Ultimately, there are three things to consider when looking for a new set of wireless headphones. Put succinctly, those qualities are audio experience, battery life, and comfort. Under review, Padmate's PaMu Explore effortlessly checks all three of those boxes.
Now, there are some caveats to consider. Some of those may even be dealbreakers for some wearers. The design, for starters, is simple but not minimalist. And it isn't necessarily elegant in any sense either. The company doesn't appear to have put any thought into making these headphones waterproof or dust resistant. Connecting to multiple source devices at once for easy switching is, summarily, out of the question.
It is fair to assume that the design language used for the PaMu Explore headphones won't be well-suited for every user. And the audio quality will, by no means, compete on level footing with headphones that are upwards of $1000. At the very least, not on functionality but also not likely on sound quality or features.
Regardless, these headphones do come with an extra perk or two as well. And, as already mentioned, they check all of the right boxes for what it takes to be a truly great wireless listening device. But that's more than enough talk about that. Let's take a deeper look at what, exactly, makes these headphones so good.
PaMu Explore offers great hardware despite lacking some design features
Now, PaMu was already off to a good start with its Explore-branded review unit from when the very first tab was lifted on the box. The company doesn't just include a cheap carrying case and a charging cable. Or all of the usual instruction booklets. It also includes a high-quality AUX cable. But the case itself is and obviously high-quality fabric over a hard shell, with a soft felt inner lining.
There's a pocket on the inside of that for storing everything else and plenty of room to easily put these away or take them out. That's without leaving so much room that they're bouncing around when stored.
There were one or two loose threads on that, of course, as shown in the images below. But those came out easily while the primary stitching stayed in place. So that wasn't an issue. The case also has two sturdy metal rings attached, which attach to an adjustable nylon strap. The nylon itself is thick and feels much stronger than would probably be expected.
Moving on to the headphones, those are extremely well built. They flex easily, up to a point, and there's no groaning or creaks once they do stop. The leathery earpads and head pad are equally well made, as is the metal sliding mechanism for adjusting headphone height. The buttons found on the right-hand ear cup are clicky and solid, as is the on/off toggle slider on the bottom of that same side. Both the USB-C and AUX port click in and out satisfactorily too, with no wiggle or jostle.
Finally, the touch buttons — denoted by a round ring on the hard plastic shell of the earpieces — are responsive and easy to use.
In terms of materials and comfort, the headphones themselves consisted mostly of a plastic casing over solid metal. That core is, as noted above, both flexible and strong. These headphones are comfortable to wear. The combination of materials and weight meant these don't really feel like much more than a heavy beanie. Even though they definitely do weigh more than that. And that's despite hours of on-head use.
The design is, unfortunately, one of the sole places I could find to lodge a complaint. That's because the LED capsules on the left and right seem really unnecessary and unnecessarily complicate what is an otherwise sleek design. By contrast to the rest of the headphone design on offer, it just seems excessive and out of place.
The earpieces also don't move. Where other OEMs often place them on a mechanism to tilt and rotate slightly, PaMu has opted to have the ends solidly mounted to the headband. That's not necessarily a problem for comfort. Or at least it wasn't during my review of PaMu explore. But it easily could be for some users since it means this won't conform in shape quite as well for some.
Audio is arguably the most important aspect and PaMu Explore did not disappoint
It's worth pointing out, to start, that audio from PaMu Explore can be a bit bass-heavy. That largely — in all likelihood — comes down to changing user preferences as opposed to anything to do with hardware problems. Or anything to do with software optimizations. Regardless, the bass here isn't nearly as over-pronounced as some other headsets I've had the opportunity to test. And that includes many in the same price bracket.
Here, the audio is more balanced than expected. It's also a fuller sound than I expected for under $250, at the very least. That holds true across nearly all categories of music I listened to as well as in podcasts. The result, as might be predicted, is a deep and powerful audio experience overall. Bass drops hit hard, mids cut through cleanly, and highs are well-represented, allowing audio that isn't always present in other sets to come through clearly.
There's no distortion, audio clipping, or other issues to note either. The sound remains level instead, suggesting that audio quality isn't going to degrade over time. And the speakers are very unlikely to blow either.
Perhaps as importantly, the audio stays at the same level of quality across volumes, with audio from the outside world all but blocked entirely. And these headphones do go loud. Even from a room or two away, at full volume on both headphones and source devices, lyrics in some songs can clearly still be heard. That means not only that the battery should last longer than seen in this test. It also means that the volume will be more than enough for any user, regardless of personal preferences.
Audio inputs perform at a similar level, matching at least some high-dollar Bluetooth headsets. Audio comes through clearly in both directions with no complaints heard about static, cut-out, or garbled speech. That's speaking at a normal volume, without the near-shouting sometimes needed with less pricey headphones.
So what about special features?
The most obvious special feature for these headphones is going to be one that the wearer almost never sees. Those are the LED light capsules on both the front and back of both cans. But those aren't going to be the best feature. In fact, as noted in the design segment, they seem almost pointless.
Of course, the LED lighting does pulse blue — and only blue — while music is playing. And it does shift to red when the "battery low" indicator kicks on — hours ahead of the battery actually dying. It shows up red during charging too, shutting off when charging is complete. Finally, the company effectively combines the colors when the headphones are turned off. Then, the LEDs flash purple. But, again, that's more icing than cake for those who like that kind of thing.
The best special features here are linked in with how controls work on this device. Most OEMs split functionality between earpieces, placing a button on each, and forcing users to remember which does what. PaMu Explore, as discovered during my review, is ambidextrous. Both touch-buttons do exactly the same thing. A single tap will pause or play music. Long-pressing turns the light show off.
