Premium sound and a premium build quality make these earphones worth the purchase
Libratone announced its latest personal audio solution, the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones, at CES 2018. These are designed to build on the company’s previous in-ear options by way of the addition of a wireless connection. Although their wireless nature is only one of the main selling points, as in a similar manner to the company’s other recent options, the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones make a big play for their noise cancellation (NC) capabilities. Specifically, their multi-level approach to NC. For reference, the Libratone TRACK+ Wireless Earphones are now available to buy and cost $199 in the US.
In the box
The TRACK+ Wireless Earphones unboxing experience is quick, yet satisfying. The box itself is not the most premium of boxes, although the way everything is packed in the box is reminiscent of a premium product. The main earphones sit in primary view and are held in place very neatly. Which is a point to note as more often than not getting earphones out of a box can be tiresome process due to the way in which companies tie earphones down making it very difficult to detach them from the box in the first place - unlike over-the-ear headphones. This is not the case with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones which are super easy to take out for the first time. Hidden below the main earphones' bedding is the rest of the accessories and once again these are presented very nicely. In particular, the additional ear tips can all be seen without having to rummage through a bag - another small, but thoughtful point. As for the accessories, things are pretty straightforward here with a small microUSB charge cable, a very brief and basic quick start guide (as well some additional paperwork), the additional tips, and the earphones included.
The Libratone TRACK+ Wireless Earphones feature 11.8 mm drivers and offer a frequency range of 20 - 20 kHz along with a sensitivity of 105 dB. These are Bluetooth-enabled (version not defined) earphones and feature a battery rated to offer up to eight hours of usage in-between charges. When a charge is needed the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones are said to be capable of receiving a full charge in around one hour. In addition, these earphones feature an IPX4 rating for a sweat and splash level of protection, as well as noise cancellation through the employment of the company's CityMix 2 technology. The TRACK+ Wireless Earphones are available in two color options, Stormy Black and Cloudy White.
Hardware & Design
When it comes to earphones the design does not matter a lot of the time as the form is rather generic for this product type and variation does not often come through in any meaningful way with the release of a new set. However, that is not quite the case with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones as the company wants you to know these have been designed with their design in mind. Specifically, one of the immediate aspects a buyer will notice is just how lightweight these earphones are. Which is somewhat unexpected considering their overall design.
For example, these are neckband earphones and one of the principles behind this sort of product is the neckband element absorbs some of the weight when worn giving the illusion the earphones are lighter than they are. To be fair, this is not so much an illusion as they do result in a ‘lighter when worn’ product, but it is important to note, this usually does not mean a lighter product in general. As the neckband itself adds weight compared to non-neckband solutions and at times a lot of weight, sometimes leading to an impaired wearing experience. Again, this is not the case with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones as these are not just lightweight for neckband earphones, but lightweight earphones in general. One of the likely reasons for this is they are only neckband earphones in name as the neck part is more cable-based than anything else. Essentially, the earphones come with a slightly thicker cable (compared to the ear cables) along with two smaller ‘neck ends.’ The immediate end result is a massive reduction in weight. Adding to that, with the ‘smarts’ packaged in the two ends, the weight is reduced even further while also being very well distributed on both sides - further again, adding to a perceived weight-reduction when worn. In short, these are far lighter earphones then they look. A lot lighter.
In spite of their very lightweight feel, what is interesting is the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones do not seem to be compromising at all in terms of durability. As the earphone seem very well made and feel as though they are more than capable of standing up to the perils of daily life. As all aspects make use of a rubberized design which further adds to their durable feel and the cables (neck and ear) feel extremely rugged in particular. Certainly much thicker than you might expect from a pair of earphones and especially when once again taking into consideration their overall lightweight nature. The two ‘ends’ in play are where all of the controls and extra-added features are found. On the right side (when worn) the panel includes the main controls summed up by a three-button design.
The center button acts as play/pause while the other two control the up and down actions, such as volume. The left side panel in contrast is far less useful. As this panel only includes the main power button (which also doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button). In reality, this button could easily have been included on the other panel as there is plenty of space and therefore it is probably better to think of this panel as included for counterbalancing purposes - with a power button thrown in for good measure.
Moving to the earbuds and this is again where the lightweight design of the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones pays dividends. As these are super small earbuds. They really are very compact as all of the added bulk (especially the smart bulk) has all been redistributed elsewhere. So Libratone has been smart here in ensuring the earbuds are not just small, but very small. Something which seems to be further facilitated by the angled design of the earbud as this additionally takes away from the feel of the ear buds when they are in the ear. In other words, the angled design makes them feel even more invisible. The one downside, however, is that you really do have to pay attention to ‘left’ and ‘right’ as they just don’t fit right when inserted the other way around.
Overall, it is clear Libratone has put the time and effort into the design of the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones and looked to ensure they are comfortable, light, and yet still durable. All elements which when taken together lend support to the positioning of these earphones as a premium product. With the only box left to check being the sound.
