There are two new wireless earbud models from Technics. The AZ60 with active noise cancelling (ANC) tested here sells for around NZ$330.
If you don’t want to pay for ANC, consider the $230 AZ40 option.
Apple wasn’t the first company to offer wireless earbuds, yet it set the pace with the original AirPods. Technics came later. Now, like Apple, it is on its third earbuds generation.
AZ60 premium earbuds
When it comes to the specifications, Technics AZ60 earbuds are closer to Apple’s premium AirPods Pro ($450) than the AirPods.
Like Apple’s ANC earbuds they come with a rechargeable case and a variety of eartips to help you get a better fit.
Apple offers three sizes, Technics offers seven.
Beyond that there are few similarities. You couldn’t describe Technics earbuds as AirPod Pro clones. They don’t look similar, sound similar or behave similar.
A better comparison would be with Sony’s $400+ WF-1000XM4, which, like Technics, aim to give audiophiles a better sound than other earbud brands.
Although Technics doesn’t match Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earbuds, they come close enough and cost around $100 less depending on where you shop. That makes them an worthwhile bang for buck trade-off.
Technics’ sound is solid. The AZ60 earbuds are a clear step up from the AirPods Pro which are now two years old and will soon be due a refresh.
A lot has happened to earbud sound in the last two years. The pace of product development is impressive.
Technics coaxes a clearer sound from its earbuds than Apple. They offer more definition at the bass end than the AirPods Pro. They do this without overwhelming the ears – always a danger when pushing bass through in-ear speakers. The effect is to give more depth to music.
For me, classical music and jazz are the best tests for headphone or earbud sound quality. Rock and pop are more forgiving.
The AZ60 earbuds shine where there’s a wide dynamic range. They are good at dealing with subtlety. You’ll hear more than you might with other earbuds.
I’m no audiophile, but I’d rank the listening experience above the AirPod Pros and beneath the WF-1000XM4.
Sony’s earbuds feel more musical and crisper, but unless you are a fussy listener you’ll find little to complain about with the AZ60.
The relative price difference between the WF-1000XM4 and the AZ60 earbuds is a fair reflection of the sound quality.
My AirPods Pro are good enough to let me watch SparkSport in peace on my iPad oblivious of my neighbour’s power tools, the lawn mowing contractor or nearby building work. They are great on bus rides and airplanes – not that there is much flying these days.
If anything, Sony delivers the best active noise cancelling of the three earbuds. This applies to both music and making phone calls.
Technics uses four microphones per earbud to feed its noise cancellation. Two of them work when you make phone calls using the earbuds. They reduce the amount of noise for the person at the other end of the phone call.
This doesn’t always work as well in practice as the marketing material might suggest, but that applies to all earbuds. Every brand oversells the technology.
ANC and voice calls
I tested the earbuds when calling for my regular radio slot a few weeks ago and the engineer asked me to remove them because something was creating a problem with the sound of my voice. It wasn’t good enough to go on air.
I’ve used Sony and Apple earbuds in the past without a problem.
That said, there are zero issues when making normal phone or video calls with the AZ60.
Likewise the ANC is first class when you play music. Again, I’d say the WF-1000XM4 does a better job, but if you didn’t have the two to make comparisons, you’d be more than happy with the AZ60 performance.
Technics lets you adjust the strength of noise cancelling and, as with all other ANC earbuds, there’s an ambient mode that allows you to switch to hearing sounds around you. If, say, a colleague steps up to your work desk or a flight attendant offers you a drink you can quickly flip to hearing what they say.
At least that’s the idea.
At this point I’m going to confess that testing so many different headphones and earbuds in the last year has left my head spinning when it comes to remembering which gesture does what.
This won’t be a problem if you buy the AZ60 earbuds and learn their controls.
Technics gives you the option to customise its controls, which, in theory helps, but in practice adds a further layer of complexity.
There’s a downloadable app which includes a handy find my earbuds feature. It gives control over many features. If you like to tinker there are hours of entertainment here.
Personally I can do without the fuss although the Technics app is one of the best and most complete I’ve seen to date. It isn’t optional, the app’s battery life indicator is essential.
When I installed the app it went through a lengthy firmware update before I could anything. While that’s a minor irritation, it indicates that Technics is active with updates. That’s more than can be said for some earbud and headphone brands.
Design and features
Technic’s charging case feels tackier than either the Sony or Apple cases. It lacks the heft and solidity. They may all be made of plastic, but this feels more ‘plasticky’ if that makes sense.
AZ60 comes in a variety of colours including black, white and, depending on how you see things grey or silver. The are easy to wear, mine went in first time, no need to deal with the tips.
They fit fine. If anything they are more comfortable over the long haul than with the Apple or Sony earbuds. Technics says they are waterproof, but I didn’t have a chance to test that.
Technics AZ60 verdict
If you are wedded to Apple’s world, you may find the AirPods a better choice even though Technics gives you better sounding music. The value of Apple’s smooth integration might outweigh pampered ears.
On the other hand, if music quality is everything and your ears are sophisticated enough, you might prefer to spend extra and choose the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds.
Technics AZ60 offers a better-than-Apple treat for the ears at a lower price than Sony’s earbuds. They are comfortable, have good ANC, great sound and all the features you might need.