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MuseMini UberBuds Bluetooth Earbuds Review

by March 02, 2014
MUSEMINI UberBuds Bluetooth Earbuds

MUSEMINI UberBuds Bluetooth Earbuds

  • Product Name: UberBuds
  • Manufacturer: MuseMini
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: March 02, 2014 08:00
  • MSRP: $ 129.99 ($99 sale price)
  • Buy Now
  • Wireless/Hands-Free
  • APTX/AAC Compatible
  • Compatibility with iPad, Android, and Blackberry
  • Long battery life (8 hours)
  • UberGTM
  • SignalROM
  • Lifetime Warranty

Pros

  • Sound Quality
  • Small for Bluetooth earbuds
  • Light
  • Easy Bluetooth pairing
  • Uber Stays actually work
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Finicky fit
  • Large for earbuds
  • Cable noise
  • Odd button controls
  • Not very loud

 

MuseMini UberBuds Introduction

UberBuds_yellowI love Bluetooth headphones for a lot of reasons but one of the oddest is because of their ability to protect your phone. Did I lose you? Here is how I like to use Bluetooth headphones - put one in, play some music from my phone at low volume, and go on with my life. When the music starts to cut out, it reminds me that I've left my phone somewhere. Do people wonder why I'm walking around with one headphone? Yes. Do I care? No.

But, of course, that isn't the primary use of Bluetooth. Bluetooth is an OS-agnostic wireless streaming solution. It's been around for a long time and they've been constantly improving the connection and they can now brag CD-quality streaming. The real benefit of Bluetooth is that they have their own control scheme that works with all compatible phones. If you're an Android user and have been irritated with in-line controls that only really work with iOS devices, Bluetooth is for you.

We're used to seeing jawbone-style Bluetooth headsets but these were really designed for phone calls and for people that wanted to look like part of the Borg collective. It wasn't until Bluetooth started reliably streaming stereo (for a while it was mono) and increased the fidelity of their codecs that Bluetooth made serious inroads into earphones. Now, we are seeing a lot of Bluetooth headsets come out but the requirements of Bluetooth mean that they are generally pretty large and on/over ear solutions. Other Bluetooth in-ear monitors that I've reviewed have had external control modules with integrated clips. Putting the drivers, amps, and Bluetooth receivers all in a set of in-ear monitors is a big ask.

UberBuds First Impressions

UberBuds_inear1As I unpacked the UberBuds, I noted that their name applies not only to the promised performance but also their size. As in-ear headphones go, the UberBuds are big and they stick quite a ways out of your ear. That's not exactly surprising considering they have to pack in all the Bluetooth and amp technology into the buds. The Phiaton PS 210 Bluetooth headphones I reviewed a while back used a central control unit. This allowed for normal-sized earphones but required you to have the control unit clipped on to you somewhere or hanging around you neck like some sort of hearing assistance device or those headphones they give out at museums to tell you what you're looking at.

There is a short (much shorter than I expected) cable connecting the two earphones. MuseMini has gone with the more popular (because it is less common) flat cable with their UberBuds. There is just enough cable to hook around the back of your neck. There are inline controls with a power button and + and - buttons. They are almost impossible to see and if you aren't capable of reading braille, you won't be able to feel the raised symbols. It really doesn't matter though as MuseMini has slightly bowed the in-line control module so that it is fairly easy to find the center and the plus/minus areas are easy enough to discern after that. It does make the process slightly more cumbersome than it could be and I was always a bit unsure if I had hit the right button or not. In the end, the controls were usable and that's what matters.

UberBuds_controls

I had to do crazy things to the levels of this pic so you could see the controls

The build quality of the UberBuds was very good. They are water resistant (they don't suggest submersion) and have a lifetime warranty against sweat (though one wonders how they know where the water came from that damaged the UberBuds). The UberBuds come in black or yellow (the website shows red as well though there was no way to order those) and the review sample was in the former. Regardless of the color, the earphones themselves are black with white and silver accents and the in-line controls are also black - only the color of the cable changes. The in-ear part of the buds are angled forward for easy insertion. The housing is glossy black plastic and the right tip has two small gold dots on it.

Included with the UberBuds is a small, round carrying case and a USB charging cable. Unlike other charging solutions where you insert a standard micro-USB cable into the headphone somewhere, the UberBud has a very unique solution. There is a clip that fits the right headphone and holds it in place while a crescent-shaped tip makes contact with the two gold points on the right headphone. While this is certainly a cool, and very effective, charging solution, if that spring in the clip ever fails, you will be left with no way to charge the UberBuds.

UberBuds_controls

From top left: Charger, UberBuds, Case, Small and Medium tips with UberStays

The length of the cable was probably one of my favorite things about the UberBud design. While the website makes it look like it is much longer, the short cable was perfect for hanging around your neck even when the earphones weren't in use. The cable was flat and fairly stiff. While it may loosen up with use, during the review period, it stayed stiff. With longer flat cables, this keeps them from getting tangled (like the Om Audio INEARPEACE headphones I recently reviewed). With a shorter cable like the UberBud, it made less sense (as I'll soon explain). A braided fabric cable might make a bit more sense for this type of headphone.