Sound Quality & Performance
The sound quality of the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones do not disappoint as these are very good sounding earphones overall. In fact, on immediate first impressions the bass response is particularly on point. The more you listen, the less the impact of the bass is apparent, but compared to the expectation one might have from the bass capabilities of a new set of earphones, the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones perform very well. Add to that, the app also offers the option of turning on a bass mode for those that would like to push the limit that little bit more. Although not as immediately noticeable as the bass, the mids and tops are also nicely-balanced and well-defined. Therefore, when switching from a bass oriented track to a top-heavy track the difference is far more prevalent than what is often encountered on similar products which quickly begin to sound the same when genre-jumping. If anything, the sound sounds more real then what a number of other earphones (including a number of major brand products), which makes a nice change. This can be best understood as the sound of the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones appearing to be less artificially tweaked than those other options resulting in a more natural sound in general. To be clear, it could certainly be the case they are actually more tweaked, but if that is the case, Libratone has done a very good job in ensuring the output does not sound too processed - a commonly overlooked issued by many manufacturers these days.
Volume on the other hand is a slightly mixed bag. There is nothing wrong with the volume and for many these earphones will be loud enough. While they are loud enough, they are not the loudest earphones you can find, and for those who like the option to really push the volume level these are unlikely to be the best choice. Of course, one of the benefits of this lacking in super loud volume is the earphones are not prone to distortion. It was actually quite difficult to find a track or settings which would result in a hampered or impaired sound. In all instances, and for all genres, the sound remained stable and within the limits of the product, resulting in a clear and pleasant output overall.
Noise cancellation. While many earphones nowadays sport NC functionality, Libratone is specifically pushing this as one of the main features associated with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones - as the company has with its other personal audio solutions recently. The reason for this emphasis is the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones features four different NC modes and this is where things can get a little confusing, and for some users maybe a little too convoluted. Basically, CityMix is the name Libratone has attached to its NC solution and CityMix comes with four basic levels which numerically increases as the outside noise decreases. For example, Libratone explains level one is a “pass through” stage which lets up to 80-percent of outside noise in - to allow wearers to hear what’s going on around and talk with people. Level two on the other hand is defined as the “passive ANC” stage and this drops the outside noise level down to 60-percent, enough to still hear what is happening outside. Level three is defined as “50% ANC” and this sees the level of outside noise decrease to roughly 30-percent while level four activates a “100% ANC” status. In this mode, outside noise is not completely reduced, but is said to be brought down to a less than 10-percent level. While this all sounds well and good and certainly a heightened experience in terms of NC customization, it remains to be seen how useful -- in real-world terms -- these multi NC level features really are. For example, fiddling with the output so frequently by adjusting the NC level each time a different corner is turned feels too cumbersome. Which is where a singular approach to NC works much better. If, for example, the user is on a busy or a loud train/plane then it makes sense to just activate the NC and be done with it, and thankfully Libratone has included this option.
For those who want to avoid the constant monitoring of the environment and adjusting the sound to mitigate against the impact of the environment, CityMix does come with a ‘smart’ mode which lets the earphones do all the monitoring and adjusting for you. This is basically a form of adaptive NC and more of a one-button solution, where the user activates it and the earphones jump from level to level to ensure the output is best optimized to the user’s surroundings, automatically. Although it's technically still bouncing between the four levels, from the end user perspective there is only one NC level to worry about - and in reality the only one that matters: a self-adapting one. Multi/singular NC aside, nothing should be taken away from how well the NC works. As it does work very well in both manual and automatic modes. It does not cancel out all outside sound (Libratone does not claim it does) but it certainly does reduce environmental noise by a considerable margin. When used in automatic mode in particular, the NC was very good and seemed to cancel even more noise than it was suggesting. For instance, when it said it was at a level two it was difficult to hear what was happening (cars passing, etc) when walking down the road. So those opting for these earphones might want to take this point into consideration as on occasion the NC can perform a little too well.
Another of the main selling points with these earphones is their smart assistant compatibility as the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones are compatible with the likes of Google Assistant. This is achieved through the earphones’ main play/pause button which when held down launches the smart assistant on a compatible device. This generally works in much the same way as similar solutions with the music cutting out allowing the listening feature to take effect, and responses fed in to the ear for commands issued or questions asked. As this is a rather generic feature now in this product bracket, there were no issues noted with the performance of the Google Assistant integration which worked in line with expectations on all occasions. A point which can be extrapolated to the earphones in general as these proved to be reliable earphones in all departments.
App & Software Support
As to be expected with a premium personal audio product such as this, a corresponding app is available for extra-added value. As is also the case with these products, the app is less optional and more of a necessity for those looking to get the most out of the product. To be clear, the earphones and most of the features work fine without the app, but the app has been designed to make using those extra features a little easier, and more comprehensive. NC being a prime example.
