In order to appreciate the true significance of the Melomania Touch, a quick history lesson: Cambridge Audio’s inaugural set of headphones weren’t just the British audio outfit's first truly wireless earbuds, they were its first earphones of any description.
By rights, they shouldn’t have been as good as they were. Those talented headphones – named Melomania 1 – burst onto the scene in the summer of 2019 with a detailed, expansive sound that belied their bashful aesthetic and price-point and scooped up What Hi-Fi? Awards two years on the bounce.
Given the considerable success of its debut headphone proposition, it is surprising that the firm’s design engineers have chosen to consign it to history and go back to the drawing board for a second stab at the true wireless market. At first glance, the next-generation in-ears are recognisable in name only, in that the Melomania prefix has been retained.
Also surprising is that while a new transparency mode promises to feed ambient noise in when you want it, noise-cancelling doesn't feature. The company has instead concentrated on applying its own hi-fi grade amplification to the headphones in what it is billing a “unique High Performance Audio Mode”.
Having launched the Melomania Touch at just £10 ($20) more expensive than the older iteration’s original asking fee, has Cambridge Audio knocked it out of the park yet again, or are we about to cast them on the disappointing sequel pile like a Blu-ray disc in the January sales?
A single line of five little LED lights on the case to denote the remaining battery life might be the only visual similarity we can draw between the original Melomania 1 and the new Melomania Touch headphones in our palm. The case itself is now pill-shaped, opens like a suitcase (rather than a box of dental floss) and is clad in microfibre leather. 'Cambridge Audio' is now inscribed on the buds and the case too, alongside the spherical branding, and the buds themselves are teardrop-shaped – the result of crafting using the datapoints from more than 3000 pairs of ears, apparently.
The six sets of eartips provided span three sizes – you get two sets each of small, medium and large – but they are silicone only; there’s no longer a memory foam option. You do also get three sets of separate fins in total, which are fussy to fit but do aid security and sound quality when you get it right. We downsize once and are all set.
Unlike the novel bullet-shaped Melomania buds we grew to love, Cambridge Audio’s new driver-housing is a shape with a proven track record – it’s not dissimilar to the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 – and it’s a solid step in the right direction. The buds feel comfortable, secure and relatively light in our ears.
The drivers here are bigger than those in the original Melomania 1 by 1.2mm, and bigger than those in the Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM3 by precisely 1mm. Inside each overhauled Melomania Touch unit, you now get a 7mm dynamic driver with Graphene-enhanced diaphragm, rather than the 5.8mm Graphene-enhanced diaphragm found in the originals.
Bluetooth version 5.0, aptX
Battery life 9 hours (50 with charging case)
Frequency response 20Hz – 20kHz
Dimensions (hd) 2.4cm x 2.3cm
Weight 5.9g (each)
It is slightly disappointing to see that while the Melomania 1 carried an IPX5 rating (meaning both case and buds can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray from multiple directions), after completely reworking the design, Cambridge Audio engineers have released a model that carries only a splash-resistant IPX4 rating.
While these are hardly billed as headphones for sports use, it might be nice to know that a particularly sweaty spin class or a spell in a storm won’t hurt them, especially when cheaper 2020 models now carry an IPX7 rating – meaning they can be submerged for up to 30 minutes in water at up to a depth of 1m without issue.
When wearing such a design – a teardrop shape without a ‘toothbrush stem’ – fitting them is a case of sliding them in, then twisting to lock the earfins in and get a decent seal. The problem is that this involves touching the buds, and because the entire top surface of the unit is touch-sensitive, we find ourselves inadvertently stopping and resuming playback when fitting them and, when trying to lock in the fit, upping or lowering the volume – often to uncomfortable levels when touching the right earpiece.
The touch controls can be customised or turned off entirely in the app, but that seems a shame. It’s far preferable to have on-device controls, but here they’re really quite awkward. It’s not that they’re unresponsive – far from it. Even when trying our best just to handle the very outer edges of the earpieces during testing, we find ourselves pausing playback in error. Fiddly on-device controls are hardly an issue unique to the Melomania Touch, but nevertheless it’s our job to notice.
Pairing is not the hassle-free experience we’d hoped for, either. Despite making sure both earphones are flashing blue/white and are thus ready to pair, we select ‘Melomania Touch L’ (where ‘Melomania Touch R’ is also an option) in our phone’s Bluetooth list, and are assured both buds will now pair – once we have accepted the right bud’s request to do so. Only, this doesn’t happen. We get sound only from the left earphone, and the app registers the presence and battery life only of the left earpiece.
