The new Technics EAH-AZ80 are entering the wireless earbuds market at a tricky time. Clocking in at a substantial £259 / $299 / AU$499, the AZ80s’ main competition at this price comes from the Award-winning Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II buds, the (also) Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM4 and the five-star Apple AirPods Pro 2. The AZ80 are essentially entering a Battle of the Bands competition with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Nirvana also on the bill.
The question is not just whether or not the Technics AZ80 are a fine pair of earbuds that will give you a decent listen and a host of useful add-ons to boot, but also whether the AZ80 can justify their existence, and price, when competition at this level is so fierce. In short, would you buy a pair of Technics when you could have the best of Bose, Sony or Apple for a similar outlay?
That isn’t to say the EAH-AZ80 can’t be excellent earbuds in their own right (many headphones have earned the full five stars by virtue of their own intrinsic excellence), but rather to make it clear that any discussion regarding Technics’ latest has to be framed within the broader view of a crowded, ruthlessly competitive market.
Comfort & Build
The Technics EAH-AZ80 aren’t going to set the world alight in the design stakes, but they’re a comfortable and stylish pair of earbuds that come equipped with a well-made, milled aluminium charging case.
General build quality throughout is solid, and while Technics has barely pushed the boat out aesthetically, the AZ80’s smooth, unfussy design does the job. The buds’ rounded body comes out at a ninety-degree angle to the stem and fits comfortably into the ear without much hassle. The charging case, meanwhile, could have come from a number of similar rivals, a flat-bottomed item that houses its buds without too much fuss or fiddling.
We’re also pleased to see Technics not being frugal with its whopping seven pairs of ear tip options for the AZ80, so if you don’t initially find the right fit, there’s plenty of opportunity to rectify the issue. The now-standard three tip choices has always seemed meagre, especially considering a single tip likely costs pennies to manufacture, so it’s gratifying to have a wide range of sizes at your disposal. There's no ear tip fit test in the app as is offered with many rival brands, though, so you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. Essentially, if you hear plenty of bass then the fit is probably fine.
For this price and at this level, we’re expecting the AZ80 to be well-furnished with plenty of features. Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a must, and the AZ80 deliver this via an adjustable noise cancellation mode which has two main options: pure noise cancelling and ambient sound. Both are relatively effective, yet rivals can offer more options in this field, and of a higher quality – whacking the ANC up to 100 per cent has roughly the desired effect of reducing exterior sound, but obtrusive low-level noise doesn’t simply melt away as it does when you put in a pair of Sony, Bose or AirPods Pro 2.
Technics’ own JustMyVoice call tech is a useful feature, though, analysing your voice signal and then suppressing the surrounding noise to capture what you’re saying more clearly. Ambient noise reduction also works well to block out intrusive wind and bluster when conditions outside are sub-optimal, meaning phone calls have more clarity when taken in tricky weather.
Codec Support LDAC, SBC, AAC
Battery Life Up to 7 hours (single charge in earbuds with ANC on), up to 7.5 hours (ANC off); total 25 hours (with charging case, ANC off)
Finishes x2 (Deep Pure Black, Silver)
Weight 7g each
How about battery life? You’ll get up to seven hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, a number which rises a little to 7.5 hours with noise cancellation switched off, beating the AirPods Pro 2 for single charge time (six hours) but falling short of the Sony WF-1000XM4 (eight hours). Factor the charging case into the equation and you’ll receive 25 hours of charge in total without ANC, and a slightly diminished 24 with noise cancellation turned on, but you can always give your buds a boost via USB-C or a wireless charging pad.
The big headline-grabber, though, is industry-first three-device multipoint connection, allowing the AZ80 to alternate quickly from three playing sources on the fly. Three devices should be a strain, but in actual fact it’s implemented brilliantly, and we bounce happily and seamlessly between Spotify on our phone, a nearby laptop playing a Deadmua5 mix via YouTube and then Apple Music courtesy of our iPad. It is worth noting, however, that LDAC support only comes on two devices, so switching to three via the Technics Connect app will potentially drop your codec’s quality as a result of juggling multiple connections.
