What does the Apple H1 chip mean for audio? Do Android users have an alternative?

New AirPods 2 on comic book.

The market for true wireless earbuds is gradually picking up steam and figuring out which one to buy is becoming a bigger challenge. Apple’s AirPods stand out from the crowd, not always for the best reasons, but the company excels at branding, as we know. So much so that fans will happily talk about Apple processor capabilities, including the little chips tucked into its headphones, such as the Apple W1 and newer H1 model.

The Apple H1 chip is found inside the second generation Apple AirPods, touting a range of improvements in the ever-growing true wireless headphone market. While you might not want to buy into the Apple ecosystem and question their bang for buck, the convenience of Apple’s pairing system is hard to ignore.

Are Beats headphones worth it?

What does the Apple H1 do?

Let’s back up a second and consider what exactly the Apple H1 chip does. It’s not a processor in the smartphone or PC sense, it’s not running a complex operating system or powering a display. No, the H1 is a streamlined chip designed for just a few tasks. Apple keeps the innards of its chip a secret, but we do know that it includes a modem for handling Bluetooth connectivity, a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) for decoding the compressed audio stream, and a co-processor (possibly a second DSP) for handling sensor information.

A highly optimized processor can make significant battery savings over a more generic design. As a result, the Apple H1 boasts some battery life improvements over the W1. Talk time reaches up to 3 hours rather than just 2, and up to 5 hours of audio playback. There’s new support for voice-activated Siri commands (in addition to a double-tap), and Bluetooth 5.0 support, up from 4.2. Bluetooth 5.0 support isn’t meaningful for headphones quality, as audio codec profiles still utilize lower transfer rates. Although Bluetooth 5.0 does allow for audio streaming to multiple devices at once. Bluetooth 5 is primarily aimed at lower power consumption, and could be more important should the chip end up in other wireless devices.

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On the plus side, latency is 30 percent lower between the H1 and W1. This is good news for mobile gamers. Apple also promises that connection times when switching devices is now twice as fast. So you can hop between your Apple Watch or iPad faster than ever before. The chip’s sensor support also means that it can detect which AirPod is in your ear, so it only uses the microphone you’re actually wearing when making calls.

That’s all very smart, but the Apple H1 doesn’t support everything that serious audio users may desire. AAC is the only audio codec on board. There’s no third-party proprietary aptX or LDAC, which offer superior quality on Android handsets. So that’s a big “no” to higher resolution audio and minimal compression. There’s also no active noise cancellation (ANC) support that we know of, meaning poor isolation from outside noises. If you’re after these features, you’ll want to look at other chips and headsets.

Some of the H1’s best features, such as a strong connection and fast pairing, aren’t available to Android users.

new AirPods (2019) and Samsung Galaxy Buds adjacent to one another on a table.

Alternative chips and products

If you’re keen to steer clear of the Apple ecosystem or fancy some different headphones, there are plenty of decent AirPods 2019 alternatives out there. Many also feature chips that offer similar or even superior levels of technology. The Apple H1 is certainly not the only game in town.

Broadcom BCM43014

Broadcom is a big name in the wireless communications business and has its own range of true wireless audio chips. The BCM43014 powers the Samsung Galaxy Buds, which were announced alongside the Samsung Galaxy S10 series this year.

The BCM43014 is also a Bluetooth 5 chip, for what that’s worth, complete with an audio DSP and sensor hub technology for touch, IR, and proximity sensors. The chip supports fast scan and connection options to improve pairing speed. There’s no ANC with the Galaxy Buds, but the BCM43014 mentions the integration of advanced acoustic algorithms that reduce background noise, which could be available to other units.

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The Galaxy Buds support SBC, AAC, and Samsung’s in-house Scalable Audio & Speech Codec. The programmable nature of the microcontroller CPU suggests that other codecs could be implemented on this hardware, but it’s not clear if there are other requirements here and implementation would be product-dependent.

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds certainly fit the bill as an AirPod 2019 competitor. There are many design and feature similarities between the two, although Samsung is lacking the always-on voice commands. The BCM43014 is a little more general purpose than Apple’s H1, but it’s comparable with what Apple is doing in terms of quality and features.

Qualcomm QCC and CSR series

Qualcomm is the big name in Android smartphone chips and has its own range of wireless audio SoCs too. In this observer’s option, this is where to look for some of the industry’s most cutting-edge audio features. The list includes high-quality codec support in the form of aptX and optional LDAC, feedforward and feedback Hybrid ANC, and ultra-low power consumption.

