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OnePlus Bullets Wireless review: exceeding expectations

Great for sports and easy on the wallet

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I think I’ve figured out OnePlus’ top-secret, never-before-publicized strategy for success: designing really good things and selling them at really reasonable prices. Every year, the flagship OnePlus phone is a champion in its price class, competing with devices hundreds of dollars more expensive. When OnePlus released the $20 Bullets v2 earphones in 2016, I called them criminally underpriced, and when the company released a $69 Travel Backpack in 2017, I called it a triumph.

In 2018, OnePlus is adding a pair of wireless earphones to its portfolio and, sure enough, the $69 Bullets Wireless keep up with the OnePlus pedigree. These are not only the best neckbuds at their price point, but they’re also a respectable candidate for grabbing the title of best earphones of their type, no further qualifications necessary. They’re that good.

The most immediate comparison people will make to the OnePlus Bullets Wireless is Apple’s $150 BeatsX pair of neckbuds, so let’s get that out of the way first. The BeatsX have a fatiguing sound, an unnecessarily long wire that gets in the way, and a price that’s more than double the cost of the Bullets Wireless. It’s a knockout win for OnePlus within the first few minutes of wearing and listening to its new earphones.

Your first impression of the Bullets Wireless might not be quite as glowing as my description, because their unboxing experience leaves something to be desired. They’re packed tightly inside a cardboard box and taped into place for extra security. That’s good for shipping securely but bad for getting an eager buyer up and running as quickly as possible. OnePlus also bundles only a silicone case, whereas some of its pricier competitors will provide you with a hard-shell case for added peace of mind.

The reason I’m not fixated on those trivialities is that the earphones themselves are an exhibition of two hugely impressive engineering feats: excellent fit and excellent sound.

The default fitting of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless includes silicone winglets alongside medium-sized silicone ear tips. Never in all of my time of reviewing earphones have I found those finicky winglets useful. They usually just occupy space without serving their intended purpose of stabilizing the earphones. Nonetheless, I dutifully gave them a try with the Bullets Wireless, and, what do you know, they’re actually amazing. Without them, the Bullets Wireless are comfortable, but they require the occasional readjustment to keep them in the right position. With the ear tips, I insert these earphones once and then never have to touch them again. Not everyone will have the same size concha, of course, but OnePlus also bundles large and small tips and winglets. I struggle to imagine anyone having trouble finding a comfortable fit with these earphones.

I exercised for the sake of this review, and the Bullets Wireless didn’t let me down

Readers often ask me what I think are the best earphones for sports and exercise. My response is usually that they don’t really exist, and people should just enjoy some active time away from technology for a bit. The Bullets Wireless change that. With the help of those magical silicone winglets, these earbuds stay in place no matter how vigorous the exercise or activity. I’ve done exaggerated jumping jacks to try and dislodge them, gone sprinting, done push-ups, lifted weights with sudden movements... nothing fazes them. The worst I could do was make the wire that usually rests on the neck bounce around. OnePlus advertises the Bullets Wireless as sweat- and splash-resistant, saying “take them for a run, but not for a swim!”

All this consideration for sporty types is well-appreciated, and I would indeed recommend the Bullets Wireless as my top pick for sports earphones right now. But what about those of us who just want a discreet pair of earbuds? That’s where OnePlus falters. The two chunky modules for the battery and Bluetooth 4.1 sit either side of my neck and push the wire forward, making it rest in a curve that’s reminiscent of old-school hoop earrings. The remote control adds to the visual clutter, and the earphones themselves protrude from the ear with a red-accented, sharply cut exterior edge. It’s a shouty and prominent look for such a small piece of technology.

OnePlus claims up to eight hours of battery life with the Bullets Wireless, however, my experience disagrees. I was never able to reach anything beyond six hours on a single charge, which tends to be sufficient for most usage scenarios, but it isn’t as flexible as truly wireless alternatives like the Apple AirPods or Jabra Elite 65t that offer extra charges in the carrying case. Moreover, given the chunky attachments on either side of the Bullets’ wire, I’d have hoped to see better battery performance. The Koss Porta Pros, for example, have a similar setup but last for up to 12 hours.

The battery is not a strength for the Bullets Wireless, but its charging is

OnePlus’ advantage over the vast majority of wireless headphones is that the Bullets Wireless use USB-C to charge (and are compatible with OnePlus’ extra-fast Dash Charge). Taking the AirPods or Elite 65t with me on a trip forces me to bring an extra wire, whereas the Bullets can just be topped up with my Android phone’s charger.

Aside from being a bit of an eyesore dangling near your jawline, the Bullets Wireless remote control is easy to operate and gives enough tactile information to let you detect what you’re doing just by touch. On macOS, it controls the system sound output; on Android, it controls the earphones’ own volume independently from the source device. OnePlus is also quite proud of the automatic pause function it has: you just need to pull out the buds and magnetically attach their backs to one another for the music to stop. It’s a neat and logical little feature. OnePlus has a single status LED on the module on the same side as the remote control. That light indicates when the earphones are charging, charged, or connecting, and it blinks rarely and discreetly when the earphones are active.

With all of the practical concerns out of the way, I can return to the sound, which happens to be the highlight of these earphones for me (as it should be with any headphones). I didn’t love it on my first listen in the quiet environs of my home office, but once I stepped out into the intended usage environment of a busy street, I was delighted. The parts of the sound that can feel a touch too forward and shrill at home are dulled by the din outside, which ultimately results in a sound that remains alive and kicking under the duress of the outside world trying to spoil my fun.

To get into the proper mood for exercise, I’ve been listening to a lot of System of a Down with the Bullets Wireless, and they give a thrilling presentation. The driving, distorted guitars, Serj Tankian’s alternations between screaming, growling, and howling, the whole uneasy-listening mix is right there. These are just really good screaming-at-the-world earphones, and you can blast them at really high volumes without leaking almost any of the sound to anyone around you.

But the sound of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless isn’t just a one-genre pony. Listening to Tadashi Tajima’s 1991 album Shingetsu, which is a series of solo performances on the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute, I get all the emotive power of the bamboo instrument and its tender notes. No, it’s not a holographic soundscape like you would get from pricier audiophile headphones, but the Bullets do provide a surprisingly wide soundstage that lets the music surround you rather than clustering it claustrophobically in the center of your head.

The OnePlus Bullets Wireless are one of my happiest surprises of the year. OnePlus didn’t just tack a Bluetooth wire onto its existing earphones and hike the price. The company designed a whole new earphone, exceeded and raised my expectations for long-lasting fit and comfort, and more than satisfied my demands for a sound that is engaging and exciting. At $69, all of my complaints are mere quibbles. These are the new neckbuds to beat.

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