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Review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless

  1. neo_styles
    The main version of this review is hosted on OnePlus' official site, but considering I wrote it more for people who care more about sound quality than features, figured it might be worth putting up here as well. I'm willing to answer any and all questions that are within my ability.

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    Part 1: Unboxing

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    The Bullets Wireless box is very similar in style to the 6. Spartan white, splash of red…the only key difference is the seam is going straight down the middle this time instead of on the bottom. Fans of watching the case slowly pull itself apart during unboxing might be a little disappointed here.

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    Once inside, there’s several things about the packaging here that I really didn’t like. First, it shouldn’t be this much of a chore to get to the buds themselves. When they’re in a box within a box like this, it’s just more steps than necessary before you can even look at anything beyond the earbuds themselves. I would have much preferred a way to see the neckband right away since, to me, that’s the most aesthetically pleasing piece of the entire package. The texture, the flexibility, the feel in your hands...is it hot in here or is it just the Bullets?

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    It's also upsetting that the container fitting all of the extra tips and wings is a permanent fixture of the box. Yes, you get a carrying case, but it’s hard enough to fit the Bullets into the case on their own, let alone with extra gear inside. That means you either need to figure out which ones you’re going to toss along with the packaging or have yet another box to keep around the house. Oh and the carrying case itself is made of the same material as the red case for the OP6, which I couldn’t stand as it picked up every speck of dust and lint in my pocket. Every. One.

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    Part 2: Design

    There seem to be three major camps when it comes to designing wireless earbuds these days:

    1. Completely wireless

    2. Have a short wire that either dangles in front of your neck or behind the head

    3. Use a neckband with cords on each end for the earbuds themselves

    OnePlus went with Option 3. When I initially heard about it, I had huge concerns. Every pair of neckband earbuds I’ve used before were heavy, slid all over the place, and were just generally uncomfortable. The Wireless Bullets, however, are a completely different story. They’re light to the point where I forget they’re even around my neck and stay like that all day. The band's flexibility is amazing and it wraps around my neck without pain or around itself for storage in the case (it’s a tight fit, though). A 3-button remote is attached to the left earbud cord, which is both a good and bad thing. The microphone lines up right at my mouth, so I can talk quietly and still be heard loud and clear, but it also makes operating the remote a bit of a chore and it’s pretty easy to jostle an earbud loose if you’re moving while attempting to use it.

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    The cords for each earbud are loooooong. Matter of fact, the only way I could see you not having enough length would be if you were a giraffe; any reasonable person will have more than enough and I had way too much. That meant I would get the occasional snag on something as it passed by, ripping out that earbud (spoiler alert: it hurts). Luckily, microphonics really weren’t that bad for a pair that doesn’t wrap behind the ears. Still, it’s really annoying to constantly see a cord in your field of vision.

    The included fins are awesome when it comes to keeping the buds secure in the ears, but it doesn’t take long for them to become uncomfortable, regardless of which size I choose. Fitment with the included tips was really wonky as well. Sometimes I’d get a great fit almost instantly; others, it was a perpetual chore to keep them in place. Once I swapped the included tips out for aftermarket pairs from Dekoni or SpinFit, consistently finding a good fit was much easier (especially with the SpinFit CP240).

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    Part 3: Features

    Charge time on the Bullets is advertised to be fast. Really fast. My time and experience with the Wireless Bullets confirmed this and, even without the fast charging block, could go from a completely dead battery to 100% charge in about 35 minutes. That’s really good considering I live in headphones. The second I step out my front door to commute to work, they’re in. The moment I get home, they’re out. In between, they’re playing music, which means having good battery life is absolutely vital since I inevitably have to charge my Bullets at least once during the day or they won’t last. Good news is I would only have to charge them once. I quickly developed a routine of plugging them in when I went on my lunch break, put them back in my ears when I came back, and had more than enough battery life to make it home and then some. As a disclaimer, though, I could not set these up to play while charging; unless there’s a certain setting that I’m missing, you will have to take a break.

    Battery life reporting on the OnePlus 6 was a mixed bag, however. For some reason, OnePlus decided that reporting in 10% increments would suffice, but myself and many of the Lab members noticed frequent cases of large drops within a few seconds after checking battery level.

