Expensive doesn’t always mean quality and affordability doesn’t always mean value. Founded by Gerard Niewenhuis in 2014, TRNDLabs strives to establish themselves as a world-class brand. Their mission is to create an experience for the user, one worth sharing with friends. At just a few years old, the company is still in its infancy compared to Sennheiser or Audio Technica, but their goal is a noble one. At just $69, about $80 less than the competition the Nova Wireless Earbuds are a tempting product, but is this bargain worth it?
Out of the Box
Neatly folded cardboard encases TRNDLabs’ latest audio concept, the Nova True Wireless Earbuds. Included is a short micro USB charging cable, three pairs of silicone ear tips, one pair of foam ear tips, and the Power Case. The top portion rotates around to reveal the charging ports (USB type A and micro USB) and docking inlet for the earbuds to charge. The window rotation design is clever and useful, albeit a bit difficult to grip at times.
Build & Design
Plastic, plastic and more plastic. When stored in the case, the Nova ‘buds appear as two black bulbs with a cheap silver accent, each equipped with a multi-function button for music playback and redialing. Bulky but not unwieldy, the Nova Power Case properly protects and stores the earbuds when not in use and may be thrown into a rucksack without apprehension. Its versatility is beyond useful as the power pack may also charge other devices such as a phone or other Bluetooth headphones.
Ill-fitting and far from ergonomic, the earbuds have trouble creating a seal. Not only that but they also have a knack for falling out with minimal movement. Even walking from the couch to the refrigerator, a frequent occurrence, feels like gamble. Unsurprisingly, running is a nearly impossible task, unless a hat or headband keeps the earbuds in place. Difficult to push, toggling the buttons painfully forces the arms of the ‘buds into the ear canal. However, the covert profile and understated design is placid and inoffensive. Naturally, this will likely appeal to a wider audience than something frivolously ornate or terribly drab.
Pairing the Nova True Wireless Earbuds is a pain in the (r)ear. First, the user must power on the left ear bud and hold the button until an intermittent beeping is heard. Then, the same must be done for the right earbud. In theory, the earbuds should then be able to connect to each other seamlessly and to the audio source thereafter. However, an astounding amount of trouble came with the initial setup. The first time they were connected, audio was only being received by the left ear bud. After resetting and initiating the pairing process, sound was only relayed through the right ear bud. It was only after the third reset, they were then able to easily connect to a phone or laptop. This exasperating process felt like something that may be expected from a pre-production unit, not a fleshed out product.
Again, no matter how magnificent a pair of headphones sound, it doesn’t matter if they can’t maintain a connection. Though the Nova provide impressive sound at their sub-$70 price point, the connection is about as stable as the San Andreas Fault Line. Interrupted connections are an unwanted, periodic occurrence. Even while stationary and no more than two feet away from the source, connection disruptions are unavoidable. In crowded spaces—the bustling café on Main Street or the local library during exams—the Nova have an even harder time retaining a strong connection. The microphone is fine. It picks up quite a bit of ambient noise when speaking though.
Stamina is the Nova’s saving grace. The tiny ‘buds provide a full three hours of playback, three and a half hours of call time. And, extra juice is needed, the power pack combined with the headphones allows for a full 60 hours of battery life. Not only that, but the circular battery can also charge smartphones and tablets, albeit slowly. The rotating design is clever, yet difficult to grip. Though ears may have trouble keeping the Nova in place the provided case certainly won’t and protects the ‘buds confidently.
As aforementioned, a strong connection is cause for celebration with the Nova. As unfortunate as that is, when they work, they work. If the ‘buds form a proper seal with the ear canal, the sound is fantastic given the price and technology packed into the compact package.
Milquetoast. The bass plays it safe and responds quickly. “It’s Strange” by Louis the Child—previously used to test the Optoma NuForce Be Free8 true wireless earbuds—is subdued by the timid nature of the lows. It’s as if the volume of frequencies 250 Hz and below are decreased 30 percent relative to the mids. Overall, sub-bass and bass frequencies are responsive but restrained. Louis the Child’s interpretation of modern romance needs more bump and oomph to capture the emotional tug of war experienced by K. Flay than what the Nova can provide.
The mids are given the most attention by the TRNDLabs audio engineers. Adam Levine’s poppy vocals are resonant and present. His voice sounds clear and without any muffling as experienced in the highs. At the 2:53 mark, the tempo slows and Levine’s voice drops to his signature sultry tone. Of course, there’s always room for improvement as his voice should sound be more booming here, nonetheless it’s handled skillfully by the Nova.
To a lesser degree than the lows, the highs are also hindered by a subdued signature. In “‘S Wonderful” by Kat Edmonson, the triangle hit within the first 30 seconds of the nostalgic song is constrained. When compared to the B&W P5 Wireless, the highs are curtly cut off, sounding corrugated. Additionally, the dulled highs detract from the quaint mood that Edmonson’s song easily creates with other, more refined audio products.
TRNDLabs deserves a head nod for trying, but the end product feels like a hastily cobbled together idea. It feels like it was conceptualized and executed with the same haste of a college junior throwing together a forgotten final paper just eight hours before the deadline. At that point, you have to give the student props for completion but without revisions, it’s still just a first draft.