Mobvoi’s response to Apple’s AirPods was the TicPods Free. A name admittedly on the nose, but a bargain by comparison. Now in their second iteration, the TicPods 2 with an accompanying Pro variant have been released. The TicPods 2 attempt to deliver in areas that their predecessor fell short. Mobvoi was kind enough to provide some for us to review.
NOTE: This review is of the Pro variant of the TicPods 2. While they share many features, this review and expression of opinion does not cover the non-Pro model.
The original TicPods were not amazing. They were a solid ‘okay.’ They had some desirable features, but the audio experience was definitely not one of them. The product left a lot to be improved upon. Not that the product was bad, but that it wasn’t great either.
The TicPods 2 Pro immediately depart from the league of their original counterpart with the inclusion of AptX audio encoding in addition to the mundane SBC that was previously the sole codec available. The Smart Bit-Rate Control codec, or SBC, is the Bluetooth audio codec that is common to all audio-enabled Bluetooth devices as a requirement of the Bluetooth specification. The adoption of AptX enables for higher fidelity audio over the Bluetooth connection, meaning that you actually get more out of the audio drivers.
I had a fairly exhaustive experience with the TicPods 2 Pro as I spent three weeks painting during my evenings and weekends. As a result, I spent many hours with the product, much more than I typically would for a review.
Audio quality is one of those elusive, almost intangible, things that many people simply don’t care a whole lot about. Some people are driven insane by driver clipping and dialog muddied by the “enhanced bass” of cheaper headphones. To some, pronounced bass is a sign of pedigree, for others, it’s clarity. But because for most, audio equipment is just not one of those splurge-worthy items, not everyone is willing to spend their money on the diminishing returns of headphone audio quality.
Keeping that in mind, I think that’s where the TicPods 2 and the 2 Pro are aiming to land — between the lower and higher quality. The TicPods 2 Pro sit at $139.99 USD, which is $10 more than the originals. It’s certainly not an obscene price. And as I mentioned in the review of the original TicPods, “it’s a hefty amount to be dropping on headphones, especially when wired ones will (usually) provide much better audio quality.” Given that the Apple AirPods Pro will cost a whopping $249.99 USD, the TicPods 2 Pro look like a bargain, especially when you start counting the various features.
There isn’t much in the box. The product consists of the headphone, the charging case (which contains its own battery) and the charging cable. This iteration of the TicPods includes a USB Type C charger. However, the product page on Mobvoi’s site indicates that the case cannot receive a charge from a USB C to USB C cable. I’m not familiar enough with the USB A/B and C specifications to try and explain why that would be, but I would assume that it’s pertaining to a simplified pinout in the charging case.
The features are where we see the big differences between the TicPods 2 Pro and the original TicPods Free. There might not be a ton of new features, but the newly incorporated functionalities are very meaningful.
Firstly, leveraging AptX makes for a significant improvement over the audio quality of the originals. This is extremely welcome. I’m not a self-proclaimed audiophile, but I enjoy clear audio. And the TicPods 2 Pro certainly sound much better than the original. The one caveat, if you can call it that, is that you have to enable AptX in the Mobvoi app before you can leverage it. My Huawei P20 Pro wouldn’t accept the AAC codec for some reason, but it did the AptX (once I realized it needed to be enabled), and it made a discernable difference. It wasn’t instantly amazing, but it was a significantly perceptible improvement.
Secondly, the ability to use your digital assistant from the touch controls is very useful. I’m not sure why it wasn’t included previously, but it makes a world of difference.
Lastly, and possibly most important (from an investment perspective at least), is the fix for what was I believed to be a glaring problem on the originals. In my experience with the original TicPods, which I have used often since the initial review, there is no way to unpair them with a device that is not present. Despite my Googling (at least at the time), there appeared to be no way to unpair them from the headphones or case itself. It had to be done on the other device when the headphones were in proximity. Maybe letting the battery drain completely would work, but that is still unacceptable. All this is to say that the TicPods 2 does actually have a button for pairing.
Other mentionables are that the headphones are IPX4 water and dust resistant. Dual microphones, one in each earpiece. Head movement gestures and controls. And wake-word-free commands when calls are incoming.
The battery life isn’t amazing. But I trust that it’s still top-notch given that they’re leveraging Qualcomm chipsets to power the headphones. I was able to get between two and three hours of playback between earpiece charges. The TicPods 2 Pro is touted to have four hours between charges, but I presume that figure is with the volume level lower than the full-blast that I always keep my music at. So, it might not have had the means to cover a half-day of working, it will certainly handle the average commute or even a short road trip.
Here comes the most subjective part of this review. In-ear headphones are probably the worst thing one can comment on regarding comfort. But, in the spirit of honesty, I’ll disclose my experience.
I, myself, prefer the in-ear headphones. But at the same time, I can be very picky about them. To this day, the most comfortable (and suspiciously good sounding) headphones I’ve ever owned are a $15 pair of Sony earbuds. They don’t have booming bass and aren’t particularly loud, but they fit snug and incredibly comfortable. I’ve kept them specifically for their comfort.
The original TicPods were also quite comfortable for me, even during prolonged use. The TicPods 2 Pro, however, while initially comfortable for the first couple hours, started to irritate me after some time. The originals had a rubber piece, as many earbuds do, but the TicPods 2 Pro (and the non-Pro) are entirely plastic. To make things worse, the sound-port of the earpiece has a bit of an edge to it (the source of the irritation).
Again, comfort and fit are beyond subjective. If you don’t like earbuds, these likely aren’t for you. If you do like earbuds, your mileage will vary.
The TicPods 2 Pro is a generous improvement over the original. I’m not an advocate of wireless headphones, but if you’re set on going wireless, then there is certainly a case for the TicPods 2 Pro. They are a robust offering that, while much pricier than a wired set, provide a set of features that you cannot find in a wired product. The TicPods 2 Pro is a solid product and is competitively priced compared to similar products.