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    I found it particularly confusing that OnePlus advertised the Bullets were as easy to pair as Apple’s wireless earbuds when using the 6. As someone who’s been pairing Bluetooth devices for years, I found this effectively pointless. During initial setup of the Bullets, I had made it to the point where my phone was searching for new devices before the “easy pair” notification even popped up. This might be useful if you didn’t grow up with computers, but I assume the majority of people who own a OnePlus phone probably don’t fit into this category. For people who don’t own a 6, you’re not missing out on anything here. It’s something you should only be doing once, anyway; spending a little extra time isn’t going to be a dealbreaker.

    Having earbuds that use magnets to stay together isn’t a new concept, but OnePlus’ choice to automatically pause your music when the buds are put together and resume when they’re separated certainly is. It was a feature I really appreciated and used a ton, especially while at work. When separated, there’s enough of a time delay before the music resumes that you can easily get them back in your ears before anything starts playing. For people who listen to things like audiobooks, this must be a godsend. In terms of features, this was by far my favorite thing about the Bullets. Period. In the future, 5T/6 owners will also be able to auto-answer phone calls when the buds are separated. Pretty awesome.

    Wireless range was more than adequate. I could easily make it from my desk to the copy machine at work, which is about 30 feet and separated by a wall. There isn’t a corner of my house that loses enough signal strength to be noticeable.You should have no problem leaving your phone on the bench while you go to rack your weights between sets.

    As for connecting and disconnecting to Bluetooth devices, I do wish OnePlus had opted for spoken-word indications rather than just a few beeps. It’s much easier to understand you’re in pairing mode when you’re hearing the words “pairing mode.” The same applies for turning them off completely. It would have been a really easy feature to program in, but for some reason wasn’t.

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    The Bullets use aptX HD by default on the OP6 (your device may or may not have HD), but was easily changed over to aptX. For general streaming, either codec will work well, but know that aptX HD will support up to 24/48 audio, so people who tend to listen to Hi-Res tracks will have to take that into consideration.

    [​IMG]
    It really confused me that OnePlus included support for Sony’s LDAC codec in the 6, but not in the Bullets Wireless. While this won’t matter for many consumers today, I see the digital download market slowly moving towards Hi-Res formats. Since aptX HD only supports up to a 24-bit depth and 48 KHz sampling rate, anybody looking to listen to their 24/96 files won’t be able to avoid downsampling. That being said, I hope you like aptX HD, because that’s all my 6 allowed me to use with the Bullets Wireless (or aptX if you disable HD in Settings). For the life of me, I couldn’t get them to even output in SBC, though I really wouldn’t recommend that anyway. If you’re starting at your screen with eyes glazed over at this point, head on over here and get a quick primer on why this might matter to you.

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    Part 4: Sound

    By now, you must be asking yourself, "but self, why did he name this review 'Back to the Academy?'" The reason is simple: I'm about to dive in to audio terms that might completely baffle some of you, especially those whose understanding of how headphones sound has been "good" and "not good." I'm hoping you might learn a little (and I don't just mean about whether the Bullets sound...good).

    Some of my fellow Lab members are camera guys. Others are coders and generally tech-savvy. I’m the music guy. Just counting off the top of my head, I have 5 pairs of over-ear headphones and another 8 pairs of in-ears at my disposal. A few of them are Bluetooth, most are not. I’m well familiar with how different headphones have different sound signatures, how there’s not one perfect headphone for every style of music, and how what sounds better to my ears might not work so well for yours. Take that into consideration when you read through my opinions on how the Bullets sound.

    For a quick primer on some of the terminology I'll be using, please feel free to read the following articles. Credit goes to a very smart man on Head-Fi. @flinkenick , that's you :wink:

    AUDIOPHILE MATTERS: Music Lovers vs Audiophile Approach

    AUDIOPHILE MATTERS: Describing Tonality

    Initially, I found them to sound really harsh. The top end was just too sharp, too sibilant. Based on a recommendation, I let them sit overnight with a bunch of test tones and sweeps. This did seem to make things a little better, but there is still a hefty amount of sibilance. Bass performance also leaves a lot to be desired, considering there may be a good amount of sub-bass when a good seal is obtained, but an unhealthy amount of midbass bloom. It seems OnePlus decided to double down on performance in the midrange and lower treble, sacrificing the rest of the frequency range in the process, which is where I think people are getting the impression that these sound as “clear” as they do. An emphasis in the Presence region will do that to you.

