With the huge True Wireless headphones, Microsoft shows courage to create an extraordinary design. The test reveals whether they also produce a great sound.
True wireless headphones have been an absolute bestseller, especially since the appearance of the Apple Airpods 1st Gen (test report). There are now Apple Airpods 2nd Gen (test report), but other models such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds + (test report) and the Powerbeats Pro (test report) are popular alternatives. The Airpods clones from China are really cheap. We collect everything on the topic on our topic page True Wireless Headphones. Now Microsoft is entering the in-ear market with the Surface Earbuds after the Over-Ears Microsoft Surface Headphones (test report).
Design and hardware
With headphones you can perfectly show that you are different. Because hardly any technical accessory is used so obviously. Microsoft must have been obsessed with this idea when developing Surface Earbuds. The company should definitely be congratulated for the courage in the design of the True Wireless headphones. But let's start with the rather unspectacular charging box. The elongated box looks almost like a storage box for contact lenses. A small, gray Microsoft logo is emblazoned on the glossy white of the thin lid. The USB-C port is on the back and the reset button on the bottom. Without earphones, the box weighs 40 g, each ear plug weighs 7.2 g again.
When you open the box, you see two circular disks the size of two euro coins. This is the back of the earrings magnetically held in the shell. A push mechanism would have been great to remove the earbuds. Instead, you pry it up by its edges with a fingernail. The sound box with the driver is also exceptionally shaped. The earpiece itself is somewhat reminiscent of a bicycle saddle, with the large sound opening at the tip. The earmold can be removed to replace it with a more suitable size. The special shape has one major disadvantage: if a fitting is lost, you cannot simply use any other attachment from another manufacturer. We also recommend trying out all of the included attachments and maybe even choosing different sizes for the studs at the end. It is important that it fits, because the right size has a great effect on the sound quality due to the unusual design.
The back of the ear pieces is absolutely flat, the touch-sensitive surface looks noble – almost as if it were made of mother-of-pearl. There are two microphones in each earbud, and they are also certified with IPX4, which means they are well protected against sweat and water splashes. The comfort is okay, but in the long run it can tweak a little due to the unusual construction.
The design is both clean and extravagant. Here you play with greatness and at the same time maintain restraint. If the headphones are in your ear, they could also be used as costume jewelry. You hardly notice that it is high-performance technology. The minimalist look aims for a maximum effect and should probably be reminiscent of high-priced, Scandinavian-cool design. Apparently, Swedish furniture stores are also popular in the United States.
The surface earbuds have so far only been available in white. In addition to the charging case, the scope of delivery also includes earmolds in three different sizes and a USB-C cable.
The Earbuds can be set up easily, for the Bluetooth pairing simply press the button on the bottom of the charging box. Once the pairing is done, this confirms a nice voice. It is recommended to download the "Surface Audio" smartphone app, as this is the only way to update the firmware of the earbuds – and change the language of the announcements. In order to put the headphones in the ear, they are turned slightly into the ear, comparable to a door lock – the ear cartilage serves as a holding bolt for the elongated body. That sounds complicated, but the movement quickly turns into flesh and blood. Nevertheless, the feeling when wearing it is unusual, as if the plugs are not seated correctly. We kept catching ourselves trying to tighten the earphones.
It is operated by touch on the large back of the ear studs. A double tap on one of the pages starts or stops the music. Calls are also accepted or rejected in this way. The left side is swiped forward or back to select songs. And a swipe up or down on the right regulates the volume. A long press activates the voice assistant of your choice.
The operating functions cannot be reassigned with the app, but you can at least deactivate the touch controls completely. However, the smartphone must then serve as the control center. With the equalizer of the app, different sound modes can be selected to adapt the sound to your own listening habits.
The overall operation is uncomplicated, but we still had to get used to the high sensitivity of the touch surface. After a few mistakes, things went like clockwork, the large surface also allows large fingers to call functions unerringly.
In addition to SBC, the surface earbuds also offer the Highres codec aptX. The test playlist starts with On the Landwehr Canal of collapsing new buildings. The track starts in the background with light strokes on pieces of wood, in the 1,2,3-waltz rhythm of a counting rhyme. Then the well accentuated bass run sets in, only to be immediately supported by the vocals of Blixa Bargelds. "The cloudy water flows slowly past" he begins his lines hoarsely. It is an ode to Berlin, a look back at past times. An accordion sets in, the ballad continues to flow like the sung river, which provides a bit of dynamism. Shortly before the end, when the instruments fall silent and only the vocals can be heard, you finally hear the indicated finesse of the earbuds. It sounds like you're in a room with Blixa. However, it is a small room, the sound does not really want to develop. Everything sounds nice and calm, the bass does not hurt, the highs are clear, the mids hold the rest together as loosely as a relaxed daycare supervisor the children on a visit to the zoo.
