With the number of available wired and wireless audio gadgets increasing exponentially, it’s easy to get bogged down with overly optimistic reviews. Especially with regard to reviews that talk about high value and quality. Simply put, that’s a constant claim among OEMs. Each, apparently, provides the best listening experience for the money. As it turns out with Strauss & Wagner EM205, recently sent to Android Headlines for review, the hype is not only real.
It could actually be understated.
These earbuds from Strauss & Wagner are hands-down the best you’ll find for under $50. But they are also easily among the top audio gadgets you’ll find for under $150. Or $250. The term ‘audiophile’ could very well apply and that’s without breaking the $40 line, in fact. With just one or two caveats worth noting, these earbuds are a great buy.
So let’s dive right in.
Strauss & Wagner sets its EM205 apart, right from the unboxing
On the hardware front, my Strauss & Wagner EM205 review unit arrived encased in small, unassuming packaging. Opening that up revealed a suede-like carry bag. Complete with nylon pull-ties. The company also packs in the earbuds themselves, earbud tips, and a user manual. So what the company packs in is minimal. And that carries over to the design as well.
But, in terms of the quality of those pack-ins, the carry case is easy to slip the buds in and out of, the ear tips feel as though they’re made of high-quality, comfy materials, and the user guide is very straightforward.
That got my review started off on strong footing. But there’s more to this design than might meet the eye at first glance. Starting with the carry case, the materials in use here feel premium in hand. And the material is thick enough that it should last quite some time, tossed into and pulled out of a backpack, laptop case, or pocket.
The earbuds themselves feature three buttons for ease-of-use, which serve multiple functions. And each of those is as satisfyingly clicky as any of the most expensive listening devices I’ve had the opportunity to test out. The line those are embedded in is thin but feels strong. And, conversely, was easy to detangle on the few occasions where that happened. While the design of the ear tip ends centers around an off-center attach-point, relieving pressure from the cable itself.
Placed in the ear, Strauss & Wagner EM205 was undeniably comfortable. Or at least, they were once I chose the proper ear tip size. The company includes three sizes, and my ears fit best with the smaller size. The material used in those is softer than expected too, so they should fit a wider range of ear sizes. Meaning it shouldn’t be a big deal if you’re used to having more options.
Even after long listening sessions, these earbuds didn’t generate any fatigue. A fact helped along by how lightweight they are. Effectively ensuring they don’t add any pressure or pull when worn in the ears.
The audio here is way too good for the price and that’s definitely a good thing
As we’ve already discussed, a snug fit and comfort are going to be givens when it comes to Strauss & Wagner EM205 — or at least they were for this review. And we can skip right past any discussion about battery life since these are wired. But that’s not all that matters when it comes to listening devices. Those are important but audio quality is, without any doubt, the most important aspect of any listening experience.
Strauss & Wagner EM205 does not disappoint.
Now, reviewers and OEMs love to toss the word “Audiophile” around quite a lot. Bluetooth and driver technology continue their endless march in terms of lower pricing and features. And it can be difficult to find a review that doesn’t bring the term into the equation. But that’s typically either an overstatement or a misunderstanding of the term.
An audiophile device should sound as perfect as possible in terms of balancing tones and the placement of audio in the headspace. The volume level shouldn’t impact those characteristics significantly either. And, on top of all of that, an audiophile experience should clearly represent each audio frequency accurately, without unintentional distortion.
That way, they not only provide great audio out of the box, recreating sounds exactly as producers intend. But they also provide a base standard of quality that users can adapt predictably using EQ settings, without missing details in the music or other media playback.
Strauss & Wagner EM205 hits on and nails down all of those aspects with almost pinpoint precision. Despite the price point, bass tones don’t drown out mids or highs. They don’t even dim them down at all. All of the frequencies play with a near-perfect level representation, resulting in a wide, fulfilling audio experience. Even without the need for equalization. But they also cover the full range of human audio perception.
So pounding bass is, without distortion and without overpowering higher frequencies. And the same follows in the other direction. In songs where screaming guitars are meant to be at the forefront, they are. All without sacrificing the accuracy of the placement of those tones. And without being overbearing. These earbuds are, unquestionably, stunning in their quality. Presented as tech specs, for under $40, Strauss & Wagner offer an impedance of 32Ohms, range of 20Hz to 20kHz, a sensitivity rating at 108dB, and 9mm drivers.
On voice calls, that audio prowess continues to shine too. Thanks, in part, to a mic sensitivity of -43 dB. Of course, the mic also doesn’t feature noise cancelation. So it isn’t the best mic I’ve ever used. But for under $40, it is well beyond just being serviceable. Strauss & Wagner did a great job on this front though. Especially since the mics didn’t generate any of that speaker-phone effect that’s so often found on wired or wireless wearables. So these work just as well for teleconferencing and similar uses.
On connections and features, Strauss & Wagner EM205 only provided one pain point during my review but it wasn’t a small one
Now, wired plugs are quickly disappearing from smartphones from most manufacturers. And my own smartphone, the Google Pixel 5, is no exception to that trend. That fact would, in fact, make it difficult to justify buying wired 3.5mm audio jack-based headphones, to begin with. But there’s still a noticeable gap in quality for some users between wired and wireless audio, even among the best of the latter. So Google and others do helpfully support wired audio via a USB-C adapter or direct USB-C plug.
Unfortunately, that’s also one area where I ran into playback problems with Strauss & Wagner EM205 during my review. And it’s no small matter either. Regardless of which USB-C adapter I used, and I own several, these headphones were simply not supported on my Google Pixel 5. Instead, they threw an error about supported audio devices. So I was only able to test these via other devices I had lying around that supported 3.5mm audio. Or with my Chromebook or Windows laptop.
That won’t necessarily be the case with all iterations of USB-C audio output. But it isn’t a good sign, necessarily, that they didn’t work here for that.
Setting that aside, the connection here is still going to be among the best you’ll find for 3.5mm audio plug solutions. Not only is there no static or cut-out in audio even with a significant amount of forced jostling. The cable that Strauss & Wagner include appears to be around one-and-a-half times the length of the standard wired audio cable. So there’s plenty of slack when it comes to ensuring comfort during listening. For example, when riding a bike with the source device in a handlebar mount or under similarly novel circumstances.
What’s more, Strauss & Wagner gives users an in-line control center that allows everything from controlling playback to accessing voice commands.
But are they good enough to buy?
The sole caveat that may be worth noting, especially if you have a smartphone relying on USB-C for audio output, is that Strauss & Wagner EM205 may simply not work. That’s incredibly unfortunate too. Because they’ll easily give you the best audio experience you’ve ever had for under $40. And, as noted above, potentially the best experience you’ve had even if you typically spend a whole lot more.
Of course, there’s no active noise canceling either. But that never really mattered during my review of these headphones. The seal between the earbud tips and my ear canal was near-perfect. And they didn’t let through any wind noise. Which held through even when I was riding my electric bike at nearly-30mph down a busy street on a windy day. Let alone any sound from people attempting to talk directly to me, even when they raised their voice.
Conversely, the audio quality, from placement of sound to bass representation to portrayal of deeper audio details, was sensationally good. Driven through a longer-than-average cable, complete with in-line controls for playback and ready-access to voice assistants. So they never made me feel like I was tied down to a source device, under most circumstances.
With no battery to weigh down listening sessions and unforgivingly great sound, Strauss & Wagner EM205 was mind-bogglingly good under review. It would be irresponsible not to recommend them to anybody who wants a brilliant, audiophile-like experience for under $40. And, at that price, there’s really no reason not to see for yourself.