Review: Bolt wireless earphones let you rock on your own, or share with friends
A number of Phiaton's earphones have landed on our review bench over the years – including carbon fiber-packing fashionistas, active noise cancelers and travel-friendly wireless hipsters. Now the Korean audio house has gone truly wireless with the successfully crowdfunded Bolt BT 700 earphones, which come with a charging case that rocks its own speaker so that you can share tunes with friends.
The quest for truly wireless earphones began with a movie, a romantic comedy called Definitely Maybe that saw actor Ryan Reynolds strut down the street after popping in a pair of totally cable-free earphones. Despite much online chatter, searches for commercially available versions proved fruitless.
In fact it took six years for the first true wireless earphones to break cover, from a Scandinavian startup called Earin. There have been lots of flavors since, which kind of remained on the periphery of mobile audio until Apple launched the AirPods in 2016.
Late to the wireless earphone party
And so to the Bolt BT 700 truly wireless earphones from Phiaton. The first thing of note from this late-to-the-party offering is the inclusion of Bluetooth 5.0, which didn't suffer from nearly as many signal dropouts as wireless ear candy that we've tried which was built around earlier versions of the technology. We happily wandered cable-free around the house and garden, with thick walls and closed doors having no effect on the stability of the stream. Only when our meandering took us beyond the 33 ft (10 m) range were we bothered by spotty coverage and sudden signal death.
Surprisingly, given the mobile audiophile market that these earphones are clearly aimed at, there's no aptX codec support – SBC and AAC only here folks.
"Phiaton decided to support SBC and AAC audio codecs rather than aptX to maintain the product's low price point," a company rep told New Atlas. "aptX would have required a higher production cost, and they wanted to design a product that worked well while still offering an attractive price point for consumers."
That said, we have no complaints about the quality of the audio of the Bolt earphones. Well, maybe the bass is a little weaker than we would like but the response is quick and the sound detailed.
The Bolt earphones are built around balanced armature drivers, with 40 ohm impedance, 102 dB sensitivity and a 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response. This translates to a spacious delivery with a solid mid-range performance and crisp but not exceptional highs. When wearing earphones, we'd expect to feel the force from bass-heavy tracks like There Ain't Nothing Wrong With That by Robert Randolph and the Family Band and New Model Army's Notice Me – but such songs lacked expected oomph.
We appreciated the separation and tightness when playing busy, multi-layered tracks like Cathedral in a Suitcase from Pat Metheny and the Bolts really sparkled when primarily acoustic numbers such as Adrian Legg's Pass The Valium or Potchka by Mark Barnwell were on the playlist.
Obviously, with truly wireless earphones, the inline control box is no longer available so you have to either pop out an earphone when a call comes in or, if the system allows, take calls using the earphones, as you would with a Bluetooth earpiece. The Bolt earphones fall into the latter category. Audio quality coming through to the listener (in what appeared to be double mono) and going out to the caller were both loud and clear.
Overall, for Bluetooth earphones, we found the audio quality to be excellent.
The BT 700s were a comfortable wear too, even during long haul listening sessions. They're IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant and have a floppy little wing to the top of the housing, which is there to keep the earphone in place and fits snuggly under the cymba of the concha when the bud is pushed gently down the ear canal. And despite frantic head-bopping and a few violent shakes, they stayed put without fail.
Unlike some other Bluetooth earphones on the market, the Bolt BT 700s offer a goodly amount of on-earphone control. To the top of each earphone are volume buttons that have other functionality too, such as powering on/off and manually activating pairing mode. The outer surface of the earphone housing is touch-enabled for playback control, call taking and to set an audio transparency mode, which is designed to let the sounds of the outside world in.
During use, we found the buttons to be fiddly and awkward, but having them there does mean that wearers don't have to whip out a paired smartphone to skip tracks or adjust volume. The right earphone's touch surface is used to pause playback, take calls and check battery status; the left engages audio transparency. A flat finger rather than a finger tip proved most successful for tap action.
The transparency feature worked quite well, depending on the volume of the music being played. The sounds of passing cars, the rumble of a motorcycle engine or two, trains approaching the platform and so on were much more present than when the feature was switched off. Stopping playback while transparency was engaged meant that we could have conversations at the store checkout or with friends without having to remove an earphone.
The left and right earphones automatically link to each other when removed from the charging case, and enter device pairing mode. Both of these functions can also be undertaken manually, too.
Long haul wireless listening
The Bolt product page promises streaming music playtime per charge of around 5 hours, almost double the battery life of the Crazybaby Air 1S models we tried last month. Our Bolt review units consistently went over that mark during our continuous mixed use tests (where we listened to music and took calls), adding about another hour or so before they needed a recharge.
A full charge takes 2 hours when popped into the speaker case, which has its own battery that can charge the Bolt earphones three times before it needs connecting the a wall outlet. The case can fast charge the earphones though, providing an hour of playback or call taking for 15 minutes in the case.
And that charging case can throw out audio itself, packing a small (3 W) speaker to the left side. Paired earphones can simply be popped inside, the button on the opposite end to the case speaker pushed for 2 seconds and playback can be continued via the case itself. Volume and playback control in this mode is via the source device only. In use, the sound quality wasn't great, but useful if you want your friends to share in your musical enjoyment.
The bottom line
The Bolt earphones offer detailed and responsive listening while on the move. If you're a lover of booming low end, these are probably not the earphones for you though. It's not that bass is seriously deficient, it's more that it lacks satisfying punch.
They're quite comfortable for long commutes and seem determined to stay in place, even when out for a run. Battery life is good, and the speaker in the case proved loud enough for sharing a must-hear tune with nearby friends, and even managed to cut through the noise of a busy city center. The sound quality through the speaker is unlikely to get audiophiles excited, but it's adequate for sharing background chills while out and about.
There are cheaper and more expensive wireless headphones available, but we feel that the asking price of US$139 when Phiaton's Bolt BT 700 true wireless earphones go on general sale next month would be money well spent.
As well as left/right earphones and the charging speaker case, the package also includes a user manual, USB charging cable and extra small, small and large silicone tips to go with the medium tips already mounted on the earphones.
Product page: Bolt BT 700