Many headphone manufacturers have jumped on the “truly wireless earbuds” bandwagon by now – Bose, Sony, B&O to name a few. We’re glad; the simplicity of a completely wire-free earbud is something special in practice. But the engineering challenges to get there have proven to be…challenging. Most of the true wireless earbuds out there (even the ones by established brands) have struggles, be it crazy short battery life or frustratingly spotty wireless connection.
Optoma, maker of the bang-for-the-buck NuForce brand, isn’t a stranger to Bluetooth earphones. As expected, they’ve joined the fray with a compelling, completely wireless pair of earbuds. Compelling why? It has aptX (higher fidelity wireless audio codec) support, great battery rating, and ear tips made by the highly-regarded SpinFit. But you never know until you try it. This Synopsis lays out the important details of the NuForce BE Free8.
The NuForce BE Free8 run for around $130, which is pretty darn good for this kind of headphone (excluding the many questionable no-name brands). Most of the competition of this caliber hits the $200 mark and up. The price pits the Free8 with the likes of the up-and-coming Rowkin. Where Optoma one-ups practically everyone is with aptX support, and we’ll go ahead and say that the Free8’s audio quality is a force to be reckoned with (relatively).
- Slim carrying/charging case
- Comfortable fit
- Great ear tips
- 4-hour battery in one charge, and case can charge earbuds four times over
- Some of the best sound in true wireless earbuds
- Cheap plastic almost everywhere
- Earbuds are slippery
- Earbud case seating is flimsy
- Signal can be notably spotty
- Audible hissing
What it’s like to use
- The Free8’s makeup is pretty basic, in every regard. The shape and chassis construction are just the essentials, with the only bit of styling being a ridged texture on the flat, outer surfaces.
- The case is engulfed by the same glossy black plastic used on the earpieces, which is unfortunate. Plastic isn’t bad if done right, but that’s not the case here. There’s no getting around the cheap feeling. It feels like a child’s toy.
- What doesn’t help the cause is that the earbuds don’t feel secure when seated in their silos. There’s no latching feedback when you insert them (like a click or magnetic catch that you can feel), and they effortlessly wiggle. Fortunately, Optoma designed the lid to hold them in place when closed, so we didn’t have any issues with them unseating during transport. The lid latch mechanism, on the other hand, is very well done. It strongly stays closed but is easy to open.
- Another not thought-out aspect of the design is the ergonomics of taking the earpieces out. When seated, there isn’t much area for your fingers to grab onto. And what’s there is that slippery black plastic. So you kind of have to dig to pop them out (or turn the case upside down and shake – not something you should have to do with a quality product). Not a huge deal, but a little texture to provide grip should’ve been thought of in the development process. Same goes when you’re handling the earbuds in general use; they’re too slippery.
- Other than the build, we like the case. Its slim profile allows it to be pocket-friendly. We hate when true wireless earbuds have thick cases. They’re meant for pocket travel.
- We appreciate all of the status LEDs that Optoma placed on the case. Atop, two LEDs correspond to each earbud, indicating when they’re charging. This great because you can immediately tell if one isn’t charging for some reason.
- Charging is via the older microUSB standard. We always want to see the latest USB-C, but this earbud is a more affordable offerings, so it’s excusable.
- Optoma completely lets SpinFit handle the ear tip selection in the Free8. This is fine by us; SpinFit is highly-regarded. That said, we would’ve also liked the option of foam tips (Optoma could’ve additionally partnered with Comply for these). SpinFit is more known for their fit quality, not noise isolation. And we would’ve liked more sizes and/or extra pairs.
- Getting started is as simple is a Bluetooth device usually is. They’ll be in pairing mode at the first use; simply find them on the mobile device and tap to pair. The earbuds turn on and off from opening and closing the lid.
- The Free8 have a master (left earpiece) and slave (right earpiece) relationship like with most true wireless earbuds. In other words, the left earpiece can play music without the right one, but not vice versa.
- This leads us to that sometimes when we start out, only the left earpiece gets turned on. Sometimes neither are on; very rarely were they both on when we put them in our ears, like it’s supposed to be. It’s not a big-deal bug, as both earpieces have independent power buttons. But just another annoyance to add to the list.
- The left power button doubles-up for a couple playback controls: one press to play/pause (or answer/end a phone call) and two presses to skip track (there’s no way to backtrack).
- Even after some time, we still get mixed up on how to orientate the earpieces into our ears. The pebbly shape doesn’t make it obvious. You do quickly figure it out with some rotation. The fit is actually commendable (naturally conforming to the ear opening), and you’ll know when you have it.
- The Free8 is yet another true wireless earbud that succumbs to poor Bluetooth reliability. It’s not hard to get it the connection to sputter when you’re walking around with your phone in your pocket (which, in our opinion, passing this test should be a requirement before the earbud can be released). We wouldn’t call it unusable, though. It’s manageable. A trend we noticed is that the connection chokes a bunch at the start and eventually stabilizes, even to the point where you can workout with them.
- Speaking of which, they can function as workout headphones. The fit doesn’t feel like a 100% confidence, but we never had them fall out of our ears. Optoma even encourages working out with them with an IPX5 water resistance rating.
- The roughly 4-hour battery rating may sound poor, but it’s actually above-average for a true wireless earbud. Especially since the case can charge it up four times over. This is where we are right now.
- One of the big attractions of the Free8 is its aptX support. Many smartphones today (thanks to Qualcomm’s chipsets) accept the higher fidelity wireless audio codec. Specifically, you’ll get up to 16-bit, 352 kbps bandwidth, which lines up nicely with the quality cap of popular music streaming services.
- We can contend that detail is a strong-point in the Free8’s output, hot of the heels of the excellent-sounding Sony WF-1000X. And it’s immediately noticeable from the sound quality that Optoma knows what it’s doing.
- Frequency ranges are pretty level throughout the spectrum, which allows for distinct appreciation when the track dictates it. The bass, in particular, always surprises us. It melds nicely with the mid-range, but can let out impressive power (for a true wireless earbud) and reaches deep. Mid-bass has just the right amount of punch. We’ve of course heard more definition from audiophile-grade earbuds, but these are notable for their class.
- The mid-range isn’t pushed back like that of the common V-shaped response. Vocals and instruments are present and engaging. We get a hint of distance, and the sound here could be more open and encompassing, but again, great performance for a true wireless earbud.
- The treble is the most “average” response in the spectrum. It’s a bit laid-back and can get overshadowed, but there’s plenty of detail to enjoy. Just don’t expect the more extended crispness from higher quality drivers.
- The soundstage space is decent for a true wireless earbud. It’s not very wide, but isn’t compressed in your head either. There’s enough breathing space to give a touch of airyness and distinct dynamics to elements. Just don’t expect out of this world performance.
- Like many wireless earbuds, the Free8 do exhibit low-level but audible hissing when they’re streaming. It’s on par with others we’ve heard and is easily drowned out by the music (except in more quite passages).
The NuForce BE Free8 is a mixed bag, if there was any. The design has the inescapable feel of cut corners. Its usability also feels a bit incomplete, in the not thought-out ergonomics and sputtery Bluetooth signal. But we wouldn’t say these aren’t to the deal-breaking level that would kill a recommendation. The device works; it’s not unusable. And it gets a boost from some strong pros.
At $130, some of the cons can be excusable, like the cheap-feeling build. The main function of a headphone is audio output, and the Free8 passes with flying colors. It’s one of the best sounding true wireless earbuds out right now. And we can’t ignore its great battery life and fit.
The Free8 is a cautious recommendation, if you think you can live with the first-gen syndrome effects.
Also See: Best True Wireless Earbuds