    The majority of music I listen to is FLAC ripped directly from my CD collection or purchases through Bandcamp, Beatport, or directly from the label. Considering that might not be the case for most, I made a playlist on Spotify to level the playing field. Each track is intended to test certain elements that I think a good pair should be capable of reproducing. I listened to this playlist on every set of headphones I owned for the better part of a few weeks, making sure to take note of moments where I saw the track stand out with certain headphones or completely fail with others. Please feel free to follow along as you go through this, especially if you already have a pair of Bullets or Bullets Wireless in hand.

    mstyles3k's Demo Tracks


    1. Blue Man Group - Your Attention

    Your Attention focuses heavily on placing sounds around the listener. Good headphones will be able to give you an almost 3D-like effect where each sound you hear has a specific location around (or even beyond) your head. The Bullets performed OK here, though the sharpness of the treble distracted me from focusing on identifying what existed where within the soundstage. Additionally, there’s a section in the track where you’ll hear people speaking to you in each ear. See if you can hear something in the middle. Now see if you can make out exactly what they're saying.

    2. I See MONSTAS - Holdin’ On (Skrillex & Nero Remix)

    It’s all about the bass and the upper midrange here. Bryn channels his inner Arethra while Sonny, Dan, and Joseph take turns assaulting you with their own particular brand of bass music. If the bass is too much, it’ll overwhelm the chorus. If the highs are too much, it’ll feel like someone’s stabbing you in the brain with an ice-pick. There might have been a little bit of the first one, but there was a whole bunch of the second. I would usually have to take a quick break after listening at this point to make it through the rest of the playlist if I wasn’t careful with the volume knob.

    3. Juno Reactor - Pistolero

    Do you like trance? Do you like nylon guitars? How about both? Just like Your Attention, this song focuses on how well you can pinpoint what’s happening around you, except this time, with moving objects. There’s a lot of panning from left to right and at one point, it’ll sound like some sounds are going completely around you in a circle with a good pair (try to find the hand-claps). The Bullets jumped from left to center and from center to right, but never in front of not behind the listener; I would really have liked to see more localization in between. Also, I’m used to hearing this song with a really large sense of space; with the Bullets, everything just felt more intimate.

    4. TOKiMONSTA - Put It Down

    Good headphones don’t back down from a fight when the bass comes calling, especially when they’re those trademark Hip-Hop rolling basslines. The Bullets showed up underprepared and there’s plenty of breakup here. Even on lower volumes, it was easy to get the Bullets to distort. Shame, too. This song has one heck of a hook.

    5. Kid Cudi - Day ’N’ Nite

    I chose Day ’N’ Nite because it has a very specific tonality to the kick. If the bass is just right, you’ll hear a little bit of sharpness on the tail which could be mistaken for distortion, but isn’t; it’s more like a “crack.” If the midbass-to-midrange transition isn’t quite right, then the kick won’t be, either. The Bullets come close enough that most people will probably be satisfied, but I was left wanting just a bit more resolution.

    6. Beastie Boys - Intergalactic

    Intergalactic is just a funky, radical hip-hop track that brings me back to my teenage years. Its funky beats should make you want to get up and dance; if not, it’s indicative of a lack of energy. After all, there’s stuff you listen to sitting down, and there’s stuff that makes you move. I’d get close a few times here, but then everything would collapse to the middle to the point that my ears were uncomfortable. If only they’d smoothed out the midrange and toned down the highs, Intergalactic would have been a stunner.

    7. Noga Erez - Off the Radar

    Noga’s a brilliant producer. She manages to intelligently use the entire frequency range and has a knack for layering a lot of small vocal tracks over each other, yet never in a way that completely overwhelms the listening. Thanks to that, Off the Radar does well here. Midbass bloom is still more than present, threatening to take over the rest of the track, but never fully does.

    8. 5 Seconds of Summer - Youngblood

    After many years of claiming to be a critical music listener and avoiding it like the plague, I’m finally starting to understand why audiophiles have a secret love for Pop music. When you bring in top-notch producers known for their polished sound quality, you usually end up with a polished end-product. While Youngblood starts with promise, the sense of space in the Bullets is almost immediately crushed together once the chorus hits. The more I listen to these, the more I realize they don’t handle a large group of synthetic instruments very well.

    9. Superorganism - Famous

    I stumbled across Superorganism completely by accident and, after hearing Famous, felt like it would be right within the Bullets’ wheelhouse. There really isn’t a whole lot of bass emphasis and most of the details are in the midrange. End result: smash hit. Really good job, here, though the treble gets a little too hot during the chorus, so people who like it loud might find themselves reaching for the volume knob.

