The Belkin Soundform Freedom are a worthy AirPods alternative — and they’re cheaper

CNN —  

Belkin has spent the past couple of years carving its own niche within the audio space through its Soundform line, which includes some respectable speakers, headphones and earbuds that are fairly affordable. On the Bluetooth earbuds front, this includes the $49.99 Soundform Move, $59.99 Soundform True, $79.99 Soundform Rise and highest-tiered Soundform Freedom.

Priced at $119.99, the Soundform Freedom have a lot to offer on their own merit. Their two-layer drivers promise a rich audio experience. Meanwhile, dual microphones and advanced environmental noise cancellation hope to ensure clear communication during call time. Besides offering an expected total battery life of 36 hours, the Soundform Freedom are also compatible with Apple’s Find My app just in case they get lost. iOS loyalists looking for a third-party pair of Bluetooth earbuds should seriously consider the Soundform Freedom a respectable AirPods alternative.

An affordable AirPods alternative

The Belkin Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds are an impressive AirPods alternative with great call quality and full compatibility with Apple’s Find My app.

The who, what and how

Who these are for: Android users may get some mileage out of the Soundform Freedom. However, the earbuds lean more toward iOS users due to compatibility with Apple Find My. Those inside Apple’s ecosystem who can’t afford the pricier AirPods may find much to appreciate here. Those who are platform agnostic will find a pair of buds that provides respectable usage across general music listening and phone calls.

What you need to know: One of the first third-party Bluetooth earbuds to support Apple Find My, the Soundform Freedom can be easily tracked down by iOS users who have issues keeping up with their various devices. The case also offers wireless charging and a total battery life of about 36 hours. Available in white and black, the Soundform Freedom come with three silicone ear tips for comfort. Liquid splashes and sweat-prone gym sessions shouldn’t be a problem either due to the buds’ reliable IPX4 grade water protection.

How they compare: The Soundform Freedom stand alongside other similarly priced earbuds within the $100 to $150 range in various aspects from audio and call quality to battery life. This includes the TCL MoveAudio S600, Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, Raycon E55 The Performer and Amazon Echo Buds. Apple Find My compatibility is a huge plus for iOS owners, and the battery life is impressive.

Sleek case design, good comfort and lots of features

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The Soundform Freedom’s case design offers a sleek rounded look with a glossy finish that looks pretty premium. When it comes to build quality, it actually feels tough as well. During drops, the earbuds stayed in place as the case seemed to just shrug it off. It offers full Qi charging compatibility and works well with everything from mobile device-based reverse wireless charging and charger mats during testing. Wired-based charging works via USB-C port in the back with a small LED indicator on the case’s front that transitions from red when low, yellow at the halfway point and white when fully charged.

A button in the back near the USB-C port serves two primary functions. One is a simple factory reset. The other is used to connect the Soundform Freedom case to Apple Find My. To set that up, users hold the button until they hear three audible beeps from the case, go to the Find My App and connect from there. Whenever an individual misplaces the Soundform Freedom and uses the app, it’ll provide a general area of where it is. If users want to disable the feature, just hold the button until the same beeps are audible.

Though it’s not as intuitive as connecting first-party Apple products to the app and took a couple of tries, everything worked pretty well after the initial setup. Similar to finding devices like MacBooks or iPads, the app provides a general location of where to find the Soundform Freedom case. Individuals who are good at misplacing earbud cases in their home won’t have much luck outside of understanding that they’re nearby. This is definitely more helpful for those who like to transport their earbuds between home, work, gym, park and the like.

Once opened, there are two ways of connecting the Soundform Freedom to devices. The “out of the box” way is simply by keeping the case open and finding it through a device’s Bluetooth settings. Another way is by holding the touch-sensitive pads of both earbuds for three seconds to make it searchable.

The small touch-sensitive pads work really well for media and phone controls. However, they’re not really intuitive at first and take a while before they become second nature. Samsung and iOS users will be happy to know that the Soundform Freedom let you summon both Siri and Bixby by holding either earbud for two seconds. And thanks to the buds’ sensors, music also auto pauses and plays when the earbuds are placed in and removed from the ears.

There are three sets of silicone ear tips representing small, medium and large. The default size on the earbuds are medium — they’re comfortable and never felt as if they were going to fall off from jerky movement. Putting that IPX4 grade protection to work through tests, the Soundform Freedom continued to work following dunks in water and sweat-filled solo yoga sessions.