After a few tries we remember that, helpfully, Cambridge Audio has supplied a bright yellow card underneath the case in the box, explaining how to reset its product and start again. It’s almost as if this is to be expected. While we might have turned a blind eye to such connectivity snafus even 18 months ago, it seems a disappointing stumbling block in 2020 – especially when Award-winners such as the considerably cheaper Earfun Air handle pairing (and re-pairing) after charging with ease.
The Melomania Touch's battery life looks outstanding on paper. 50 hours is the claim (nine hours from the buds plus more than four full charges from the case, before it too needs charging via the USB-C port), thus upping the 45-hour total playtime of the inaugural model. But there’s a catch – those figures are for Low Power Mode listening.
Cambridge Audio claims its new default High Performance Audio Mode uses the same method of amplification found in the company’s award-winning CX range of hi-fi amplifiers. The promise is of lower noise levels and a higher dynamic range – again, it sounds impressive, but to get it you take a hit in terms of stamina. In High Performance Audio Mode, the claim is seven hours of battery life from the earbuds, plus up to a further 33 hours via the charging case. While still competitive, this is five hours under the firm’s own Melomania 1.
We decide to switch between High Performance Audio to Low Power mode, but can’t help thinking as we do so (it’s a somewhat lengthy process, with the app urging you not to leave the page while the transition is completed) that anyone purchasing a set of Cambridge Audio headphones will do so based on the promise of superior sound quality. As such, a proposition that downgrades this in return for a maximum of ten hours of lower-quality playback feels counter-intuitive. Our right earpiece makes the transition first, turning off and then back on once switched over. The left earpiece follows. A few minutes later, we should’ve made the change to Low Power Mode, but the app crashes twice before the switch in our last earpiece has been finalised, and with two different samples of earbuds.
Once we manage to achieve Low Power, we hear a modicum of noise in the background compared with High Performance Audio Mode. It’s barely audible, and while the sound is still otherwise musical and passable, we are left wholly unsure whether such a feature is advisable given our success rate – other than to win battery bragging rights over the predecessor, when it works.
The new Melomania app looks slick, is well-designed and here you are getting a wealth of extra perks for the money, all of which perform with far greater reliability in our tests. On the app’s hub page, you can see battery life in each individual bud, activate Transparency Mode (which has a percentage slider from 0 to 100 from little ambient noise to maximum external noise pickup) or select ‘Find My Earphones’ if you’ve misplaced them.
There are six distinctive EQ presets, or you can create your own custom five-band EQ setting and save up to three of them. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be found toying with them, and the Transparency Mode in particular – which can also be deployed with a triple-press of either earpiece – is useful if you’re waiting on a train platform and listening for an announcement about a delay to your journey.
Otherwise, the spec sheet reads well, albeit devoid of aptX HD support, with the same cVc noise-cancelling mic as the Melomania 1 in each bud plus Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX, AAC and SBC codecs – although you can actually switch off any codecs you never want to hear again in the Melomania app, if you’d like. During phone calls, we find the mic pick-up clear and the call quality is good.
Once the earphones are paired, situated in our ears, and with most controls toggled off, (for our tests, we reset all EQ settings to ‘Balanced’ or neutral) fans of the original Melomania 1 will find much to enjoy sonically in the updated Melomania model. Expect similar levels of attack and agility – the Melomania Touch earbuds dutifully celebrate the electric guitar solo and Richie Sambora’s Dunlop Heil HT1 talkbox solo at the outset of Livin’ On A Prayer, but it’s never at the expense of the twinkling chimes at the start of the track.
Here We Are Juggernaut by Coheed and Cambria allows the Melomania Touch to display their talents further in a cohesive, detailed mix, and while there’s a slightly more bass-heavy presentation to be gleaned from the Sony WF-1000XM3 (our reference set of class-leading headphones, albeit one level up), you’ll actually get a bit more bite and dynamic build from the Melomania Touch proposition. It’s a case of marginally less refinement but more zeal – the kind that makes our music exciting.
Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody makes us aware that when compared with the Sonys, the newer and cheaper product offers a slight step up in terms of timing, too. The new Melomania are faithfully nippy and agile, especially when it comes to the lower registers, where they actually offer a marginally more accurate representation than the Sony Award-winner. When it comes to sonics at this level, we find ourselves scratching our heads to find an issue.
Cambridge Audio’s new Melomania Touch true wireless earbuds offer a potentially class-leading proposition at the level sonically, which is why our persistent issues with the software and pairing are a real shame. The new design is comfortable, the app integration offers plenty of customisable tweaks over the originals, and the sound is everything we remember from the Award-winning Melomania 1.
Sadly, the fact that we had to perform several resets of the buds themselves and had to relaunch the app more than once to complete the promised audio functions means we’re unable to recommend them confidently as things currently stand.
We truly hope we can look at these again soon because, true to form, Cambridge Audio has given us much to celebrate in the sound department.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 3
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