(Pocket-lint) - The days of wired earphones are numbered, which is great for sporty types who want to listen to their tunes without the waggle of cables in their face.
This is thanks to reasonable price options entering the market, such as the Urbanista Athens True Wireless. But at such a price point, is there compromise to fit and quality as a result?
We've been living with the Athens in-ear wireless earphones to see how these earbuds fare.
Design & Features
- Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity
- Included charging case (USB-C)
- GoFit fitting loops (two sizes)
- Silicone tips (three sizes)
- Voice control (Siri, Google)
- IP67 waterproof rating
When we first pulled the Athens out the box we were somewhat bemused by the so-called GoFit fitting loops that slip onto each earbud. These silicone protrusions look like you could hang the 'buds on a peg, but the idea is the protrusion snuggles into the interior of your ear to aid with a solid fit. There are two sizes of these, or a third which excludes the GoFit fitting, if that's not your thing.
In terms of fit, we find the GoFit extra doesn't do a huge amount to assist with keeping these buds locked into your ear canals. Instead, really, it's all about plonking them in deep enough to get a good seal. Firstly, for the sake of sound; secondly, for the sake of them not falling out when you're running about.
There are three silicone tip sizes, too, but with the most appropriate one selected for us we found the fit to be a little too snug, giving a somewhat 'pressured' feel over extended periods of wear.
But these are sports earphones, so you're unlikely to wear them for an age. We typically used one at a time to assist with directions while cycling, without the bother of wires getting in our way. With the sweat dripping profusely, the Athens is designed to resist such moisture thanks to an IP67 rating. An essential for sporting earphones, really.
When we first came to pair the Athens with our phone we were prompted that we must download the relevant app to make pairing successful. Thing is, there is no such app on Google Play. As it turns out, you simply have to connect to the left earbud first, which then automatically speaks to the right (you may get a prompt window to permit this when connecting to a laptop, for example). So, actually, there's no app and no need for one - simply connect and you'll be told by a rather Scandi-sounding voice in the relative ear "connected".
There's also Google and Siri voice control, along with a play/pause/volume button on the side of each earbud - although pressing this does push the bud internally a little more. The layout of these controls is also unclear: the left earbud handled the voice assistant, but silences everything thereafter, until you hit the right earbud to recommence playback. Plus the volume controls - an up and down on the right earbud only - aren't clear, so we turned everything down by total accident and couldn't figure out why our playback was so quiet for some time.
In addition to the earphones, the Athens includes a charging case. It's a nice and compact size, the buds drop in fairly easily to recharge, the lid squeezing down on top of them. There's some magnet use here, as holding the open case upside down while it's open doesn't see the buds fall out, which is a handy feature. Recharging takes place via USB-C - although there's no wall plug included, only the cable to plug into an existing one (or other device, although recharging the case itself will be slower that way).
Sound & Performance
- 8 hours battery per charge
- 24 hours battery from case
- No active noise-cancellation
- 6mm driver units, 20Hz - 20kHz frequency range
As the Athens is an affordable pair of wireless in-ears, we weren't expecting much from the overall sound quality. But, as it turns out, these buds have a good level of grunt to their output.
There's lots of volume (so long as you don't have the device turned down by accident!) and, if the tips are fully in your ear canal and well fitted, lots of bass too. Indeed, that bass can be overpowering in the mix, unless you pull the fitting out just slightly, which then runs the risk of the earbuds falling out during a workout.
Still, that kind of thwapping bass is bigger than we'd anticipated, and many will enjoy this low-end delivery. There's some resonance associated with physical motion, though, so you may find your pavement pounding adds additional 'feedback' into the listening experience. That's a bit anti their purpose, being sports earphones.
The overall sound quality is a little muddy, too, not providing the crispest and cleanest mids and highs in among the mix. It's not horribly imbalanced, just don't anticipate top-of-the-class sound at this price point. Pay a little more for the Libratone Track Air+ and you'll get a lot more on the fit and sound quality front in our opinion, alongside active noise-cancellation (ANC).
That's one thing the Athens don't dabble in: active noise-cancellation (ANC). The sound isolation from a secure fit is ok, but when we were taking a Tube across London the screech from outside was still quite present. We're used to wearing our Bose 700 over-ears, which don't suffer anything like such interference thanks to their ANC, so if you're looking for that tech then the Urbanista won't suit your needs. It's not a deal-breaker, as you know what you're getting.
We're impressed by how loud the Urbanista pair can go without leaking sound too much either - you won't disturb those around you when hammering out the tunes.
In terms of connectivity, we've found the Bluetooth 5.0 connection to remain strong when the source is close enough. Testing it across a large room and once at around 10 metres from source that caused some drop-out, but if your phone or music-transmitting device is on your person or nearby then this will be no issue at all. We've had some issues in busier areas, however, such as when at the O2 Arena in London, where the right 'bud would crackle and disconnect - probably due to a high volume of signals in the surrounding area.
Battery life is strong for a product of this type, too, with eight hours of life per charge. When levels run low that Scandi voice tells you so right into your ear, giving you around 30 minutes before it's time to get them back into the case. Once in the case there's an additional three charges (24 hours right there), taking your total listening time to a potential 32 hours. That's good innings, especially from a small-scale case such as the included one.
We've had earphones that fit better and sound less muddy than the Athens, but Urbanista scores strong when it comes to delivering the low-end, decent battery life, and a sweat-resistant design. It's a good match for workouts rather than elongated periods of wear - as put these in your lugholes for too long and it's not the most comfortable - which is spot-on for their target market.
Find these in-ears under the £100 mark and we think you've got a bargain buy - anything more and there are others, such as the Libratone Track Air+, with better fit, sound and active noise-cancellation included for a little extra cash. If you think such features are overkill and your budget is fixed, however, then Urbanista provides a solid wire-free option in the Athens True Wireless.
Libratone Track Air+
Want a little extra? Then pay the extra for the Libratone, which offers better sound quality, better fit, and active-noise cancellation to boot.