Truly wireless earbuds have come a long way. The headphones that initially hit the market were finicky, unreliable and expensive, but today you can get an affordable pair of truly wireless earbuds that sound great, have good battery life, and a strong Bluetooth connection.
NuForce jumped to the truly wireless headphone game when it debuted the NuForce BE Free8 last year, and we were impressed by their good sound and 16-hour combined listening time. However, they weren’t the most affordable pair of truly wireless earphones with a price tag of $150 (about £113, AU$200).
Now NuForce is back with a budget model, the BE Free5 earbuds. These $99 (about £75, AU$134) truly wireless earphones offer good sound, excellent noise isolation, and long battery life. However, there are a few quirks that keep us from recommending these for everyone.
To our eye, the design of the NuForce BE Free5 buds looks like a more mature version of the NuForce BE Free8. Sure, the Free8 are the top-of-the-line true wireless earbuds from the company, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from build or design alone. In fact, we prefer the matte black color and textured plastic of the BE Free5 to the glossy, slippery plastic of the BE Free8.
The earbuds themselves are subtle, with a textured black enclosure and a glossy end-cap that functions as a button for each earbud. The glossy cover houses a shimmery silver pattern that looks very nice in sunlight and is a nice touch. Each earbud houses a LED to let you know if they’re connected, pairing, or running low on power.
As we mentioned, each earbud has a single button to control various functions, but they’re frustrating to use. To adjust the volume, you press and hold the left or right earbud for two seconds. If you hold it too long, say for 4 seconds, the headphones shut down – but if you hold it for too short a time you end up pausing whatever you're listening to.
To add to the confusion, the left earbud lets you skip tracks with a double press, while the same double tap on the right activates your voice assistant. It’s also not ideal to press a button into your ears, as it messes with how the earbud is seated in your ear, forcing you to re-adjust from time to time. We found the physical buttons on the Jabra Elite 65t much easier to use.
The BE Free5 case is made of the same sandblasted plastic that the earbuds are made of, so gone are the fingerprint issues of the smooth, pebble-like BE Free8 case. The hinge is magnetic, as are the individual earbuds, so they plop easily into the case. When you open the lid of the case you’ll see an LED light to tell you the current charge of the case. Charging is performed via the microUSB port on the rear – we wish NuForce would jump to USB-C charging.
NuForce includes four pairs of eartips, as well as three sets of 'wings' for those who plan to work out or run with the BE Free5. We found that the earbuds stayed in our ears just fine without the wings, but they're a nice addition.
Let’s start by talking about the sound quality. The NuForce BE Free5 earbuds sound excellent for the price, and we actually prefer the sound to the more expensive BE Free8. Where the BE Free8 exhibited hiss when no music is playing, the BE Free5 are dead silent, which makes listening to music at low volumes much more pleasant.
In terms of tonal balance, the NuForce BE Free5 are tuned with a meaty low-end, which is typical of mainstream headphones. However, bass is well controlled and offers good impact, something commuters will appreciate to help drown out ambient noise. Mids are well represented too, with some mid-bass bleed but nothing egregious. Highs are nicely extended but slightly rolled off, so they never sound harsh.
Wireless performance is only average, with the left earbud dropping out from time to time, even when we were sitting stationary at our desk. We experienced more frequent dropouts while walking in the city, something the more expensive BE Free8 didn’t exhibit. The connection dropouts are by far the most frustrating negative of the BE Free5, and we hope NuForce and fix this in an updated version of the headphones.
Battery life is rated at 16 hours total listening time, meaning the case can charge the headphones from dead three full times. In our testing, we found this battery life rating accurate, and we were never surprised by dead headphones, as we were with the Crazybaby Air.
The NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds show just how accessible truly wireless headphones are today. For around $100 (about £75, AU$134) they feature a more polished design than the more expensive BE Free8, and even sound better to boot. However, we found the left earbud would drop out briefly more than we’d like, and we hope NuForce can address this issue.
The connection dropouts combined with the frustrating controls keep us from a wholehearted recommendation, but the BE Free5 offer undeniable value in the truly wireless headphone market.
- Want more options? Check out our best true wireless earbuds