The Ausounds AU-Flex ANC earbuds are attempting to take on a number of songbirds with one stone. They are noise-cancelling in-ear headphones with good battery life, an IPX5 waterproof rating and a secure fit, with those over-ear hooks holding things firmly in place for the gym or lengthy running sessions.
We can’t help but feel, though, that they do look a little dated now, with their neckband design having been superseded for many buyers by the true wireless models that are pretty much ubiquitous now.
That said, the neck design does hold some advantages. One 1.5-hour charge will give you 22 hours of solid use out of them for a start (10 hours with ANC permanently on) – so there’s none of this having to recharge your buds in their case every four or five hours to get up to that claimed lengthy battery life. If you’re caught short nevertheless, a 15-minute fast charge will provide a couple of hours’ use, which is enough for a commute at least.
And, of course, there are real benefits to having that neckband as far as not losing your buds goes, and simply keeping them to hand when you no longer need them in place for a while.
As one ought to expect from a fairly expensive product, the Ausounds AU-Flex ANC come nicely packaged in a sturdy cardboard box. Inside, along with the neckband and buds themselves, you’ll find a charging cable (USB-C – always handy), a soft storage pouch, and three sets of eartips – small, medium and large.
As with all in-ears, your choice of tip is crucial; if you don’t get a decent seal, you simply won’t get the performance out of the AU-Flex that they can give – so it’s well worth investing time at the start to get the correct fit.
Setting up the buds is a simple process, and to keep things really easy, there is no app to worry about. The over-ear hooks lock things firmly in place, and these are certainly headphones you could use for fairly hardcore exercise.
While using a rubberised hook to secure your in-ears is more awkward and time consuming than other methods, once you have things in place they sit perfectly comfortably, and we have no issues with longer listening sessions. Suffice to say, if you can tolerate in-ears generally, these should work fine for you as far as comfort goes.
Driver Planar magnetic
Battery life 22 hours (10 with ANC)
Fast charging Yes
Waterproof rating IPX5
There is an effective auto-pause function that stops and starts your music if you clip the earpieces together using the inbuilt magnets – handy, once again, for commuting, say, when you need to have a quick conversation.
That IPX5 rating means that the headphones will resist a sustained low-pressure water spray; so don’t go dropping them in the bath, but you will certainly be fine in the gym or on a rainy run.
The active noise-cancelling will give a claimed noise reduction of 25dB, and it is easily accessed via a button on the right side of the neckband. One push to turn noise-cancelling on, one to activate the monitor mode and one to turn it all off. That monitor feature is useful, in that it allows in much more of the world around you, so is ideal for hearing train announcements or any nearby traffic when out and about.
The other buttons on the neckband perform the functions you would want and expect, with volume up and down, call answering, track skip and voice assistants (Google and Apple are catered for) all easily accessible via various clicks. It’s fairly straightforward and intuitive once you get used to it – although we do manage to skip forward a track or two a few times when trying to adjust the volume before getting the action required quite right.
When we start listening to music, via both Spotify and Tidal, on an iPhone and laptop, our initial impressions are positive. The Ausounds AU-Flex ANC use a planar magnetic driver that, Ausounds claims, “delivers a wide and accurate soundstage”; it is paired with a separate driver used for the lower frequencies. And the sound is generally good, with decent bass that perhaps gets just a touch boomy on occasions, married to a bright, lively treble and midrange from that planar magnetic driver.
At higher volumes the treble threatens to veer towards being too bright on occasions, but it never really approaches shrill. There is a slight midrange bias to things that has the benefit of highlighting voices. It’s not too far forward in the mix, and if you’re going to push one part of the spectrum a touch, the midrange is probably the way to go.
Talking of higher volumes, we should mention that these in-ears don’t go as loud as many other earbuds we have reviewed. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, as it is only too easy to damage one’s hearing with headphones playing foolishly loud; but it does occasionally mean that, on a busy train platform for instance, we wish we had a bit more oomph to hand.
It’s only when we compare the AU-Flex ANC with an obvious rival, the Sennheiser Momentum in-ear wireless, that we have issues with the Ausounds’ sound. The Momentums are clearly more controlled and organised in their handling of the music, with a more even sound across the board, better detail and more impressive dynamics.
When we listen to a Tidal Masters file of My Girl by the Temptations, the rhythmic drive of the music is conveyed by both headphones, but the overall sound of David Ruffin’s lead vocal married to the iconic backing track isn’t as mature via the AU-Flex ANC, with the Sennheisers providing a notably more refined and subtle performance.
The Sennheisers, of course, can’t add that extra string of active noise-cancelling to their bow, which is something that could easily (and perhaps justifiably) swing the potential purchaser towards the Ausounds. They should be aware, nevertheless, that better sonic performance is available elsewhere for similar (and indeed less) money.
The noise-cancelling itself is decent, and certainly makes a difference on daily commutes and so on. We have never really come upon a pair of in-ear headphones that can hold a candle to a pair of over-ears when it comes to noise-cancelling, however, and that’s the case here. It certainly works and eases the background noise considerably, but again, there are better noise-cancelling options out there if that is important to you.
The Ausounds AU-Flex ANC fall rather between two stools for us, then. If you are after the best sound for your money at around the £200 ($200) mark, you can do rather better elsewhere. And if you’re after the best noise-cancelling headphones, the same holds true.
But, if you want decent performers that fulfill both functions reasonably well, and you are in the market for in-ears that will stay put when you’re out on a run or in the gym, these neckband wireless headphones may well be a good choice.
- Sound 3
- Build 4
- Features 5
Read our round-up of the Best In-ear Headphones 2021
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