Moby has also thrown his sample machine again, mixed many sounds and with All visible objects is brewing a new album. Morningside is the name of the opener, which begins with deep bass drums and high "yeahs" and "ohs" from strained female voices. Driving synth sounds come into play, a little “Hmmmm” on the left and finally a few typical sound effects that move from ear to ear. The sound that the earbuds produce matches the current time: it sounds as if a spacer was installed. The bass is too soft, the treble is slightly overemphasized, the mids are expressionless. The sound does not really want to ignite – which is not only because Moby has once again come up with nothing new. The club sound without corners and edges is timelessly boring, but especially with such a sterile sound the in-ears should have scored.
So we musically shift down a gear. At Jason by Perfume Genius, singer Mike Hadreas breathes a few Falcett sounds into the microphone at the beginning. A delicate bass builds the foundation, in the background the keys wobble. It still sounds fine and balanced here, but then there are also spinet, strings, drums and probably everything that was still in the studio. Definitely too much for the earbuds. The differentiation of the sound does not succeed at every point. The shy bass doesn't really give the song a structure. The peaks often break apart at heights. At this point the hour of the middle could have struck – but they remain largely colorless.
It continues with a few bars of Americana with the song What’ve I Done to Help by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit Reunions. Placed in the middle, the singer shouts the title bar several times, the acoustic guitar scrapes to the right, the bass sits more to the left, the strings and drums dangle on the neck and the keys shimmer around. Despite the richness of sound, the instruments can be located quite well, but they sound slightly overdriven. Almost like a live concert where the sound technician has fallen asleep too often in front of booming loudspeakers. The bass is too lax, the tips are sometimes too shrill. The musical tohuwabohu is too much for the earbuds. So at the end we quickly bring a little Zen moment to our ears.
Pianist Jon Balke spices up The Facilitator his flowing jazz melodies with strings that sound oblique from time to time. Musically this creates a bit of disharmony in the right places, but ensures that the piece does not drift in a tonally insignificant jingling. The keystrokes are fine, the sound reaches almost to the top. The minimalist sound is a home game for the earbuds. There is no bass here, but it is not missed either. The highs are clear, almost clinical, the mids finally take hold.
While the earbuds are colorless when playing music and leave little impression, they can convince with telephone calls and video calls: The sound is good on both sides of the line. The headphones sound really good with podcasts and audio books. The Surface Earbuds are made for the voice. Too much bass would be annoying here, the slightly antiseptic sound representation works great here. There are no delays in videos, in the Netflix series "After Life" Ricky Gervais' lip movements matched his voice.
According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts up to 8 hours, and we were able to confirm this good value in the test. The charging case has enough juice for two additional charging processes, so that a total battery life of up to 24 hours is achieved. If the batteries of the box and earphones are empty, ten minutes at the socket provide up to an additional hour of runtime.
The RRP is 220 euros. The price is too high compared to the competition – especially if you value optimal sound.
The earbuds from Microsoft are a visual statement, here the eye listens. Whoever wears these large discs in their ears demonstrates their courage for fashionable gadgets. We again admire Microsoft's courage to break new ground here. However, you buy the optical eye-catcher with a few disadvantages: the comfort is not optimal, the operation is very sensitive. But while you can feel your way around the earpieces through different attachments, the touch functions cannot be reassigned, but only deactivated completely via the app.
As cocky as the design is: Schmalhans was the kitchen master in terms of sound. One could also say benevolently that minimalism continues in sound. The bass is weak, the treble consistently covered, the reserved mids leave little impression. The app also promises a lot, but in principle it only serves to update the firmware and for a few equalizer games. Anyone who likes to wear costume jewelry and who likes an okay sound is well served with the Surface Earbuds. But if headphones should be more noticeable by sound, then it is worth taking a look at the significantly cheaper Samsung Galaxy Buds + (test report) and RHA True Connect (test report). We collect everything on the topic on our topic page True Wireless Headphones.
By the way: All test tracks are on the Spotify playlist In the name of the review to find.