and the little charging case last a long time. I’m going to go on a 9 hour plane ride soon and will see how they last without recharging the case.
- I have noticed some sync issues between the two buds. This is generally fixed by holding the button on them to disconnect Bluetooth and then reconnecting.
- They’re comfortable and I’ve worn them for 2.5 hours (LA to Seattle) without pain. The Powerbeats Pro would press on my ears a little making that area sore after a while. The passive noise canceling also seems to work better as The Melomanias go deeper in the ear canal.