Users less keen on making use of the app can still make use of NC by using the power button to cycle through the various NC levels. However, the smart version of NC does not seem to be available without the app which is a little disappointing. Especially considering this is likely to be the best way for most average users to make use of the NC feature with the least effort, as cycling through the levels is not only a little vague (you never know what level you are actually on without concentrating hard and guessing based on the amount of outside noise you hear) but also a little time-consuming. In either case, the app solves both of these problems by allowing the user to see what level they are on (when manually controlling) or by simply hitting the ‘smart’ toggle to activate the adaptive technology.
Just to the right of the smart toggle is another button which instantly activates an "ambient motioning" mode. When active, this cuts the audio completely allowing users to focus solely on what is happening in the environment. In other words, this work much like a mute button.
The app also has a digital radio built in and therefore lets users connect to various stations. For the most part this seems to work well with users able to search for a specific radio station or sift through the location-based options until they find one which suits their listening needs. As this is digital radio, the selection is pretty wide allowing users to access radio stations in different parts of the world. Adding to that the app does come with some third-party app integration for direct connection to the likes of Spotify and Tidal (no Google Play Music).
As well as quick access to the current state of the battery.
In terms of the user experience, this is a little more complex. Yes, there are a few extra features thrown in for good measure and the more you get involved with the app the more you get out of it. But that is its downside too, as it requires actual work and tweaking to really benefit from the app. Which for a product like this can start to become a burden to those looking for a simple enough experience. Adding to that, you do have to create an account to use the app in the first place. It not clear why, but you do either have to sign up via email or connect one of your social media channels to the app and this requirement was thought to be a little excessive for a paid-for product. The app itself is already one inconvenience but to be forced to create an account to use features that are by definition the selling points of the product was not the best move by Libratone. The app should definitely offer the option to use the app without having to connect other apps/services to it first.
Battery Life & Connectivity
On paper the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones are listed as capable of running up to eight hours on the back of a single charge. Although with these being earphones which not only feature NC, but varying levels of NC, that top-end figure is likely to vary considerably depending on which setup is in use at any given time. However, as a guide, when used continuously to stream music over Bluetooth and with the NC set to automatically adjust (smart), the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones were able to run for about six hours. It is worth noting this was also with the volume set to maximum for the entire time. So while under these circumstances the battery is not quite as long-lasting as eight hours, lowering the volume, reducing the NC, or both, will result in an increase in daily battery life and likely take these earphones much closer to the suggested eight-hour marker. The other way to look at this is even with the volume set to maximum and the NC working constantly, buyers can expect six hours of continuous usage to be the absolute minimum.
When they do run out of power these earphones are listed as able to replenish the battery capacity in around one hour. This is considerably quicker than many competing products which usually take up to two hours to achieve a full battery again. In testing it was found it takes a little longer than an hour to generate a full charge but not much more. Ninety minutes should definitely be the top-end time a user expects to see a full charge again, with the time varying depending on the power source used (no mains power plug included).
One aspect which was considered a negative in this respect is the charge port as it is only microUSB. While at the moment this is not a major issue for most users, the market is clearly in a place where it's transitioning over to USB Type-C and this transition has largely been spearheaded by the premium sector. Based on this point, it would be expected that a product priced as high as this would feature USB Type-C. So although not necessarily a significant issue, it is one area where some might be disappointed with the premium position and price of these earphones. Another lesser point worth noting is the microUSB port is not actually covered or protected in any meaningful way. Again, not a big issue, but still an expectation when it comes to a premium product.
As for connectivity, there were no major issues at all in this respect with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones consistently providing a reliable experience. While the exact Bluetooth version was not specified, the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones seem capable of maintaining a reliable and stable wireless connection up to a distance of 10 meters away, likely suggestion Bluetooth 4.1 is the version in use. Within this 10-meter perimeter the earphones proved extremely reliable with no drop-offs or outs. Speaking of the Bluetooth, the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones come with “+1” which lets users connect another set of TRACK+ Wireless Earphones so two people can tune in to the same audio feed, at the same time.
Wrap-UpOverall, there is little arguing with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones as they are a great option to consider. They do scream of quality in (nearly) every respect with a nice, balanced, and real-sounding output, as well as a premium build quality that is evident from the first touch. In short, these are premium earphones. However, they also do come with a very clear premium price attached. To be fair, the $200 asking price is not in any way unreasonable as there are plenty of top tier options now available that cost considerably more in spite of only being fractionally better. So on one level, these are worth the asking price and good value for money. That said, $200 still remains a lot to pay for a set of earphones nowadays and especially when considering the market is literally bursting with choice, resulting in a very wide selection of products that offer a similar experience at a lower price. Add to that, there are some minor issues which should be taken into consideration such as a greater dependency on the use of the app, and the fact the app requires a user to be signed in. If aspects like this are not so much of an issue for you, then in spite of the premium price, you will immediately see, feel, and most importantly, hear what you are paying for with the TRACK+ Wireless Earphones.