    10. Chris Cornell - Like a Stone (Live)

    Close your eyes when you listen to this one. Do you feel like you’re in the crowd? Chris’ voice should have a healthy amount of reverb. You’ll hear it here with the Bullets, but a heavy bloom in the midbass tends to overwhelm the richness of his guitar, robbing it of that extra oomph that would have set this track over the edge.

    11. Ryan Adams - Oh My Sweet Carolina (Live at Carnegie Hall)

    Anybody who’s been to Carnegie Hall will know that people choose that venue because it has amazing acoustics. Unlike the more cavernous sound of Like a Stone, there should be a sense of intimacy here, almost like you’re sitting front and center and Ryan’s playing right in front of you. Again, the Bullets did pretty well here. I’m feeling reassured in my opinion that you get solid performance when there’s only one or a couple instruments playing, but things fall apart the more sounds come into the mix.

    12. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

    This song shouldn’t need much of a justification for being here; any self-respecting Floyd fan knows this track and knows it well. I thought about using Shine On (Pts 1-5), but that one’s just a little too long to use here. Try to listen to the couple speaking at the very beginning. Can you make out everything they’re saying? Can you also hear the Minmoog layered behind the guitar tracks in the middle? You kind of can with the Bullets, though they do blur together a little more than I’m used to. Regardless, this track was more than enjoyable. Acoustic guitars + Bullets = Success.

    13. Van Halen - Jump

    Who asked for a guilty pleasure? I just had to put one in here. Thanks to the remaster, this song should have a strong, powerful synth line extending well into the bass region. Sadly, midbass bloom overwhelms the effect and I really had wished for that wall-of-sound effect I know I should be hearing with Jump.

    14. Alter Bridge - Buried Alive

    Buried Alive is the perfect example of a by-product of the compression war. It was mastered with very little dynamic range, so a good pair of headphones can’t fix it that much. Still, it should make things somewhat tolerable. Thanks to the midrange tilt, these sounded pretty good, but a good majority of the drum track disappears into the background and it’s pretty hard to follow along with it. My Hifiman HE-400i turn this track into pure gold (well, as gold as a heavily-compressed track can be) so I know it’s doable, but that’s a $500 pair of planar magnetics vs a $70 pair of Bluetooth in-ears. Still, a relatively noble effort by the Bullets.

    15. Dream Theater - The Glass Prison

    Take a whole bunch of guitar sounds, put them all into one almost 14-minute track, and you have The Glass Prison. Getting this one right is really tricky. Bass needs to be fast enough to not blur Portnoy’s double-kicks, but not overwhelming to the point where the guitar lines or LaBrie’s lyrics get lost in the mix. Unfortunately, the kick drum tends to get swallowed up by guitars all too often here. Cymbal hits splash more than ring. About halfway through, Jordan Rudess lets out a synth line that goes in circles around you on a good pair. Just like the first track I chose, there was really only a left/right movement. Still, the Bullets’ sound signature lends itself well to the genre, even if it could have felt a little more alive.

    16. Ferde Grofé - 6 Pictures of Hollywood: The Stand-In

    This song, for some reason, always reminds me of how movies depict Hollywood in the 1920s; it just has a very iconic sound and feel. Just like the live tracks in the middle, the Bullets play great here. There are some instruments that get lost in the lower frequencies, but it’s otherwise a great listen. Thumbs up.

    17. Beethoven - Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92: Allegretto (Wiener Philharmoniker)

    Dynamics, dynamics, dynamics. How much space is there from the quietest note to the loudest one? Can you make everything out in the quieter passages without turning up the volume? With the Bullets in a quiet environment, you absolutely can. Step outside, though, and road noise overwhelms the entire composition. You’ll get the crescendo, but that’s about it. Pity, too; in a quiet room, there’s a nice, sweet tonality to the violin sections that you don’t often hear.

    18. Igor Stravinsky - Firebird Suite - 1919 Version (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

    I wanted to end this playlist on a very particular note. Just like the track before, this one does a solid job with demonstrating dynamics, but is also an amazingly emotional piece. Good headphones make it really easy for the song to tug at your heartstrings, especially during crescendos. Just like before, you’ll be all smiles (and maybe tears) in quiet spaces. Try to hear everything outside, though, and you might be reaching for the volume knob more than you really should.