Much of Qualcomm’s audio efforts are spun out of its acquisition of aptX from CSR back in 2010, before buying the entire company in 2015. Qualcomm sells a wide range of audio chips under the CSR naming scheme, which you’ll find inside Bluetooth headphones, speakers, and dongles. Features include AAC, aptX, and LDAC codec support, noise cancellation, and voice detection.

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The latest audio chip models in the lineup fall under the QCC branding. The QCC5100 is the flagship tier, offering aptX, HD, and low latency Adaptive codec support, along with Hybrid ANC, True Wireless Stereo Plus capabilities, and voice-activated Assistant controls. The dual-core DSP can be used for audio and sensor applications. This range is also incorporated into the Qualcomm eXtension program, which helps developers implement optional third-party audio technologies, from custom tuning algorithms to Sony’s LDAC codec. In terms of audio quality, low latency potential, and features, the QCC5100 goes well beyond the Apple H1.

The QCC300X series is the more affordable option. This series does away with noise canceling, only works with aptX classic, and isn’t in the eXtension program. Likewise, voice controls are out, and there’s just a single-core DSP unit which limits the processing available for sensors.

Unfortunately, Qualcomm’s QCC range of products has not appeared in many true wireless headphones to date. According to sources who have spoken with us, Qualcomm’s technology is more expensive than its rivals and some potential partners aren’t aware of its true wireless product portfolio. Bad news for those hoping that Qualcomm could haul the Android Bluetooth ecosystem out of its messy position.

Android’s Bluetooth latency needs a major overhaul for real-time content

Other mentions

For earbud manufacturers, there is a range of other options on the market too. Microchip, Nordic Semiconductor, RealTek, MediaTek, and others offer SoCs for wireless audio products. However, many are not as optimized for earbuds like the H1.

Most of these products, including the MediaTek MT2533 and Microchip IS2064, support SBC and AAC by default, but not more advanced codecs. LDAC is an option in some specific products, such as the IS2064GM-0L3. A few SoCs also include echo and noise suppression technologies, Bluetooth 5 for lower power consumption, and support for true wireless earbuds as well. However, this varies a lot between SoCs and few are offering quite the comprehensive level of features as Apple and Qualcomm.

The Under Armour True Flash by JBL true wireless workout earbuds on a black surface with a grip strength trainer in the top left corner.

There’s a diverse ecosystem of chips out there

Bluetooth audio SoCs are seldom talked about, partly because headphone product actually ends up determining which features are implemented anyway. The Apple H1 is designed with Apple’s specific vision of Bluetooth earbuds in mind. That’s great in some ways, as it has produced a power-efficient design with a pretty comprehensive list of features. However, the best features are reserved for those who buy into Apple’s broader product ecosystem and it doesn’t support everything that high-end audio consumers may want.

Outside of Apple’s ecosystem, there is a huge range of available products, each sporting different capabilities and price point targets. In terms of packing in everything consumers may want, such as noise cancellation, voice commands, and high-quality codecs, Qualcomm has a very competitive range of products. Although the company perhaps can’t compete on price as well as Apple can with its in-house design team, which appears to be hampering adoption.

The bottom line is that there are definitely competitive SoCs to the Apple H1 out there for Android users. However, very few companies talk about the chip powering their headphones, instead preferring to focus on the end-user features.

NEXT: Android’s Bluetooth latency needs a major overhaul

Beats Powerbeats Pro may beat out new AirPods

Apple subsidiary Beats has just announced its debut true wireless earbuds, the Beats Powerbeats Pro. The earbuds sport an in-ear, hooked design that Beats fans will recognize from the Powerbeats 3. Just like it’s traditional wired counterpart, the Powerbeats Pro earbuds are intended for athletes and are sweat-resistant.

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As with the new AirPods, these earbuds use a Class 1 Bluetooth technology alongside the new H1 chip. They also boast nine hours of standalone playback time and support quick charging via the included Lightning cable. Beats posits that five minutes of charging affords 1.5 hours of playback. A slight 10-minute bump in charging time brings the earbuds to 4.5 hours of playback.

Physical controls are accessible from either earbud, meaning ambidextrous listeners will feel at home with the identical layout. Beats went a step ahead to deck out the earbuds with optical sensors which allow for the earbuds to automatically play or pause music when they’re inserted or removed.

The company also improved call performance with a speech-detecting accelerometer and two beamforming microphones housed within each earbud. The Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone array helps to lessen background noise, promoting greater voice clarity.

Beats Powerbeats Pro physical controls screenshot from Beats website.

Beats The earbuds feature identical controls for playback and volume.

