The Tronsmart Onyx Neo are the second pair of true wireless earbuds released by the Chinese manufacturer to have the highlighted Qualcomm aptX technology as the main feature, but is it such a big deal? It can be, but it is heavily dependent on the implementation, as for example, both the QCY T2C and the xFyro xS2 make use of the AAC codec, but the sound ends up a lot different (the latter does sound better and it’s no coincidence since it’s also more expensive). The Qualcomm aptX was designed to support 24-bit music quality over a Bluetooth connection which translates in more sound details, less distortions and lower background noise, so, despite being entry-level, the Onyx Neo earbuds do want to differentiate themselves from the other similarly-priced options.
Of course, there are other very important aspects of the TWS earbuds that need to be taken into consideration, such as the battery life and the design, both dictating whether you will be able to use the earbuds for longer periods of time. Tronsmart tried its best at achieving a good balance between comfort and functionality, so, considering the price tag of the product, I think it would be interesting to see how does it fare against its competitors (and there are many).
Note: It’s worth mentioning the other pair of Qualcomm-based TWS from Tronsmart called the Spunky Beat which do come with a fancier charging case (but, other than the slightly different design, they’re pretty much the same device).
Design and Build Quality
I don’t have to persuade you that the truly wireless earbuds are better than the wired or the sport focused wireless earbuds (those still connected by a cable that goes around your neck) and I don’t mean they’re better from the audio quality point of view, because they’re not, but they do give you that liberating feeling of not having to carry your phone around the house and the cables are now a distant past (and you do know that the sound quality will only get better with time).
Still, it’s not easy to cram all the necessary hardware inside a small case and maintain a comfortable wearing experience, but it does seem like the Tronsmart Onyx Neo has managed to accomplish just that, rivaling what I previously deemed the most comfortable wireless earbuds, the BlitzWolf BW-FYE5. Indeed, at 1.06 x 0.67 x 0.31 inches, each earbud is ridiculously small (no larger than a fingernail) and they’re also not that heavy (each weighing 1.60oz), which means that it’s very easy to lose them. The chosen material is, of course, plastic, a half of it being covered by a black matte finish and the other half by a glossy finish (yes, it does seem to shamelessly retain fingerprints, but they’re not noticeable), but what filled me with joy is the short neck of the earbuds (the elongated section that gets inserted in your ear).
A lot of manufacturers want to achieve that sealed effect by making you shove the earbuds through your eardrums, but it seems that Tronsmart was smart about it and decided to leave the sealing to the silicone tips. Inside the package, you do get two additional sets of silicone tips ranging from ridiculously small to average and huge. Each of the two Onyx Neo earbuds has two exposed copper connectors (to magnetically attach them to the charging case), as well as fairly large microphone hole, but, perhaps the most important design element is the touch-sensitive area which is surrounded by a narrow LED. I have seen a touch-sensitive area on the BlitzWolf BW-FYE3 and it did make wearing the earbuds a bit more comfortable (the alternative is the button which, when pushed, will irritate the ear canal), but on the Tronsmart Onyx Neo, while it did have the same role, it was unbelievably frustrating operating it.
When I inserted the earbuds in my ears, I would activate the button about three times; want to readjust the earbud – the button will activate several times. And so on, the touch-sensitive area is too big for such small earbuds (I found the button on the BW-FYE5 the better solution).
The functions of the touch-sensitive area are the following: tap and hold the button for about 3 seconds to turn the earbud on (to turn it off, tap and hold the button for 5 seconds) and to start or pause a track tap on either earbud once; to move to the next track, tap the area on the right earbud three times (do the same but on the left earbud to return to the previous track) and Tronsmart has also included volume control (something quite unique not only for entry-level TWS earbuds) – tap twice on the left earbud for volume up and twice on the right earbud for volume down.
If, while you’re using the Onyx Neo, you get a call, you can answer it by tapping once on any earbud or reject it by holding the button for two seconds; the Onyx Neo are also compatible with the voice assistant and to enable it, hold the button for 2 seconds when the earbuds aren’t playing music. It’s worth noting that I liked the fact that the LED would not blink every few seconds as it did with the BliztWolf TWS. The Tronsmart Onyx Neo does come with a fairly compact charging case which can easily be slipped in a pocket; sure, it’s a bit larger than that of the BW-FYE5, but, at 2.48 x 1.26 x 1.69 inches, it’s still one of the most compact cases available.
Furthermore, you can easily open the top of the case (it closes magnetically) and, inside it, there are two dedicated areas, specially carved to accommodate the couple of Onyx Neo. But, there is one problem since i noticed that there is no LED to let you know the status of the internal battery (you’ll just have to recharge it once every three days to make sure there is enough left for your earbuds). On the rear side of the charging case, there is a USB-C port which is a praiseworthy addition, considering that all entry-level (and not only) truly wireless earbuds that I tested so far only came with the older micro-USB port.
As expected the Tronsmart Onyx Neo are sweat-proof, carrying the IPX5 rating, so even if it rains, the earbuds won’t get damaged (you should also be able to wear them while showering). But how comfortable are these wireless earbuds and should you use them while jogging outdoors? The Onyx Neo are very comfortable due to the short neck (I could even sleep with them) and I did use them indoors, while working out, but they did fall off my ears twice, so no, I would be against wearing them while jogging (not unless you want to lose them). The most suitable TWS earbuds for jogging and any other outdoor activities are those that have silicone hooks which ensure that the earpieces won’t fall off at any time (the xFyro Aria are a good example).