    Considering sound quality is such an important aspect to me and knowing the Bullets fell short of my expectations, I wanted to see if I could somehow find something comparably-priced that sounded better to my ears, even if it meant giving up some of the Bullets’ quality-of-life features. After spending some time on the Head-Fi forums, I decided to go with a pair of KZ ES4 in-ears and a TRN Bluetooth cable. For just a little less than the asking price of the Bullets, I was absolutely blown away. Bass and sub-bass clarity were back (extension goes soooooo low) when the song required it and the top-end was cleaned up to the point where it was clear, but not harsh. It was a pleasant surprise and a much-needed compliment to the Bullets’ sound signature.

    Like I hinted before, getting a good seal is absolutely vital to achieving any reasonable bass response with either of these pairs of in-ears. I would recommend spending a little extra money and either getting yourself a pair of foam tips if you think you’ll need a little less treble or SpinFits if you prefer to stick with silicone. Sitting in a quiet environment also increases your chances of getting a lot of really good detail retrieval from each track since the story changes quickly once the Bullets get used in more real-world scenarios. It’s very easy for your ears to beg for mercy long before you reach the amount of bass you might want when you’re on the go.


    Part 5: Conclusion

    Whether the Bullets Wireless are going to be worthy of your pocket change is completely dependent on what you want out of them.

    If having as many features as possible takes priority, they’re a shoo-in. Auto-pause and auto-resume are such simple concepts, yet up until now (as far as I know) haven’t been made a reality and it rocks. If you’re only using these casually and forget that the batteries died right before you get to the gym, a 10-minute fast charge is going to be your saving grace. That’s just enough time to get out of your street clothes and into your workout gear.

    If it’s sound quality you’re after, though, the decision gets a whole lot tougher. People who are treble-sensitive or looking for something that lets them crank the volume all the way to 11 are going to find themselves sorely disappointed. These are absolutely not the pair to go after if it’s neutrality you’re looking after, either.

    In the end, I think I’ll keep the Bullets, but I’ll really only break them out occasionally. While I found the neckband to be really comfortable, the earbuds were a different story. Sound-wise, they just don’t suit my tastes and, when I can spend less and get a more desirable sound signature with a device that has the same battery life, that’s the route I’m going to take. Not to mention the KZ/TRN combo has what I think is the best feature of all: when the battery dies, you can just plug in the 3.5mm cable and keep on listening.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2018
  2. robertjwarren
    Thanks for listing the music you listened to
     
    Quequacio96 and neo_styles like this.
  3. plisandro
    Nice review!

    What tip size are you using on these? I'm interested on buying a pair myself, but foam tips are a must for me and i cannot find the nozzle size for the Bullets Wireless anywhere.
     
    Quequacio96 and neo_styles like this.
  4. neo_styles
    Nozzle size seems to be about the same 4.9-5mm I'm seeing everywhere else. For foamies, I already had some Dekoni Mercury lying around, so it was an easy shot to take. Comfort is great, but it's not my preferred choice when commuting since it lets more noise in than I really prefer. The SpinFit CP240 ended up being a clear winner in terms of tips for me and they've now taken over my daily on any pair that will fit them, including the Monoprice M300 (though that's a tight fit, for sure).
     
    Quequacio96 likes this.
  5. plisandro
    Excellent - i have a couple T500 tips laying around so they should work great :beyersmile: Thanks!

    Kinda bummed about the trebly output you report on these though. My daily driver is a pair of 1More Quad Drivers wired to a BTR1 BT receiver and, while this setup sounds great, i'm trying to cut down on wires as much as possible. The OPBW's size, weight and speed charging are just too enticing.
     
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  6. neo_styles
    It's just a treble signature that requires some getting used to. With the KZ ES4 as a frame of reference, it's just not a fair competition for me. I'm willing to give up the whole 10-minute charge thing that I wasn't really using in the first place in trade for a smoother sound signature.
     
    Quequacio96 likes this.
  7. Quequacio96
    Congratulations for the review, excellent and detailed. I ordered the bullets this morning and also the Rha MA650 wireless. I try them a few days and I will keep those that satisfy me more. Surely having One Plus 6 the bullets have an excellent integration. Too bad there is no notification for calls as a vibration that is on the rha ma650 wireless.
     
  8. gazzington
    Going to order a oneplus6 tonight. What is the trn kz combo you mention?
     
  9. neo_styles
    At the time of the review, I suggested the KZ ES4 and TRN BT3 cable (both can be found on Ali). I now use a ZS6 as my EDC, which is also compatible with the BT3.

    Just don't order KZ's Bluetooth cable. It's been universally lambasted for poor signal strength and battery life.

    Congrats on getting a 6! Since I've had mine, the iPhone is just sitting in a drawer at the house.
     

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