The angled nozzles and cogent seal formed by the earbuds should result in better sound quality than the new AirPods, but our sister site SoundGuys.com will be sure to test that out as well as other metrics like real-world battery life and frequency response.

In the meantime, the Powerbeats Pro will be available in May via Apple’s online and brick and mortar stores. Listeners have four colorways to choose from, black, ivory, moss, and navy.

Affiliate disclosure: We may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. See our disclosure policy for more details.

Deal: Snag 15% off Marshall headphones and listen in style

Marshall Minor II wireless earbuds in black on leather surface.

The Marshall Minor II earbuds have brass accents that make the important parts of the headphones pop out from the all-black design.

Marshall, the company whose guitar amplifier you likely imagine when thinking of rock concerts, announced that from now through March 4, 2019, at 12:00 PM CET, it’s offering a 15 percent discount to customers. Just pick your headphones or accessories and then use the coupon code listed below.

The promotion applies to many of the company’s products including the Minor II wireless earbuds, on which our sister site SoundGuys conducted a comprehensive review. These feature an ear loop design similar to that of the Google Pixel Buds, operate via Bluetooth 5.0, and provide 12 hours of constant playback on a single charge.

Of course, Marshall Headphones supplies more than just wireless earbuds. The promotion applies to its entire headphone lineup save for the Major II Bluetooth.

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Rather than listing out what audio products are included, it’s easier to list what’s excluded. Unfortunately, the promotion doesn’t apply to any products found on the site’s Special Offers page. That said, customers are still afforded plenty of options including the Action II Voice. This smart speaker comes with either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant integration and sports Marshall’s signature vinyl covering.

Marshall fans may also apply the 15 percent promotional code to any accessories, including replacement ear cushions, cables, and filters. To take 15 percent off your purchase, use the promo code MARSHALL15 at checkout. This is only valid via the company’s website and may not be applied to previous purchases. What’s more, the offer validity is subject to a product’s availability, and shipping costs may still apply at checkout.

Affiliate disclosure: We may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. See our disclosure policy for more details.

JLab Epic Air Elite review: True-wireless earbuds with few compromises

JLab Epic Air Elite: The earbuds surrounded by water on a black table.

The IP55 JLab Epic Air Elite earbuds can withstand both dust and water.

There are few places more appropriate for truly wireless earbuds than a gym, which is exactly where the JLab Epic Air Elite feel most at home. The ear hook design is similar to that of the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100, but these sport a more svelte build. While $150 is substantial, the Epic Air Elite remains more affordable than its comparable competitors.

The full review is available at our sister site, SoundGuys.com.

What is JLab Epic Air Elite like?

JLab Epic Air Elite: The case open with the earbuds placed inside. The removable micro-USB to USB-A cable is detached from the case on a white table.

The charging cable is integrated into the case and is easy to remove for on-the-go charging.

Based on appearance alone, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the Epic Air Elite from its predecessor the Epic Air. Both feature glossy touch-capacitive panels, a rubberized ear hook shape, and ergonomically angled nozzles. Where the Elite iteration diverges is with its reliable connectivity, a feat for true wireless technology.

The earbuds remain connected without signal skips within the listed 10-meter range, which can be attributed to the Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0 support. While there aren’t many shortcomings of these earbuds, you could cite the lack of high-quality Bluetooth codec support as an issue. In all fairness, these are workout earbuds, not studio headphones, so audio streaming quality likely takes a backseat to bass emphasis, connectivity, and a stable fit.

Due to the malleable ear hooks, stability is excellent. The IP55 earbuds stay secure while running, jumping rope, and during calisthenic exercises. To get the best fit, take a moment to experiment with the array of included earbuds. JLab provides eight pairs, and the wrong size can negatively impact sound quality and fit.

To get the best possible fit and sound quality, take a moment to test out which of the provided ear tips best suit you.

Battery life with these earbuds is excellent as the 2,600mAh charging case provides an additional 32 hours of playback. Standalone playback time for the earbuds is also exceptional at 5.16 hours according to SoundGuys’ objective testing. While the charging case takes up a bit of room compared to others, it can charge your smartphone, justifying the large size. Similar to the JLab JBuds Air, the microUSB charging cable is integrated into the case and wraps around the edge.

Related: Why true wireless connectivity is so bad

How do the earbuds sound?

JLab Epic Air Elite: A woman wearing the earbuds against a black background.

The JLab Epic Air Elite provide a bass-heavy sound, which is often preferred for exercise.

