Affordable true wireless earphones were quite rare till around a year ago, but we've seen many brands launch such models of late, with key features such as active noise cancellation and app support. While some of the early products in this segment such as the Realme Buds Air 2, were a bit rudimentary when it came to performance and capabilities, recent products from brands such as Oppo and OnePlus have come a long way, setting new benchmarks for what you can expect from a TWS headset under Rs. 5,000.
Not one to be left behind, Realme has now launched its latest true wireless headset, the Buds Air 3. It's very similar to its predecessor, but promises incremental improvements to overcome some of the Buds Air 2's shortcomings. That said, there's now strong competition in this segment, including the Oppo Enco Air 2 Pro and OnePlus Buds Z2. Is this the best true wireless headset you can buy for less than Rs. 5,000? Find out in this review.
The Realme Buds Air 3 works with the Realme Link app on iOS and Android
Compact, efficient design on the Realme Buds Air 3
The Realme Buds Air 3 is priced at Rs. 3,999 in India, and has been available in Starry Blue and Galaxy White since it launched. Realme has also recently added a new Nitro Blue colour with white racing stripes vertically down the case, and this particular option costs Rs. 4,999.
A new product version typically means you're getting some improvements, and the Realme Buds Air 3 does introduce some useful changes when it comes to design. The earpieces and charging case are smaller compared to those of the Realme Buds Air 2, although they look and feel similar. You get a proper in-canal fit with these earphones, which helps with noise isolation for the active noise cancellation.
Just like the Buds Air 2, the Realme Buds Air 3 have stems that are moulded differently from the main chamber of the earpieces, and are a different colour. On my review unit, the stems were silver and the earpieces were white. As was the case with its predecessor, there are no logos on the earpieces, save for the ‘L' and ‘R' markings. The earpieces are IPX5 rated for water resistance and weigh 4.2g each.
I quite like how the Realme Buds Air 3 looks. The compactness and comfortable fit worked very well for me. The sales package includes a short charging cable and a total of three pairs of silicone ear tips of different sizes, for a customisable fit. The outer sides of the stems of the earpieces are touch-sensitive for controls, which are customisable through the Realme Link app (available on Android and iOS).
The performance of the touch controls on the Realme Buds Air 3 was acceptable, although there were a handful of occasions on which a triple-tap gesture was registered as a double-tap, or didn't register at all. The touch-sensitive area on each earpiece is small and unmarked, which is what caused the occasional misinterpretations. It's possible to control playback, cycle between ANC and hear-through modes, invoke the default voice assistant on the paired device, and activate the game mode directly from the earphones using just these touch controls.
The charging case of the Realme Buds Air 3 has a similar colour and finish as the earpieces. There's an indicator light on the front, a USB Type-C port at the bottom, and a Bluetooth pairing button on the right. The top has a Realme logo. The review unit sent to me had my name printed on the back of the case, but Realme has confirmed that this is not an option available to customers in India as of now.
Similar to most of the company's other wireless audio products, the Realme Link app is used to support the functionality of the Realme Buds Air 3. The app lets users cycle through ANC and hear-through modes, activate game mode, and control other features such as dual-device connectivity, in-ear detection, and more. As mentioned earlier, you can also customise the touch controls on the earpieces using the app.
The app lets you choose between three equaliser presets, or you can go through a customised audio tuning process to set the earphones up to your liking. I preferred the ‘balanced' sound preset. However, the custom audio signature might suit some people, since you have to go through a hearing test that sets up the tuning specifically for you.
The charging case of the Realme Buds Air 3 is smaller than that of the Buds Air 2
The Realme Buds Air 3 has 10mm dynamic drivers and uses Bluetooth 5.2 for connectivity, with support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Active noise cancellation is claimed to offer a reduction of up to 42dB of sound, and the low-latency game mode has a claimed latency of 88ms. Multi-point connectivity for connecting to up to two devices simultaneously is supported.
Battery life on the Realme Buds Air 3 is decent for the price, with the earpieces running for around 4 hours and 30 minutes on a single charge. The charging case adds three full additional charges, for a total runtime of around 18 hours per charge cycle. The charging case is smaller than that of the Realme Buds Air 2 and adds fewer additional charges, but the better battery life of the earpieces itself makes up for this.
Improved sound, decent ANC on the Realme Buds Air 3
Although feature-rich, the Realme Buds Air 2 was fairly ordinary when it came to sound quality. Active noise cancellation was just about functional, but far from what I expected from a recent headset at this price. The Realme Buds Air 3 offers a decent step up from its predecessor in terms of performance, offering a bit more in terms of detail and ANC quality, while maintaining the reliable connectivity and ease of use that stood out on the Buds Air 2.
Support for the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs meant that I had the same listening experience on Android and iOS, and I primarily used an iPhone as the source device for this review. Starting with Intoxicated by Martin Solveig, the sound felt a lot more refined and better tuned than on any other true wireless headset from Realme that I've reviewed.
The sonic signature of the Buds Air 3 is expectedly tuned for strong bass, but the lows felt clean and tight, unlike the typically punchy and sometimes overbearing lows that I've experienced on other options in this price range. The highs felt comfortable and clean, although the mid-range was just a bit held back in comparison to the highs and lows, but not by much. This helped bring out the strengths of Intoxicated well, making the track sound engaging and very clean, particularly its strong, fast beat.
Sound quality and ANC performance have improved in small, but meaningful ways with the Realme Buds Air 3
I quite liked the level of detail on offer in Feels Like Summer by Childish Gambino, with this down-tempo, soothing track sounding particularly nice across volume levels. This is where the Realme Buds Air 3 has improved the most over the Buds Air 2, delivering a much more pleasant and comfortable sound that is largely on par with what can be expected at this price today. I enjoyed Donald Glover's vocals just as much as I liked the way the earphones reproduced fainter details in the instruments of this track.
The Realme Buds Air 3's improvements made the sound a lot easier and more comfortable on the ears, and I didn't experience any unpleasant effects or listener fatigue at reasonable volumes. However, I found that this somewhat ‘safe' approach did tend to hold the earphones back a bit when it came to attack and drive in the sound, as compared to the Oppo Enco Air 2 Pro and the OnePlus Buds Z2.
Active noise cancellation on the Realme Buds Air 3 was a hint better than on its predecessor, and worked well indoors. Sounds such as the hum of an AC were pretty much muted, while office chatter and urban outdoor sounds on a busy street were somewhat softer. This made for easier and more focused listening, but spending a bit more on options such as the OnePlus Buds Z2 or Nothing Ear 1 would get you considerably better ANC performance.
Transparency mode sounded a bit unnecessarily amplified, but definitely improved my ability to hear my surroundings. I found it easier to just take one earpiece out and rely on the automatic play and pause functionality when having short conversations. Connectivity on the Realme Buds Air 3 was very good, with the earpieces working reliably at distances of up to 4m. Multi-point connectivity worked seamlessly, and I was able to use the earphones for calls without any issues.
Realme has an impressive track record when it comes to value-for-money products, and the Realme Buds Air 3 keeps the brand relevant in the affordable true wireless headset segment. With improved sound quality and active noise cancellation, a more compact size and shape, and useful features such as multi-point connectivity, the Buds Air 3 is a very good pair of true wireless earphones to consider if you're looking for something under Rs. 5,000.
That said, sound quality and ANC performance on the Realme Buds Air 3 are decent for the price. The quality doesn't quite match up to what you'd get from some other recent launches such as the Oppo Enco Air 2 Pro and the OnePlus Buds Z2, but the overall experience still makes this headset worth thinking about in this price range, and it doesn't disappoint.