The Redmi Earbuds S, also known as the Redmi AirDots S, are a pair of affordable truly wireless earphones by Xiaomi. Despite the pricing, the company markets these as full-featured wireless earphones with an attractive, lightweight design, 12 hour battery life, splash-resistance, and a dedicated low-latency gaming mode. As for the price, the Redmi Earbuds S will set you back by a mere $24 or so in the Indian market.
That's not a lot of money even for wired earphones, so to deliver a truly wireless earphone experience on such a tight budget was likely not easy. So the question is, does Xiaomi have yet another cracking value proposition at its hands or is it yet another pair of forgettable Bluetooth earphones clogging up Amazon? I picked up a pair to find out.
Rhe Redmi Earbuds S come in a rather small and good-looking case. It's tall, so it won't fit inside the coin pocket in your jeans, but the overall volume of the case is quite low so it won't take up a lot of space inside your main pocket or bag.
The case has a matte finish on the exterior with the Redmi logo embossed on the top and product information printed on the bottom. The matte finish looks decent but can get scuffed and my unit even had some scuffs out of the box.
Before moving inside, there are two more things on the outside. On the front, just below the lip for opening the lid, is a tiny red LED that shows the charging status for the case. The LED is behind the plastic that shines through it and isn't visible when it isn't lit. On the back of the case is the microUSB connector for charging. microUSB is still common in this price range, so that wasn't a surprise. But with phones even in the budget end of the market increasingly getting USB-C ports, you might end up having to carry a separate cable just to charge these earphones with your phone's charger.
The lid for the case opens quite easily with two hands but as is usual for cases this shape, opening with one hand is a bit of a challenge and may lead to the case being dropped. Inside, the two earbuds are in a standard layout with their speakers pointing down. The case uses two pogo pins for each earbud to charge them. The receptacles for the earbuds are the only glossy bits on this case and the product in general.
The case is really light, especially with no earphones inside them. The overall build quality is quite decent for the price. The lid opens and closes with a reasonably well-weighted mechanism and shuts tight with only a little bit of play.
The earbuds have the same matte finish as the case. They have a pill-shaped design that fits the cavity of your outer ear quite nicely, although your mileage may vary. There's also an LED on each that's hidden away and glows to alert you of charging or pairing status.
Both earphones have a large multi-function button on the outside that spans nearly the entire width of the earbud. The problem with this design is that it is nigh on impossible to place them in your ears without pushing at least one of the buttons. This could result in all sorts of things happening, from playing music before you are ready or launching the voice assistant on your phone.
I have mentioned this in previous reviews but having buttons on the earbud themselves isn't a great idea. To use these buttons, you are required to push on them, which pushes the earphones deeper inside your ears every time and creates an uncomfortable sensation. The buttons on the Redmi Earbuds S are also very clicky and make a loud click in your ears every time you use them. Xiaomi has also tied a lot of functions to these buttons; eight of them, to be precise. This also includes the Game mode (which we will talk about later) that requires three continuous presses of the button, which is more annoying than you can imagine.
The Redmi Earbuds S are rated IPX4 for sweat and water-resistance. This means you can use them for a workout but also in light rain without having to worry about damaging them, although it's not recommended to shower or swim with them.
Overall, the Redmi Earbuds S design gets a B- for the clumsy button design. Unfortunately, it's more of an issue with the TWS form-factor in general, which leaves very little space to put basic functionality, and not every product can afford to have the AirPods' gesture-based design. So now we are stuck with stabbing our ears every time we have to play or pause our music.
The Redmi Earbuds S are a reasonably comfortable pair of earphones. The earphones come with three different ear tip sizes, all of which are made out of rubber. The default size fits me perfectly and the earphones sit comfortably in my ears without feeling like they would fall out. This is important as they do not have any other appendage to keep them in like some of the sporty models.
The rubber ear tips also afford some amount of passive noise isolation, which coupled with the sound of the music is usually enough to drown out the surroundings without needing active noise-cancellation. I wouldn't even mind using them for short flights.
As mentioned earlier, the earphones fit my ears quite well despite having smaller than average ears. Having said that, the oblong shape might not necessarily fit everyone well.
Features and Software
The Redmi Earbuds S support Bluetooth 5.0, however, they cannot be used with two devices at the same time. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection does mean, however, that both earphones are connected directly to your phone rather than one serving as a master for the other. This means, you can use either of the earbuds individually for calls or music and you can remove one of them and put it in the case and the other one will continue playing without missing a beat. If you were already listening to one, then putting in the other one causes a small pause and then both start playing.
The Redmi Earbuds S only support the standard SBC codec. This is common for budget earphones although increasingly we are seeing more models adopt the AAC codec as well. There isn't a big difference between the two so the lack of AAC here isn't a huge deal. You might, however, miss out on more advanced codecs like aptX depending upon your quality of music, although those codecs are rarely in truly wireless earphones.
The Redmi Earbuds S has no companion app. You just pair them directly and any sound adjustments you have to make will have to be done through the connected device or music player app. There's also no way to update their software.
