The Buds Air 2 Neo true wireless earphones have the same arguments as all Realme products (and many others...), promising a very solid quality/price ratio and a complete user experience, under the $40 mark.
Which smartphone manufacturer doesn't have its own line of true wireless earphones? Realme, like many Chinese manufacturers, did not wait to build a complete range to accompany its smartphones and now has a host of references "Buds". The Buds Air 2 Neo have the same arguments as all the other equivalent Realme models, and many other competitors, namely a complete user experience and an unbeatable quality/price ratio.
The Buds Air 2 "Neo" differ from their brothers Buds Air 2 "all short" by their buds format, but share overall the same data sheet: active noise reduction function, listening to surrounding sounds, Bluetooth 5.2 connection facilitated with support for Google Fast Pair, touch controls, solo use, IPX5 certification, low latency mode, companion application Realme Link ... However, they announce a slightly higher autonomy of 6 to 7 h per use, but are exempt from presence sensor.
Manufacturing & accessories
The Buds Air 2 Neo are not fancy in terms of design. Their egg-shaped buds format is reminiscent of many models on the market; however, the quality of manufacture and finishing is correct here. The majority of the elements, on the earphones as the case, are protected by a matt plastic (light grey or black according to the versions) which did not show any particular weakness during our test period. The Buds Air 2 Neo are also IPX5 certified and are therefore not afraid of the rain (of course, you must not forget to maintain them after each exposure).
Like the headphones, the carrying case is particularly compact and fits easily into any trouser pocket. Due to its slippery coating, shape and size, however, it is not easy to handle with one hand. It is not a problem to put on and take off the earphones, and the hinge is also reassuring.
The Realme Buds Air 2 Neo come with a list of accessories that couldn't be more conventional: a very short USB-C cable and three pairs of silicone tips in different sizes.
Comfort & fit
As far as the wearing experience is concerned, the Buds Air 2 Neo honorably fulfill their part of the contract. While not absolutely comfortable, they fit comfortably in the ear thanks to their relatively compact, ergonomic design and low weight. The coating used offers a soft contact, the silicone tips (at the border between in-ear and semi-in-ear) manage to contain the feeling of occlusion, the "plug" effect, to be used on long journeys (at the price of a weak sound insulation, but we will come back to it in detail in the part "Active Noise Reduction"). According to the cases, the "back" part of the earphone can however rest a little too frankly on the part of the cartilage located between the concha and the anthelix: to reorientate the earphone is sometimes enough to limit the small discomfort caused, but not always, thus obliging sometimes to make some short pauses on the most intense sessions of use.
The headphones are well maintained, however, their design (especially the soft, slippery plastic finish) means that they have a slight tendency to pop out of the ear when you move your jaw to talk/eat, especially when you're playing sports with them. It is thus necessary to replace them from time to time so that they remain in place, or even to count on another solution more adapted during the effort.
The very first time you use the Buds Air 2 Neo, it's not very complicated: you open the carrying case, the earphones automatically go into pairing mode (triggered if necessary via the dedicated button in the case) and then you just have to select them in the list of devices on the source to finalize the operation. Some LEDs and sound indications are integrated to know the status of the headphones. Users of Android terminals will have the chance to find the Google Fast Pair feature, which saves a few seconds in the process through a dialog box.
This preferential treatment becomes apparent when you start to manipulate the headphones and will be detrimental to other users. Indeed, by default, the touch controls of the headphones offer very few options: playback management, call management, next track on both headphones, toggle between RBA/listening to surrounding sounds. To reallocate them and benefit from more possibilities (navigation between tracks, triggering of the voice assistant, deactivation of the RBA, low latency mode, but still no volume management), the Realme Link companion application is mandatory, and unfortunately the headphones are not supported by the iOS version of the application... and it's not for lack of insisting. This incompatibility also deprives the user of additional options that are still useful, such as a more accurate display of the battery level, the choice of the sound equalization preset or the low latency mode. Android users will have this "little luxury" for themselves... as long as they manage to register to use the application.
The daily use of the Buds Air 2 Neo is globally correct, the earphones are usable in solo/mono, but the tactile controls lack a little of reactivity (approximately 2 sec of latency between the action and the taking into account) and certain functionalities miss the call: rare are still the earphones to propose a multipoint connection, but we would not have been against a sensor of proximity for example.
The Realme Buds Air 2 Neo claim to last between 6 and 7 hours per charge, depending on whether or not active noise reduction is enabled, a figure we verified perfectly (give or take a few minutes) during our test in both cases. Without being at the level of the most enduring true wireless earphones of the market, it is a score more than honorable to cover a daily use.
The charging box, for its part, dispenses with a little more than two additional recharges. The latter is charged only via a USB-C port.