UberBuds Fit and Bluetooth

In-ear headphones are all about fit. It doesn't matter how good they sound, how cool they look, or how wireless they are if you can't get them to stay in your ear. MuseMini has made the decision to include only three sets of tips - small, medium, and large. While other companies like RHA have thrown the kitchen sink of tips at you to ensure you get the ones you need, if one of these three don't work for you, you're going to want to return the UberBuds. To combat the obvious lack of tips, MuseMini has included UberStays with the UberBuds.

UberBuds_tips_stays

From top to bottom: UberStays and Small and Large tips

UberBuds_inear2UberStays are soft, rubber fins that you slide over the main UberBud housing. Your ears will dictate the orientation of that will work best with the UberStays but for me it was at about 10 or 2 o'clock (depending on the ear). I first wore the UberBuds without the UberStays and found that the I ran into the usual problem of one of them falling out easily. The UberStays help reduce the frequency of accidental removal during movement and pretty much eliminated it when I was sitting still (believe me, without the UberStays, gravity is enough to pull most in-ear monitors from my ears). The soft rubber is very supple and you really can't feel it in your ear (especially over the pressure of the in-ear post and tip).

The UberStays aren't the best design I've seen however. The rubber ring that holds the UberStay onto the earphone has nothing to sit in and moves easily on the gloss housing. Probably fifty percent of the time I removed the UberBuds, one of the UberStays would come off (it wouldn't fall off as the bell of the tip would prevent that), and nearly every time I would have to readjust the UberStay before reinserting the earphone. After a while, I got used to positioning the UberStay and could do it quickly but, in future UberBud iterations, something to keep the UberStay in place is recommended.

The UberBuds only weighed 14 grams according to my kitchen scale which is far lighter than I expected. I expected these headphones to have a lot more heft to them considering all the technology that has to go inside. I've reviewed headphones that are just straight in-ear monitors that weighed much more. This was great to combat gravity pulling on the UberBuds but it wasn't the only force to consider.

The flat cable ended up being my second biggest nemesis with the UberBuds.

I wore the UberBuds to a wide variety of places including around the house, outside while I mowed the grass, to my kids soccer and swimming practices, and more. That flat, stiff cable did more to dislodge the UberBuds than anything else. It would grab on to the back of my neck or the front of my shirt (depending on how I wore them) and pull on the headphones. UberStays or no, the cable usually won and I would have to reinsert the headphone. If you add sweat to the mix (as I did when I was mowing the grass), and the problem was compounded one-hundred fold. I've had notorious problems with keeping in-ear monitors in place, however, so your results may be different.

UberBuds_buds1

The flat cable looks cool but was a grabby as a teenager at prom

The last problem I had with the cable was noise. The flat cable transferred every bump, rub, or thump directly to the the earbuds. The cable is just the right length that it constantly rubs something so this is an issue that you'll always have to combat with the UberBuds. The obvious solution is to turn the UberBuds up, but that isn't always what you want to do. Mechanical noise is always an issue with headphones though it seemed particularly problematic with the UberBuds.

Bluetooth

I consider myself someone that constantly learns. I'm not one to sit on my laurels and assume that I've got the world figured out. During the course of this review, I learned something: Google sucks.

Okay, let me back up. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus when it was the latest and greatest. I was promised that, since it was a Google phone, it would receive all the Android updates first, would be kept in the loop for longer than most phones, and Google would always have my back (I may have read a bit into that last one). Well, with the latest announcement of Android, they revealed that the Galaxy Nexus would no longer be supported.

I was chagrined to say the least.

The UberBuds sport the latest and greatest Bluetooth solution - version 4.0. Bluetooth 4.0 is a low-energy solution where Bluetooth requires much less power but maintains much of the same range. Guess who's phone doesn't support version 4.0 even though it technically could with a firmware update?

Yep, me.

So, during the beginning of the review process, I was cursing MuseMini and rubbing my hands together manically thinking of all the fun ways I was going to rip the UberBuds over their abysmal Bluetooth range. Without Bluetooth 4.0 support, the wireless connection would not reach from my pocket to my head. I couldn't step more than five feet away from my phone without dropouts even with direct line of sight. And I can tell you, definitively, that the Bluetooth antenna is in the right earbud as the position of my head would often cause dropouts. Cue jokes about me being thick-headed.

UberBuds_naked1

Gloss black and lint have ever been mortal enemies

I ended up testing the UberBuds with the new iPhone 5s and discovered it was just my phone. Time for an upgrade!

The Bluetooth pairing was a real breeze and the UberBuds resynced after getting out of range (which was about a foot and a half most of the time with my phone) without any problems. Bluetooth has really matured as a wireless solution and MuseMini has done a good job of implementing it. The UberBuds can remember up to eight different devices and be paired with up to two simultaneously (for you multi-taskers).

