Rowkin is a name that comes to mind when talking about small and affordable wireless earbuds. They’ve proven to be a newcomer to be taken seriously (unlike the sea of dubious others). Our look at their previous release, the Surge Charge, showed a real progression. Despite a lack of finesse (granted, the Surge are meant to be “Sport” buds), the level of refinement exceeded our expectations.
So naturally, interest was reserved for what would be next, and that turned out to be the Ascent Charge true wireless earbuds. This synopsis sums up the need-to-know details.
The Ascent Charge are poised as an evolution of Rowkin’s signature, tiny true wireless earbuds. The company continues to have just about the smallest earpieces you can get. That kind of design strictness leaves plenty of room for improvement in function, and that’s basically what the Ascent aim to address.
A lot of the deal is confusingly about the accessories. The same earbuds come in three variations, with three different model names: Ascent Micro, Ascent Charge, and Ascent Charge+. In a nutshell, the difference between the Micro and the Charge is a more feature-rich carrying case, and the difference the Charge and Charge+ is that the latter comes with a Qi wireless charging pad so that you can utilize the built-in capability of the case.
- Quality build
- Seemingly impossibly small earpieces
- So much battery capacity with Charge case
- USB-C and wireless charging support
- Charge’s case is very large
- Battery life on a single run just average
- Connection dropouts
- Not the best sound quality
What it’s like to use
- First impression draws up a mixed message with this “Charge” version of the Ascent earbuds. The earpieces are tiny but the carrying case is among the largest we’ve seen for a true wireless earbud. The case with the “Micro” version makes more sense for the purpose of the design.
- What the case gains for the size is a significantly heftier battery and wireless charging support. Specifically, where the Ascent Micro gets up to 17 hours total, the Charge’s case can provide a whopping 50 hours for the earphones from a full charge. That kind of life is unprecedented for this kind of wireless earphone. However, the life of a single run of the earbuds’ batteries is an average 3.5 hours.
- The Charge’s case is built well and feels sturdy, more than what we’d expect at this price-point. Where the two textures (~ 3/4 is smooth metal while the rest is a ridged plastic, all black matte finish) split is where the sliding opening mechanism is. The wireless charging element is of course within the plastic section.
- Placing the earpieces into their silo is a little funky. You drop the nozzles onto a protruding pin. We’re guessing that the contact between the pin’s tip and metal nozzle grills on the earpieces is how power is transferred, but don’t know for sure. It takes a little fiddling to get the orientation correct because the strong magnetic pull tends to grab the earpiece prematurely. Not the cleanest execution but very minor thing.
- As advertised, the earpieces are notably small. There’s not much to the shape themselves, essentially a cylinder with angled nozzles. A couple design touches are the ridged surfaces and shiny domes at the base of the nozzles.
- Interestingly, there’s a rubber ring at the center of the earpiece, which is removable. We assumed it’s to help support the fit. Except, in our ears, the ring limited how far we could push the earpiece in. This wasn’t a good thing, because we couldn’t get an appropriate seal with any of the tips. Removing the ring solved the problem. Your mileage may vary.
- The fit is comfortable, and we didn’t have a problem with the earpieces falling out (even when working out). That said, the fit didn’t feel the most confident (a little loose). It isn’t that hard to slightly but noticeably interrupt the seal with jaw movement.
- You’re always limited when it comes to one-button tap controls on these type of earbuds, but Rowkin covers the basics: play/pause (double tap) and virtual assistant toggle (triple tap) with the right earpiece, and next track (double tap) and previous track (triple tap) with left earpiece. The touches are pretty responsive; every once in a while we get a miss. It’d help if the touch area was larger.
- The strength of the Bluetooth signal feels like a compromise to get the small size of earpieces. We observed drops here and there with movement, but not a substantial or unacceptable amount. Something we’ve come to appreciate is how the audio smoothly fades in and out when an interruption does occur, instead of being abrupt.
- Rowkin set the stage with the Ascent’s slogan of “Elevate your Sound”, and following-up from the great sounding Surge Charge earbuds, we were looking forward to the listen. Unfortunately, we don’t have as many high marks for the Ascent. Starting with the good, Rowkin did manage to carry over the energy, fun, and dynamics from the Surge. It’s a pleasant listen, and clarity is decent for its class. But that also goes to say that it’s certainly more of a causal listening experience than one for accuracy or the analytical.
- The largest culprit is the boomy bass. Like many others, we like a decent punch, but it’s a little on the overdone side in this case (reminding us of a Beats-like sound signature). The loose/bloaty quality also isn’t up to snuff. Bassheads may not mind it too much and may actually think the impactful low-end power is a good trade-off, but it will probably detract audiophiles easily.
- Treble is another area that could use some refinement. We appreciate its clean presence (rather than being clearly laid-back back like most other affordable earbuds), as well as articulation. It does well despite lacking some of the HiFi definition. Things somewhat fall apart at higher frequencies, but this is expected in this class.
- Despite the soundstage not being anything noteworthy, we’re glad that Rowkin managed an airy presentation. The overall sound doesn’t feel confined. Even with a slightly recessed mid-range, vocals and such sound open and engaging.
The Ascent earbud is an interesting animal. There’s a lot to consider, including which model variant to get. We like Rowkin’s implementation of case choices for this earbud – either a compact form with the Micro or a long-lasting solution with the Charge. Construction is excellent for this class, and no other case that we know of can wirelessly charge.
It’s too bad the more critical aspects are somewhat lacking. We just couldn’t get a great and stable fit in our ears, and the sound quality, while enjoyable, left to be desired. Rowkin’s ambition to push the size envelope while keeping the pricing at bay is appreciated, but there’s still more work to be done.
Also See: Best True Wireless Earbuds