The JLab Epic Air Elite earbuds are as you’d expect workout earbuds to sound: bass-heavy. JLab provides listeners with three EQ options: JLab signature, balanced, and bass boost. Even with the balanced mode activated, which is the default preset, the low-end is audibly exaggerated.

That said, even with the emphatic bass emphasis, mid-range frequencies remain distinguished. There’s a bit of auditory masking as clarity isn’t the greatest, but again, this is forgivable since most listeners are using these earbuds to stay pumped during a workout, not to appreciate the nuances of a classical piece.

Perhaps the only disappointment regarding audio reproduction has to do with the treble response. If your music library contains a lot of cymbal crashes and violin solos, you may be surprised by how difficult it is to perceive treble frequencies with these earbuds.

Should you buy the JLab Epic Air Elite?

JLab Epic Air Elite: Top-down image of the earbuds with a Nintendo Switch controller in the bottom right corner of the image.

Listeners benefit from Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0, facilitating a 30-meter connectivity range.

Those interested in spending a bit more on workout earbuds but feel intimidated by the Bose SoundSport Free’s $200 price tag will enjoy these. Battery life and connectivity are stellar, and while the physical appearance may not be eye-catching, it’s discreet and sophisticated for the workout variety. If you’re enticed by these but feel it’s not worth spending $100-plus on exercise ‘buds, then the company’s Fit 2.0 may be more financially viable. Ultimately, though, the JLab Epic Air Elite is a great compromise with few compromises.

Next: Best workout earbuds 2019

Affiliate disclosure: We may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. See our disclosure policy for more details.

The best earbuds under $50

Cheap earbuds: Close-up of RHA MA390 earbuds on a wooden beam.

The best cheap earbuds are the RHA MA390.

Cheap earbuds litter city streets and occupy gas station walls, making them more ubiquitous than AirPods. Although we’re riding out a wave of wireless and true wireless earbuds, wired alternatives still have their place in our ears and in our bags. The problem with having so many options is that there is a lot of junk out there, making it a bit harder to find the gems. That’s why we’ve curated a list of the best of what’s around as you gear up for some last-minute holiday shopping.

If you have a moment, we implore you to read the in-depth list at SoundGuys, which provides greater insight to those interested.

You may like the Best of Android 2018: the best audio

Best all-around: RHA MA390

Cheap earbuds: RHA MA390 earbuds on wooden table with one earbud in background dangling over iPod Classic (silver).

The in-line microphone isn’t the best quality, but it works.

Reasons to consider the RHA MA390:

  • Despite the ~$30 price, the RHA MA390 sports aluminum housings, emulating a premium feel.
  • You’re allowed virtual assistant access via the integrated one-button microphone and remote.
  • The low-end frequencies are emphasized and reinforced by the solid seal created by dual-density silicone ear tips.
  • Listeners are afforded a three-year warranty.

Best workout: Creative Outlier One

cheap earbuds: Creative Outlier One on a wood surface.

Athletes who want to save some money on a good set of wireless earbuds will like the Outlier One.

Reasons to consider the Creative Outlier One:

Best wireless: SoundPeats Engine

Best earbuds under $50: SoundPeats Engine earbuds on black box with vase in left half of the image.

The SoundPeats Engine Wireless earbuds support aptX and aptX LL, and the magnetic housings are useful when not listening to the buds.

Reasons to consider the SoundPeats Engine:

Best durability: Shure SE112-GR

Cheap earbuds: Shure SE112 earbuds on white background.

These earbuds feature a boosted low-end.

Reasons to consider the Shure SE112-GR:

  • Shure, a legacy audio company, has been around for decades, and its SE112 earbuds feature the company’s bass-heavy house sound.
  • Stress relievers at the Y-splitter and descending from the earbuds are well-reinforced.
  • Despite the lack of a stiff ear hook component, these earbuds are meant to be worn around the ear. This mitigates microphonics, the phenomenon of cable vibrations traveling up to the earbuds.

Best bang for your buck: Panasonic Ergo Fit

Cheap earbuds: Red Panasonic Ergo Fit on white table.

These are great for listeners who just want cheap earbuds that work.

Reasons to consider the Panasonic Ergo Fit:

  • These earbuds usually retail for less than $10 and are available in 15 colorways.
  • The angled nozzles promote a more comfortable fit.
  • Sound quality for the price is surprisingly good.
If you’re still looking, check out the full article for excellent alternatives and detailed information concerning how we chose and tested the awardees.

What you should consider before buying cheap earbuds

cheap earbuds - Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100: The earbuds in the case, which lays open, and flanked by two faux greenery pieces.

The Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 retails for $149.99 and includes more features than the products listed.