But a single tap on an incoming call will answer it or will hang up if there's a call in progress. A double-tap, conversely, rejects the call. If there's no call in progress, it will redial the last number.
For even more control, the volume keys on the right-side ear cup are used. Successive clicks will turn the volume up or down. But a long-press is used to skip between tracks backward and forward. From a subjective standpoint, the controls are just much easier to remember when laid out the same for both sides. It just feels more intuitive.
Controls on the AUX cable behave similarly, although they will vary a bit from smartphone to smartphone.
The battery life from PaMu Explore was a lie but in the best way possible
Now, Padmate advertises PaMu Explore with a battery life of around 27 hours. And, it turns out, that's absolutely a lie but not in the way you'd expect. Under review, PaMu Explore lasted well over 27 hours. In fact, it lasted more than 37 hours and that wasn't without a heavier-than-average drain. Charging is pretty quick too, equating to what could be the ultimate one-two battery punch.
I tested this device at an average range of around 20- to 30-feet from the source device. That, in and of itself, will drain the battery faster even with Bluetooth 5.0 in use. But my usage did push the distance much further than that for extended periods of time — at up to 60-feet.
Perhaps as importantly, the individual volume controls for the headphones was kept at around 90-percent. The source volume was kept at above 70-percent. The vast majority of the time, it was kept at above 75-percent. That, again, represents a higher-than-average battery drain. Moreover, it's a much higher volume than most users will ever approach. These still sound great and are still very loud, as indicated above, at a much lower volume.
Last but not least, I kept the LED lighting turned on throughout my battery test.
Despite all of that, my test resulted in a battery life of 41 hours and 2 minutes. And that's impressive all on its own. The voice-over used when the battery is low, conversely, was the best I've yet to experience. Not only does it not interrupt the music or media playback as often. It also dims the volume only marginally and stays in the background.
It doesn't overpower the music or media itself. While that still isn't a perfect solution, it is a step in the right direction. Voiceover warnings about low batteries often interrupt the experience badly enough that it stops the experience entirely with plenty of battery left for more than an hour of listening. It was still annoying here, of course. But not unbearably so.
For charging, USB Type-C fast charging is enabled by the Qualcomm chipset listed above. And that means as much as 5-hours of playback can be had from just 10-minutes of charging. Refueling to the full run-time listed above took just 1 hour and 31 minutes overall.
These headphones are, as a result, some of the fastest charging and longest lasting. Even though these are also some of the most powerful and great-sounding headphones at just about any price within $100 of the retail cost.
Connections are limited and that's not a bad thing
One other issue I discovered during my review of PaMu Explore had to do with connectivity. But that's nothing to do with cutting out or distortion when listening over Bluetooth. In fact, those problems never occurred, even when I listened to this device outside while the source device remained indoors on the table. The issue is that these headphones don't support multi-device connecting.
As a result, switching up the source device required that I went into my phone's settings and manually disconnected from PaMu Explore. Then, and only then, I could connect another device instead. That happened irrespective of whether or not both devices had been previously connected. And it's something many competitors don't require so it was certainly disappointing.
Now, Padmate also includes a 3.5mm audio cable with these headphones. And the available audio jack, placed just next to the power toggle and the charging port, will also work for those who want to supply their own cable. That's a fairly standard addition for these types of headphones. But, interestingly enough, I never felt the need to turn to that plug for listening.
The audio quality through that jack certainly doesn't degrade compared to Bluetooth. But with Qualcomm's QCC3034 chip, only audiophiles are likely to ever need the plug. Especially with the battery life being what it is. The chip supports aptX, aptX HD, SBS, AAC audio.
Bluetooth 5.0 also ensures connection at up to 800-feet — at least theoretically. So there are some definite benefits to its use in a listening device.
The lack of overcomplicated solutions serves an additional purpose too. There's no extra software to maintain or to create bugs in the future, just for starters. There are also fewer weak points that could potentially cause bugs with the software the headphones ship with. And fewer points where the software interactions between these headphones and any given smartphone. So the experience should be fairly identical across gadgets with PaMu Explore and not just with those I used for this review.
Are these headphones worth the money?
Now, as noted above, there are some quirks in the design of PaMu Explore and my review revealed a couple of missing features too. Or at least features I would have expected due to the design and intended use. Connecting across multiple devices does require a bit of extra work. There's no built-in access to voice assistants when paired with a smartphone.
But these headphones, at just $199, are easily among the best available for the money. With that said, as of this writing, the company is also offering a code — XDXP — to save $100 off of that price. That's direct from its site and makes purchasing PaMu Explore a no-brainer for anybody looking to buy headphones in the $100 price range.
Not only is the sound, while slightly bass-heavy, far better than I would have predicted at the price. Connections are solid, once linked up, and the battery life borders on insanity. Especially with consideration for the charge time ringing in at just under an hour and a half. Asking whether or not these headphones are worth the cost, then, is a nonsensical question.
No. They don't have the most appealing aesthetic. Especially for those who want something more minimal and looking past the lack of waterproofing. But PaMu Explore offers some of the best sound quality around and at a fraction of the cost compared to many competitors. Moreover, they can deliver that high-end experience for days on end without recharging even if the listening is nearly constant.
On top of that, PaMu Explore presents users with the added option to use an AUX cable instead, just in case a couple of days of listening without recharging isn't enough. Or in case buyers are Bluetooth audio-averse. These headphones are worth every penny of the asking price, even when they aren't on sale.