We love true wireless earbuds. Well, we more love the thought of them than the actual execution we’ve been seeing. The engineering struggles to get everything packed into tiny earpiece spaces and working efficiently are real. Even the few that have the wireless connection down pat still have considerable compromise, such as meager battery life and inferior sound quality.
But this is the natural path of innovation. We’ll get there someday. Until then, we can still single out the best-working options right now, if you’re like us and can’t wait for that completely wireless future.
One new offering that has caught our attention is the Surge Charge, from Rowkin. This company, while not a household name, aggressively came into the wireless earbud scene early on, with affordable pricing and solid functionality. The Surge fills the “Sport” gap in Rowkin’s true wireless earbud lineup. This Synopsis sums up the necessary details.
Upon unboxing, it’s immediately seen that the Surge Charge are designed more with function in mind than form. Their blocky makeup and footprint are quite a deviation from the tiny and minimal earpieces we’ve been accustomed to. One could justify a lack of finesse by the lower cost, but a big part of it is driven by the “Sport” aim. Those large ear guides, for instance, ensure that the earbuds are secure in any kind of workout.
- Not flimsy despite plastic build
- Ear guides work well
- Three-button controls easy to use
- Case has a large battery
- Impeccable wireless connection
- Great sound quality
- Hard plastic chassis feels cheap in hand
- Earpieces are large
- Case is too thick
- Have to plug in earpieces to charge
- Minimal ear tip selection
- Nozzle can lead to discomfort
What it’s like to use
- We already suggested that the Surge Charge aren’t your typical true wireless earbuds. They’re relatively large and bulky, and bear sizable, non-removable rubbery ear glides that shoot up and over.
- Their girth makes them look like yesteryear Bluetooth communicators when donned. Fortunately, they’re lighter than they appear.
- The exterior of the earpieces is just the essentials. It’s a non-premium, hard plastic affair. No “fancy” features like status LEDs or touch controls. The only sense of styling is a weave texture on the outer surfaces, near a green circular logo.
- The Surge was initially released sans the charging case (just called the “Surge” and priced at $20 less). The “Surge Charge” is technically a re-release that includes a carrying/charging case. The earpieces are unchanged, which means that their charging mechanism is also unchanged. They still have to be physically plugged in (via microUSB ports on each earpiece).
- Therefore, the case sports two short microUSB cables within. This is inconvenient compared to the competition. Typical true wireless earbuds utilize a magnetic pin-charging mechanism so you can effortlessly place the earbuds in their case and forget about it. With the Surge, you have to plug in each earbud every time you want to charge.
- In addition, the case is thicker than it should be for a device that should be pocket-able. We like how Rowkin made a case that can charge the earbuds five times over (they get a decent five hours of playback on a charge, so that’s 25 hours before having to charge the case), but we don’t know if it’s worth the cost to portability. Unless you have super baggy pants, you’ll need to have a travel bag to transport it, and there isn’t even a carabiner clip attachment to carry it on your person.
- The ear guides make donning the earpieces is a two-hand operation. They’re not just flexible but moldable, and form to the ear very well and comfortably. To place, seat the earpiece in your ear and then pull the guides up and over the top of your ear. It’s a light not tight fit, but enough to secure the earpieces in place, so discomfort isn’t a concern here.
- The middle of the nozzle is taken up a substantial round protrusion that we assume is the audio driver. It butts up with the outside of the ear canal, which can lead to a little discomfort after a while. It’s not unbearable but noticeable.
- Rowkin puts just an essential ear tip selection in the box. That is, only three pairs (S, M, and L) of custom silicone tips. Many manufacturers these days are generous by throwing in a couple different variations, and sometimes foam tips for superior isolation. What makes it worse is that none of these tips provided the 100% ear canal seal we desire.
- Interestingly, you find that both earbuds have their own 3-button set of playback controls. Usually manufacturers select one earbud to handle the controls. Both sets do the same things, you just pick which earbud you want to use.
- The earbuds automatically shut off when you plug them in to charge. However, the opposite isn’t true. You’ll have to manually turn them on (long press the middle button), and because the earbuds are independent, you’ll have to do this separately for both. This is in contrast to the typical true wireless earbud, where you just pick them out of their case and they’re ready to go.
- Another oversight is that, if you put them back in the case without plugging them in, you must remember to manually shut them off – another downside of not having a pin connection with the case. What’s worse, they don’t have an automatic shutoff feature that intelligently turns them off after a period of no playback to avoid unintentional battery drain.
- A common issue that true wireless earbuds fall victim to is a spotty wireless connection. It appears to be a challenge to create a Bluetooth module this small that can maintain a steady connection within a long enough range. Fortunately for the Surge, this is what what makes them special. We haven’t seen a wireless connection so solid with true wireless earbuds before. We didn’t get any stuttering whatsoever while working out with phone in pocket, and it takes several feet from walking away from the source for the signal to start cutting out. Job well done.
- Being a “Sport” focused true wireless earbud, we didn’t have much expectation going into our listening tests, but we ended up pretty darn impressed.
- Overall, it’s a very pleasing sound signature and quality. The response tilts towards bass, but isn’t overdone, bloaty, or muddy. From the depth of the sub-bass to the punch of the mid-bass, it all has terrific definition and texture. You’ll of course achieve micro-detail from higher-end, audiophile-grade in-ears, but the Surge surprisingly get a good deal of the way there.
- We also commend the bass for maintaining decent separation from the mid-range. Many times, elevated bass in “affordable” earbuds push back the mids. That’s not the case here. While the region isn’t as powerful as the bass, it’s authoritative and well articulated. Vocals, in particular, have a pleasingly airy nature.
- We weren’t impressed with the treble like we were elsewhere. It’s average in both quality and presence. It gets the job done, but without standout characteristics like a crisp delivery or high-reaching details.
- Overall clarity and detail aren’t outstanding in the grand scheme of things, but respectable for this class. Presentation and impact is where Rowkin succeeded. Along with this is a soundstage that has some room to breathe. Again, it’s not the largest and most dynamic stage you’ll find, but there’s enough dimensionality to the sounds for an immersive experience.
- There’s only the slightest hissing (above-average for this type of headphone). It’s easily drowned out by music.
The Surge Charge may be the earbuds for you depending on what you value most. Their design lacks the finesse and compactness you’ll find on many competitors, but they redeem themselves when it comes to performance. We haven’t seen true wireless earbuds that hold so well of a connection, which is at deal-breaking levels in many of today’s offerings. It’s also a force to be reckoned with from an audio quality standpoint, relatively.
We additionally have to look at the Surge for what they are: affordable sport earbuds. This inherently means they won’t be the prettiest things but will stay in your ears through rigorous workouts and function solidly. Still, we hope that Rowkin addresses some of our gripes, like the inconvenient charging and thick case, in the next version.
Also See: Best True Wireless Earbuds