  • A cogent seal is an easy way to improve sound quality. If you can’t get a good seal from the included earbuds, investing in third-party ear tips is an easy, long-term solution.
  • Premium materials are usually the first to go. That said, the Outlier One still includes IPX4 water-resistance for running and exercising.
  • A bass-heavy frequency response is common, and often preferred, when it comes to cheap earbuds. If you’d like to EQ the sound, most phones allow users to do so.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

cheap earbuds - Woman wearing Aukey 7.1-Channel RGB gaming headphones.

Writers at SoundGuys respect that audio is both subjective and objective. In turn, they apply this philosophy to their reviews.

 
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SoundGuys is Android Authority’s sister site, and the writers often cross-over to cover topics on this site. No one on the SoundGuys team benefits from partnerships or referral purchases. Individually, each writer at SoundGuys has multiple years of experience keeping tabs on the consumer audio domain, informing their review and reporting styles. To get a more in-depth understanding of the inner workings, feel free to visit the SoundGuys ethics policy page.

See also: best cheap gifts under $25

Affiliate disclosure: We may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. See our disclosure policy for more details.

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 review: Take it to the pool or the streets

There are a few salient categories of true wireless earbuds: the AirPods wannabes, the cheap but good stuff, and the sporty variants. The Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 falls into the third division and includes IP57-certified earbuds with a 740mAh charging case. If you can overlook the bulky design and high price, it’s the ideal union of durable and functional.

Full review available at our sister site, SoundGuys.com

What is Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 like?

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100: The earbuds in the case, which lays open, and flanked by two faux greenery pieces.

The Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 retails for $149.99.

Like the beloved Plantronics BackBeat Fit, the 3100 model is built to endure. The IP57 rating denotes dust- and water-resistance, while the malleable ear hooks promote a secure, comfortable fit. Each earbud houses a holographic panel but they differ in functionality: the left one is touch-capacitive and permits volume adjustments. The right one, on the other hand, lacks touch capabilities but allows for playback and call control.

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Since the carrying case houses a substantial battery, its frame, too, is large. Quick charging is afforded whereby 15 minutes of charging provides one hour of playback, and the case provides two extra charge cycles to the to the 3.72 standalone battery life. Be aware, though, of how the earbuds are returned to the case: the exact, textured cutouts look nice but make it too easy to place the ‘buds in without initiating charging.

Although the BackBeat Fit 3100 affords a slew of comprehensive controls, listeners can’t access virtual assistants from the earbuds.

Working out with the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 takes some getting used to, but I found it to be a pleasure. As a consequence of the Ambient Aware ear tips — which promote safety by keeping the listener aware of her surroundings — a seal isn’t formed, mimicking the feeling of a precarious fit. Granted, the ear hook design is effective at keeping things stable. Unfortunately, what’s not as stable as I’ve come to expect from Plantronics products — like the Voyager 6200 UC — is connectivity: stutters sporadically occur when outdoors.

Related: Why true wireless connectivity is so bad

How do the earbuds sound?

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100: A woman wearing the earbuds in profile view to show the size.

Although the earbuds protrude quite a bit from the ear, stability isn’t compromised.

They sound fine. As is the case with workout earbuds, sound quality takes a backseat to durability and functionality. Bass frequencies receive a hefty amount of emphasis, but much of it goes unheard due to the ingress of external noise from the non-existent seal. Pushing the earbuds against my ear canal results in an audible exaggerated low-end, but doing so during a workout is just impractical.

Vocals and treble frequencies maintain an audible presence, but it’s nothing emphatic. Highs are especially difficult to differentiate during a song occupied by more than two instruments. Generally speaking, detail and clarity are lacking too. At first read, it may seem I’m knocking the audio quality, but that’s not the case. Given the context of how the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 will be used, the sub-par audio quality is forgivable and can be understood as a repercussion of the Ambient Aware benefit: continual awareness of one’s surroundings.

Should you buy the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100?

Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100: A top-down image of the right earbud next to the open and empty carrying case.

While the precise cutouts are a nice touch, users must be aware of how the earbuds are placed to initiate charging.

If you’re an avid aquaphilic or outdoor enthusiast in the market for true wireless earbuds, the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 stands as a smart and safe choice. The controls are easy to command and the ‘buds stay in place, even if it doesn’t always feel like they will. Connectivity is disappointing, but only because the company usually outshines the competition when it comes to Bluetooth stability. Unfortunately, this is the main plague of true wireless earbuds and something competitors and Plantronics alike will improve upon as the technology advances.

Affiliate disclosure: We may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. See our disclosure policy for more details.