The on-board microphones in the Realme Buds Air 2 Pro are far from efficient. The pickup quality in very good conditions, in a quiet indoor environment, is just about right: the signal is neither precise nor very clean, the voice timbre is poor and the voice sounds particularly distant, even if it remains intelligible. Outdoors, this intelligibility remains acceptable as long as you are in a quiet area with very little wind, because the microphones are very sensitive to wind and the slightest breeze will make the speech inaudible (as can be heard towards the end of our second extract). In order to have a conversation in correct conditions, it will be necessary to stay away from noise in general, because the action of the noise reduction algorithm generates very important artifacts that mask the voice.
Bluetooth communication latency is about 240ms with the Buds Air 2 Neo. This is a high value which, when translated into a sound/picture lag, frankly limits the comfort of watching a video and prevents the practice of mobile gaming.
Like many recent models, Realme's headphones are able to automatically compensate for this delay with most smartphone video playback apps (Netflix, Disney+, YouTube...), allowing for viewing in acceptable conditions. Even if you activate the "Game mode" in the companion application, the delay remains noticeable and annoying when playing video games: even if we appreciate the presence of this function, we are unfortunately far from the promised 88 ms...
The Buds Air Pro 2 offer a relatively homogeneous and decent overall sound experience... as long as you stay wise enough on the listening volume.
Indeed, in their most "balanced" listening mode, the default one, Realme's true wireless headphones adopt a rather classic V-shaped sound profile, with a focus on the extreme bass and high-mids. The recipe gives the sound reproduction a particularly energetic aspect by pushing both the sensation of impact and the depth of the bass on one side, and the sharpness, the sound presence and the sensation of "clarity" on many elements on the other. This one requires nevertheless a certain control and a very particular reserve to adopt in the treatment of the high-midrange not to damage the timbres and especially to generate auditory fatigue.
If the behavior of the Buds Air Pro 2 Neo is decent in the bass, the result is less convincing in the second part of the spectrum. The earphones are a little too heavy in this area (more specifically in the area around 2/3 kHz, where human hearing is the most sensitive), which quickly gives an abrasive, sometimes "acidic" and therefore exhausting aspect in the long run: limiting yourself to a very soft listening volume will be the only way to limit the phenomenon and to be able to take advantage of your earphones properly, especially on sessions of somewhat prolonged use. The rather average precision in this register contributes to this result.
Fortunately, this one proves to be a little more satisfactory in the lower frequencies, thus making it possible to benefit from a minimum punchy bass (but all the same a little "clogged" and prone to frequent overflows, let us specify it). There's nothing to complain about in terms of extension in the lower frequencies here, with the headphones offering deep bass and a nice foundation. The Buds Air Pro 2, on the other hand, are much more timid at the other end of the spectrum: the highs lack breadth and definition, which obviously doesn't help the soundstage to really expand in terms of width (it's a bit too compact). The perception of the latter in terms of depth is also not very natural, the most distant elements being amassed towards the foreground. Fortunately, the headphones show a good stereo separation, and one can therefore identify the positioning of the different elements/instruments adequately.
Active noise reduction
You can't really count on the Realme Buds Air 2 Neo to effectively and comfortably block out the noise around you. First and foremost, the headphones offer particularly poor "passive" noise isolation. The use of active noise reduction is therefore essential to cut yourself off from the world, and unfortunately, it is far from being a salvation.
Indeed, this one acts only on a relatively restricted frequency band, which certainly filters in part certain components of the noises of the traffic, of rolling... but shows itself very hardly at the same time on the lowest frequencies and fatally in the mediums/treble: the very low resonance audible in transport is still quite perceptible, as well as contact noises, metallic sounds, the click of keyboards and even conversations (voices are fluent, but well audible and understandable), or the sound that comes out of your seatmate's smartphone in transport, to our great displeasure. The active noise reduction offered by the headphones also proved to be strangely unstable when encountering a slightly too powerful and sudden noise (shaking noises of the subway train, encountering another train/subway), an erratic behavior that materializes by important and abrupt drops of efficiency, kind of "holes" particularly unpleasant. Finally, let's mention that the microphones are very sensitive to wind, which spoils the experience even more. A pity.
The mode of listening to the surrounding noises is on the other hand convincing, a result which is finally not very surprising considering the very weak passive insulation of the ear-phones. On the other hand, this mode is more than ever concerned by the sensitivity of the microphones to the wind, which gives a particularly unpleasant result if a light breeze rises. You might as well turn off the active noise reduction.
The Realme Buds Air 2 Neo offer a decent experience and get the job done on the basics. They can be a relatively honest starting point for the tightest budgets looking for basic true wireless headphones to accompany their Android smartphone... provided you don't have any demands regarding isolation or hands-free quality. However, it is important to keep in mind that more solid alternatives exist on the market, at a slightly higher price, but they are certainly more successful in all respects.