It’s clear that true wireless earbuds are where personal audio is heading. Apple’s excellent AirPods helped the form factor go mainstream and now, with so many new models flooding the market, it’s difficult to pick the right one for you.
On paper, the Soul X-Shock ticks all the right boxes; it claims a 60 hour combined battery life, water resistance, easy pairing and all for a very reasonable $170 (about £123, AU$218).
While most of its claims are true, its finicky and downright painful fit are its Achilles heel. Those who find the Soul X-Shock comfortable will enjoy excellent sound quality, noise isolation and excellent battery life but none of that matters for those who don’t find these truly wireless headphones comfortable.
The Soul X-Shock True Wireless earbuds look like every other wireless earbud, which isn’t a knock against it. It’s just that it’s hard to innovate on aesthetics with such small earbuds. We had the all-black version for testing but Soul sells the X-Shock in white with a cool transparent earbud shell, letting you see its innards.
The case of the Soul X-Shock is surprisingly beefy until you find out that it’s housing a 3,000mAh battery. That’s almost as big as some smartphones, which means you’ll be able to recharge the X-Shock 18 times for a combined battery life of 60 hours. The battery is so big that Soul cleverly integrated a full size USB-A port to allow users to top off their smartphones in a pinch.
The earbuds themselves are quite small and have a shallow fit. That’s because Soul chose to rely on the friction of the earbuds resting on the ear’s concha, the part of the ear that leads to the ear canal. Unlike the NuForce BE Free8, which features deep-insertion tips, the X-Shock only comes with small and large ear tips, making fit a big issue. We were frustrated with the fit of the earbuds, as chewing gum or yawning could slightly dislodge the earbuds, breaking the earbud seal which kills bass response.
Since the earbud tips basically sit flush with the ear canal tube, you’re going to get a lot of wax build up on the filter. The filters are not removable like on the Master & Dynamic ME05 so they can’t be cleaned, which makes the longevity of the X-Shock questionable.
Making matters worse, the one button found on each earbud is located on the side, which means you have to push the earbuds hard into your ear, which we found incredibly painful and again dislodged the earbuds from its seat in the concha. We wish Soul could have put the button on the top of the earbud so that our thumbs could be used to brace it better.
Assuming you can get a good fit with the Soul X-Shock, noise isolation is good but not the best. You’ll get some ambient noise from the outside world, which is actually nice if you’re walking around the city but don’t expect to be in your own anechoic chamber with them on.
Sound quality, assuming good fit again, is very good for the price. Bass is nicely extended and offers nice punch. Mids are lush and warm with highs being slightly rolled off at the top. Sound stage was also pleasantly wide, which is quite a challenge with earbuds.
One annoying issue we ran into when using the X-Shock was its inability to wake the right earbud when you’ve just been using the left one by itself. Pressing the right earbud wakes it but it doesn’t pair automatically. The only way to get them to pair again is to power-cycle them (turning them off and on) - a potentially frustrating little quirk if you're the kind of person who sometimes leaves one earbud in and not the other.
On the bright side, we were impressed to find that Soul’s claims of 60 hours of battery life to be true. In our daily use, which includes four hours of commute time per day and a couple extra hours of listening at home, we didn’t have to charge the case more than once a week. The earbuds themselves last about 4 hours on a charge before you have to pop them in the case.
That said, if you constantly take a lot of calls on your headphones, you'll want to stay away from the Soul X-Shock as they have terrible voice quality. Friends and family on the phone reported not being able to hear us at all, saying that that the mic barely picked up our voice in a completely quiet room.
It’s a shame that the Soul X-Shock True Wireless earbuds have such a poor fit as we actually quite liked using them. The sound quality was excellent and the battery life was unparalleled in this segment. Unfortunately the Soul X-Shock just didn’t fit our ears and with only two sizes of ear tips, we think many others will have the same problem.
iPhone users will want to stick to the Apple AirPods for seamless integration with iOS. Android users will want to try out the Jabra Elite Sport, which fit much better but doesn’t sound as good as the X-Force. Audiophiles should check out the awesome-sounding Sony WF-1000X, which feature active noise cancellation.
For a first try, the Soul X-Shock are impressive. Here's hoping Soul goes back to the drawing board and design a pair of earbuds that fit a bit better.