Call and microphone quality are exceptional

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Phone calls were a splendid experience on the Soundform Freedom. On individual one-on-one sessions or conference calls, audio quality was generally great. This can likely be attributed to the buds’ Qualcomm aptX chip, which provides the best audio possible by covering the full human hearing range, according to Belkin. Volume levels during calls sounded reasonable too. Audio quality during video conferencing provided similar sound from Zoom and Google Meet to FaceTime.

Utilizing dual microphones and advanced clear-call technology, phone calls and video messaging can pretty much happen anywhere. During testing, there was never a moment where someone couldn’t understand speech at home. Optimal environments like inside a home or office space means that there shouldn’t be any issues with mic quality during sessions.

The Soundform Freedom feature advanced environmental noise cancellation technology to help reduce call background noise. Outside amongst the elements, the tech does a great job in ensuring communication still manages to be clear. Those who take phone calls during walks in the park, jogs through the neighborhood or at busy intersections should be just fine with the Soundform Freedom. During a moment of taking the morning trash out or using the laundry room, individuals on the other side of the call didn’t notice the change in scenery.

Impressive audio quality

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Belkin maintains a great balance of overall clarity and general volume on the Soundform Freedom. Marketing proclamations of “powerful bass” and “minimal distortion” are more than brand talk here. There’s plenty of audible nuance on the earbuds when listening to music or watching a quick episode of “The White Lotus” when traveling. The earbuds’ two-layer drivers are put to good use as the overall sonic experience is simply satisfactory, taking on our high-fidelity playlist with impressive results.

Users who like to sway between the many musical layers of classical musicians or even jazz should feel right at home here. Take Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer’s rendition of “Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major BWV 530” from the Bach Trios album. It’s a wonderful feeling to weave audio focus between the composition’s cello, double bass and mandolin. The same desired sonic results were apparent in Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Caravan.” Charles Mingus’ bass makes for a clear and focused midrange tone that never sounds flat behind Ellington’s piano, thanks to the earbuds.

The Soundform Freedom don’t reach wild volume levels like Beats PowerBeats Pro, but they are adequate for individuals of more accessible genres. Billie Eilish fans will peacefully drown in the opening raindrops of the opening of “My Future” as the pop crooner vocals push to the forefront. Bass-heavy EDM lovers and hip-hop fans alike will definitely value the clarity without distortion on the low end.

Gamers should admire the audio quality of mobile-friendly games like Asphalt 9: Legends, Temple Run or cross-platform shooters like Fortnite. More serious gamers who can’t get enough of Xbox Game Pass on mobile will know that audio latency during cloud streaming isn’t very noticeable. Titles like Dirt 5 sound just as good on mobile phones as they do on console or PC. Between the sounds of the off-road motors, blaring musical soundtrack and ambient sounds, the Soundform Freedom did a wonderful job with the arcade racer.

Long battery life with lots of ways to charge

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Alone, the Soundform Freedom are supposed to provide eight hours on each earbud with an additional 28 hours of in-case charging for a total of 36 hours. During tests, the earbuds provided similar results to Belkin’s claims before dying completely with a total of around 30 minutes more than advertised at moderate volume. This makes the Soundform Freedom’s battery life on par with Powerbeats Pro, Raycon E55 and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.

Just in case unprepared individuals need a quick charge, a 15-minute charge (either plugged in or wirelessly) will provide two hours’ worth of earbud usage. When testing the Qi compatibility, charging worked excellently on both a wireless charging mat and via the back of our phone through Samsung’s Power Share feature. Long phone calls and video conversations provided a little more than eight hours as well. Thankfully, the earbuds can be used independently of one another, which should help battery life.

Bottom line

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The Soundform Freedom are truly high-value earbuds for iOS users who want something more affordable than the base AirPods. Add the Find My capability, and these may seem more valuable than Apple’s first-party earbuds if one is susceptible to losing their small audio device.

Users who are glued to Android phones from Samsung will also find much to respect about the Soundform Freedom. Whether it’s calls, video conferences, general music listening, movie viewing or gaming, the audio quality all around shines.

The awesome sonic qualities are matched by its dual microphone system that means listeners will hear a clear voice regardless of being indoors or outside. Most importantly, the 36-hour total battery life is splendid. The controls are intuitive once you get used to them while also being compatible with Siri and Bixby.

Potential Android earbud buyers who don’t mind spending the extra dough may get more mileage out of the Galaxy Buds 2. The $99 Google Pixel Buds A are also a good Android alternative that feature great Google Assistant integration. But as an affordable alternative to the AirPods, the Soundform Freedom more than do the job when it comes to iOS users.