As we’ve hinted at already, price could be a major factor in determining the AZ80’s success. After all, if Technics can undercut its rivals while offering a competitive product with similar strengths as the class leaders, it may be able to pull off the crafty coup of nabbing customers from the more established earbuds manufacturers.
The flagship EAH-AZ80 will set you back £259 / $299 / AU499, while the AirPods Pro 2 cost a little less at £249 / $249 / AU$399 at launch – a price that, at the time of writing, has dropped by around 8 per cent on Amazon’s UK site.
The stellar Sony WF-1000XM4 are currently available to buy for just shy of £200 in the UK (tested at £250 / $280 / AU$450), while the excellent Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II still retail at near their original price of £280 / $299 / AU$429.
This puts the AZ80 somewhere near the middle of the pack; not the most expensive of the lot but by no means the budget option, either. Yes, Technics’ effort is undercutting Bose’s more pricey model by around £20 in the UK, but they end up more costly than the AirPods 2 and the Sony WF-1000XM4. That mountain, it seems, became just a little bit steeper.
The AZ80 are making a statement with their not-inconsiderable price tag, so let’s see if they can be worthy of that premium outlay with a similarly premium performance. Upon firing up Tom Petty’s poppy, jangly hit The Waiting, we’re immediately provided with a sense of the buds’ particular musical style. The AZ80 earbuds confer their musical cargo with a pleasing feeling of neutral clarity, the music presented in the same way that a modern museum would showcase its artistic works: a light, airy space that doesn’t draw attention away from the pieces on display.
While some wireless earbuds tend to smother the music they present in a heavy, bassy glaze, the AZ80 instead step back to provide an open, unobtrusive soundscape. There are times, though, when this light presentation occasionally lacks satisfying dynamics and punch, so you may find yourself reaching for the in-app equaliser to add a little bass and put some meat on what are, admittedly, still some very listenable bones.
When you’re reaching for the truly dramatic numbers, however, this lack of punch can become a noticeable drawback. Whack on Alan Silvestri’s Forge (AKA Thor’s theme from Avengers: Infinity War) and you’ll receive an organised, balanced orchestral number that builds to a suitably exciting climax. Switch over to the QuietComfort Earbuds II for comparison, though, and those goosebumps will be far more in evidence at the crashing musical denouement during Bose’s rendition. Thanks to their fuller, weightier delivery, it’s the Bose that will have you reaching for your Stormbreaker axe in a pique of vengeful fury.
The sonic picture painted by Technics’ game effort is still broadly positive, though, providing us with a pleasant listen that benefits from an unobtrusive, generous but still detailed presentation. They’re fun, they’re clean and they only occasionally intrude into actively colouring your music in a way that you’d prefer they didn’t. In this regard, the AZ80 make a reasonably strong case for themselves.
For what they are, the Technics EAH-AZ80 are a good pair of wireless earbuds, solid in terms of design and build, well-furnished with features and enjoyable when the music actually starts playing. That spacious, open presentation is an asset, and Technics’ flagship model will certainly appeal to those wearers who like their music to have a little more room to breathe. But there are rivals at this level that offer a fuller, meatier audio experience for a similar price.
Questions remain, then, about the AZ80’s place in the world. Without being unfair to the earbuds themselves, it’s hard to see how Technics can steal customers away from its established competitors, especially when you consider that the AZ80 aren’t undercutting their rivals by a particularly substantial margin, if at all. It’s a game effort from Technics, but with rival products, especially Bose’s peerless QuietComfort Earbuds II, offering more heft and musical interest, we’re not sure the AZ80 have done enough to carve out their own slice of the metaphorical cake.
- Sound 4
- Features 4
- Comfort 4
Read our review of the Apple AirPods Pro 2
Also consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review