The volume and power buttons are used to control the UberBuds in some odd ways. Mostly, it is normal - press + for volume up, - for volume down, one click on the center button to answer/hang up, etc. But some are not as natural. To skip forward, you must press the - button twice, skip back is + which seems backwards. There are a couple of button presses that require you to hold two of the buttons at once which is hard to do when you are wearing the headphones. These are all commands you'll eventually have memorizes so it is only problematic at first.

UberBuds Sound Quality and Conclusion

Before we get into how the UberBuds sound, first a bit about the battery. MuseMini went with the Bluetooth 4.0 solution because of the low-power aspect. This makes a lot of sense. The UberBuds have a Li-Ion battery that takes about two hours to charge from empty and lasts for up to eight hours. The UberBuds are supposed to beep to let you know that the battery is dying though I never heard it during my tests (and I did kill the battery a few times). It is possible that I just missed it as I didn't always keep the UberBuds in the whole time.

UberBuds_charge1

Charging points on the headphone labeled in case you have to jump it with a car battery

The eight hour battery life seemed about right to me though I would guess that with heavy (loud) use you'll be closer to six or seven hours. The problem with Bluetooth headphones in general, and earphone solutions like the UberBuds in particular, is loudness. Playing loud uses more battery and with weight and size at a premium, loudness generally suffers. My "comfortable" loud setting (loud enough to block out the kids but not so loud as to cause damage/pain) was about one step below the max volume of the UberBuds. I could see myself maxing out the volume in a loud environment and probably wanting more. If you are one that likes really loud music, these are not the headphones for you. Frankly, you shouldn't be using in-ear monitors anyhow as you'll be compounding the damage you're doing to your hearing.

UberBuds_charge2

UberBuds charger

UberBuds_charge3

Charging

I've long ago decided that Bluetooth has matured to the point where it can stream quality audio. If the sound quality of a set of headphones is bad, blaming it on Bluetooth is no excuse. Even if the manufacturer implemented the Bluetooth poorly (something I doubt happens), that's still the manufacturer's fault and not Bluetooth as a solution.

Fortunately, the UberBuds live up to their name and sound UberGood.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

The trend in headphones these days is bloated bass. This is something I actively oppose as it limits the types of music you can really enjoy. Sure it makes your Dubstep (confession - I had to go to Spotify to find out what Dubstep was) sound great but it ruins music where bass isn't measured by how many car windows you can break. My laptop is also Bluetooth (but not 4.0 of course) so I connected to it where I keep all my lossless audio files. The first thing I did was run a few sweeps and listen to some test tones. The MuseMini doesn't list any frequency response data for their headphones but I found that they played very flat down to around 40Hz. The next test tone, 31.5Hz was quite a bit quieter and much more distorted. The high end was well extended and the entire midrange sounded very clear and distortion free. A low frequency sweep confirmed my test tone listening as the UberBuds started to flutter and drop out as it approached 20Hz.

UberBuds_stay

Insert Jaws music here

UberBuds_caseIn actual listening, if you didn't know there was supposed to be really low bass, you'd never know the UberBuds weren't playing it. Perhaps because of the battery limitation or perhaps by design, the UberBuds present one of the flatter musical presentations I've heard in recent years. The standard bass hump wan non-existent. On the top end, the response was clear, musical, and dropped out around 16kHz according to my tests. This is about standard for headphones.

I took a listen to all my normal test tracks including Crazy by Seal for low bass and male vocals, One by Tina Dickow for female vocals and bass guitar, All in One Day by Lorna Hunt for guitar and more female vocals, and much more. While some consider flatter frequency responses to be unengaging and lifeless, I felt the opposite with the UberBuds. With Bluetooth headsets, you are usually thinking more about the features and using them during calls - musical performance is often secondary. Here, while the UberBuds wouldn't necessarily be considered reference quality - they certainly are reference quality in the realm of Bluetooth headphones. The high end was well extended without being fatiguing, the bass wasn't down in the cellar but it was probably half way down the stairs. The midrange wasn't as crystal clear as I'd like but it did sound full and very rich.

It was very easy to get lost in the music with the UberBuds. The lack of wires was a real treat - especially when sitting at my desk. Not having wires pulling on your ears or tugging when you moved your head was a real joy. Add to that very good audio quality and you've got a pair of headphones you won't mind spending a few hours each day in.

Conclusion

The MuseMini UberBuds had their issues but, in the end, they sounded very good. If you are simply looking to cut the cord and need something that will both give you excellent musical representation and all the features that Bluetooth promise, the UberBuds are a great choice. If you want something to exercise with, these might work for you - they are water resistant and have a lifetime warranty against sweat. The cord is a little noisy, they stick out of your ears pretty far, and they don't get very loud but, in the end, it is how they sound. And they sound Uber good. If you are looking for Bluetooth in-ear monitors, these definitely rate a listen. Now, I'm off to hack my phone so I can get the Bluetooth 4.0 to work.

MuseMini UberBuds

MSRP $129.99

UberBuds_back

www.musemini.com

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStar
Ease of Setup/Programming/IntegrationStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStar
SoundstageStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarhalf-star
ValueStarStarStarhalf-star
About the author:
author portrait

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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