The Redmi Earbuds S are mediocre sounding pair of earphones. The problem here is with the tuning, which has a reverse S-curve signature that creates a dark, muddy sound with overwhelming high-bass emphasis but very little presence in the higher frequencies.
The bass on the Redmi Earbuds S is elevated but more in the mid-bass and high-bass region. The low-bass is quite tame by comparison so you don't get too much rumble in the low-end. On the other hand, there is plenty of boominess in the sound.
The mid inherit this boominess as the low-mids are also quite exaggerated. This causes the sound to also sound a bit honky. Male vocals are most affected by this and they just don't sound natural, with a nasal and boomy quality to them. Most of the percussion instruments are also affected by this.
On the other hand, the entire treble range is quite anemic. While some may prefer the softer S and T sounds, there is no denying that the high-end has very little detail and energy. Without the high-end sparkle, the entire sound signature just comes across as dull and muddy, with all energy being focused in that lower mid-range.
The earbuds do have decent imaging and stereo separation but the soundstage is quite ordinary and typical for in-ear design.
Now, it's possible to improve the sound signature and I was able to dial in a custom EQ that fixed most of my complaints with the sound signature. It's basically an S-curve that brigs down the mids and adds more energy to the high-end for a more balanced sound. I did this in the Spotify app but you could do it in any other app or device that has an EQ function. The Redmi Earbuds S EQ reasonably well and I didn't hear any additional distortion as a result of the EQ. However, we don't test audio based on what it could be with EQ but rather how it ships out of the box, and here the Redmi Earbuds S perform rather poorly.
Custom EQ in Spotify for iOS
Unfortunately, the issue aren't limited to the sound quality. I also faced some connection issues with the Redmi Earbuds S over a variety of devices. Sometimes, the sound would pause briefly and cause the paired phone to briefly show its volume bar as if it just paired and unpaired quickly in the background. Another issue was more flummoxing, where the earphone would just drop sound every second at a constant cadence. This just went on until the earphones were put back in their case and reconnected.
By far the weirdest one is where the sound just goes mono and gets super compressed. It sounds like dunking my head underwater as the sound becomes a bit distant and monophonic. Restarting the earphones or just toggling the Game mode would fix this until it just randomly happened again later.
This sort of behavior isn't acceptable even for the most bargain-basement wireless product as we are compromising on basic functionality. A wireless product that cannot maintain a stable connection even under ideal conditions (paired phone two feet away with an unobstructed line of sight) is simply broken.
Now speaking of that Game mode, Xiaomi claims that it reduces latency down to 122ms, which sounds like a lot but not bad for Bluetooth in general. In practice, the Game mode on the Redmi Earbuds S is great. Trying these earbuds in Fortnite with a OnePlus 8 Pro resulted in a massive drop in latency from when a button was tapped on the screen and when the shot was fired. The Game mode makes it seem near-instantaneous, which is about as good as you can hope from Bluetooth audio. I wouldn't mind using these earphones for gaming as long as it doesn't require voice chat.
Lastly, the microphone performance is adequate. Voices do sound a bit nasal and tinny as there's virtually no bass or highs being recorded but for voice calls this shouldn't be a big issue.
The Redmi Earbuds S have a claimed battery life of 4 hours when used continuously and 12 hours when combined with all the juice inside the case. I set the earphones to play my usual test track on loop at a reasonable volume to see how long they last before both the earbuds die.
In my usage, I consistently got just about 3.5 hours of usage from the earbuds. I would then allow them to charge completely inside the case and repeat the process. Combined, I did manage to get just over 12 hours of cumulative battery life before the case was completely exhausted. The case then takes about a couple of hours to charge on its own without the earbuds in it and the earbuds also take about the same amount of time to charge within a fully charged case.
The overall battery life is not good. Depending upon your use case, you might get by with 3.5 hours, especially if you only listen on short bursts like, say, during workouts or work commutes. However, for anyone wanting to listen for longer periods, such as, while working or traveling, then it's not going to be enough.
As mentioned in the beginning, the Redmi Earbuds S are a very affordable set of truly wireless earphones. This does allow it some concessions, such as less than stellar sound quality, mediocre battery life, or imperfect design.
However, in my testing, the Redmi Earbuds S had some connectivity issues, which could not be ignored. These were over various connected devices with various apps, so the source was not to blame. The issue was entirely with the earphones and as stated before, connectivity issues with wireless products are not something we take lightly.
The Redmi Earbuds S are also underwhelming in every other aspect, which then begs the question, why should one buy these at all? Being inexpensive is a contributing factor to a purchase but shouldn't be the sole reason for it, and the only redeeming quality of the Redmi Earbuds S is that they are inexpensive.
Overall, the Redmi Earbuds S get a pass from me. I know that the combination of truly wireless with affordable pricing can be tempting but it seems we are still some way off from getting a product that does this well and the Redmi Earbuds S certainly don't.
- Decent build quality
- Low latency with Game mode
- Low price
- Mediocre sound quality
- Connectivity issues
- Below average battery life
- Inconvenient button design
- microUSB charging