Tronsmart Onyx Neo: Connectivity and Sound Quality
Tronsmart has equipped each of the two Onyx Neo earbuds with a Qualcomm® QCC3020 chipset which supports the aptX, AAC and SBC codecs. The aptX was designed especially for mobile devices, while AAC is a general purpose codec and the universal consensus is that the latter is the superior option, but only at a given bitrate (the source has to utilize 256kbps AAC and some good examples are going to be iTunes and Apple Music).
The Onyx Neo is using 6mm speaker drivers (dynamic) and, of course, it supports Bluetooth v5.0. This newer Bluetooth implementation promises to ensure a better range than its previous generation and it should also ensure a better throughput. Pairing the Tronsmart Onyx Neo to an Android mobile device was very simple: after taking the earbuds out of the box, make sure that they’re in pairing mode (the LED blinks red and blue – if it doesn’t, then tap and hold the touch-sensitive area until it starts blinking) and then select Tronsmart Onyx Neo (R) from the list; afterwards the two earbuds should connect to each other automatically. If you press on the small cogwheel icon (the Device details), you can also see that the HD audio is indeed set to Qualcomm aptX.
The earbuds will re-pair immediately after you take them out of the box and, when you reinsert them, the Onyx Neo will automatically disconnect from the mobile device and start charging. You also do have the option to use a single earbud in mono mode, but, just like the other devices from the same price range, there is no Bluetooth multi-point support – which would allow you to connect to multiple devices at the same time and switch between them seamlessly. As I said before, the Bluetooth v.5.0 ensures a better large coverage and, while I was using the Onyx Neo earbuds, I could go as far as 30 feet, with a couple of walls in between before the connection would become unstable; it’s also worth noting that over the last month (the testing period), neither the left, nor the right earbud disconnected.
As for the sound quality, the Tronsmart Onyx Neo did decently well: on a simple frequency response test, I could hear the sound down to 20Hz (the lower limit of the human ear) and it went up to 18kHz; I also ran a driver matching test, but with the earbuds, things are never conclusive since the insertion level can mess with the results – I still felt like the sound went a bit more to the left earbud.
While listening to some bass-rich music, I immediately realized that the bass feels deeper and fuller on the BlitzWolf BW-FYE5 (it’s definitely better defined on Tronsmart, but it doesn’t seem to have that much depth); at the same time, I could better tell the instruments apart on the Onyx Neo and the sound is, overall, more clear. One other minus can be considered the treble which is shallow, but the sound still feels more energetic on the Tronsmart Onyx Neo than on any BlitWolf.
When compared to some more expensive devices, such as the xFyro xS2, it can accomplish the same instrument division, but the bass feels a bit fuller (although it’s equally defined). It’s worth noting that both the xS2 and the QCY T2C support AAC, but the sound quality is completely different (the latter being clearly the inferior device), so, carrying the aptX or AAC badge doesn’t necessary mean that the earbuds will deliver an excellent audio experience. As for latency, I did play multiple YouTube videos and the video would sync with the audio decently well (sometimes, I could tell that the audio was off by a few milliseconds).
If you’re going to wear the Onyx Neo more often, it is expected that you’ll answer some calls while wearing them, so how’s the call quality? The earbuds use both the cVc 8.0 and Qualcomm’s own DSP technologies to minimize the ambient sound and ensure a clear audio, but I’ve seen other manufacturers that claimed the cVc 6.0 implementation would clear your voice from the background noise (the QCY T2C) and, of course, it didn’t properly work (my voice would be echoed). The Tronsmart Onyx Neo did a lot better and, indoors, I could clearly hear the other person and, most importantly, the other person could properly hear me (it didn’t sound distant as with pretty much all other truly wireless earbuds that I have tested).
In a coffee shop, when there were lots of people, I could hear the other person clearly, but my voice wouldn’t always fully isolate from the background noise. The only pair of headphones that could accomplish a near perfect call experience was the more expensive Sony WH-1000XM3 (with its army of microphones), but the ONyx Neo did really well, far above its main competitors.
Each of the two small Onyx Neo earbuds has a 35 mAh battery which lasted for about 3 hours and 20 minutes using the aptX HD audio, so it’s a bit underwhelming, but the charging case does come with a 350 mAh battery which should ensure about 4-5 full charges for the earbuds.
Even though it hasn’t been that much since the first pair of truly wireless earbuds has entered the market, there are already thousands of models to choose from, especially at the entry-level point, so, has the Tronsmart Onyx Neo managed to outshine its competitors? Yes it did, but only in certain areas. I disliked those touch-sensitive areas a lot since I would continuously touch them and the battery life could have been better (a lot shorter than the promised 7 hours), but, there is volume control, they are very comfortable (going neck to neck with the BW-FYE5) and the call quality is very good. The audio quality is as expected for an entry-level model, so, if you want to try a pair of truly wireless earbuds, but don’t have a huge budget, the Tronsmart Onyx Neo do offer excellent value for the money and are among the best options available at the moment.