May 18, 2022

Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC review: Too quiet on all fronts

By Ted Kritsonis published February 16, 2022

Motorola Buds S Anc Main

(Image: © Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

OUR VERDICT

Bottom line: Motorola aims for a crowded pack of competitors with the Moto Buds-S ANC by bringing along a set of features, except the sum of those parts include missing pieces that could’ve made a real difference.

FOR

  • Nice design
  • Better with third-party foam tips
  • Reliable touch controls
  • Wireless charging

AGAINST

  • Fit is too loose
  • Sound is too quiet
  • ANC could be better
  • No app support
  • Too pricey for what you get

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As a known brand in communications, you would expect Motorola to be all over the wireless earbuds space. It’s certainly tried to make headway, yet we haven’t seen a pair really stand out. Why is that? What’s missing? It comes down to executing on the key elements that make earbuds worth wearing and listening to.

That was the challenge for the Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC, which aren’t necessarily premium, but are priced at a level to compete with plenty of great options. The issue is that some important fundamentals aren’t firing correctly, and it’s unclear what the company can do about it. In the end, the results don’t jive with the price.

MOTOROLA MOTO BUDS-S ANC: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Motorola launched the Buds-S ANC in January 2022 in black and white colorways, and made them available for $149.99. Motorola tends to keep its earbuds on the market for extended periods, so unless there is a different strategy here, you can expect to see them drop in price sometime down the line.Sponsored LinksThe Cost of Apartments for Sale in Dubai Might Totally Surprise YouApartments for Sale in Dubai | Search Ads

MOTOROLA MOTO BUDS-S ANC: WHAT’S GOOD

Motorola Buds S Anc Open Case Angle
Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

Motorola clearly didn’t aim to wow anyone with how it designed these earbuds. Take out the logo and they could easily get lost amongst the countless earbuds on the market these days. They just look like AirPods clones because of the stem design, but that’s one reason why you could look at them as an alternative to Apple’s own earbuds.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.516.0_en.html#goog_10762357540 seconds of 18 minutes, 14 secondsVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

On paper, there’s a lot to like here. The Moto Buds-S ANC weren’t built to feel cheap, and the case, while taller than most, also feels like it has some quality to it. You get three sizes of ear tips (small, medium, large) to find the best fit for your ears. The 10mm drivers suggest there’s power under the surface, and it has active noise cancelation (ANC) plus ambient mode to hear background noise when you want to.

They only support the AAC and SBC codecs, which is unfortunate because they don’t offer something more for Android users, like the aptX codecs. However, they’re easy enough to set up and get started in theory (more on this later), and seem to have the right pieces in place to make them stand out.

Motorola Buds S Anc Wearing
Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

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The challenge is that to use them, you have to make them work for you. The audio output can only really show itself when you get the best possible seal. I recognize this is subjective, so it is certainly doable with the included ear tips, but I personally had to try everything to make it happen. My biggest success was using larger third-party foam tips, except they didn’t always latch on to the earbuds themselves, forcing me to fish out the foam from my ears after taking off the buds.

To get the good stuff, you might have to use materials that don’t come with the Buds-S ANC.

It’s not like the audio quality is awful, but to get the good stuff, you might have to use materials that Motorola doesn’t make. Foam tips or extra-large tips would be worth a try, though it’s kind of a big ask when competitors’ earbuds don’t present the same challenges — especially at the same price range.

Even phone calls aren’t bad, except the fit does play a role in how much of the background seeps in. Whenever I used them to talk in quieter confines, there wasn’t much of a problem. If it got a little noisy around me, it became harder to keep the conversation clear.

The touch-sensitive onboard controls are actually decent and effective. A single tap plays/pauses, double tapping on the right earbud skips a track, and a triple tap goes back one. Double tap the left earbud to toggle between ANC and ambient mode. Hold the right for two seconds to wake Google Assistant. There is no auto-pause when taking off either earbud, nor is there multipoint to connect to two devices at once.

Motorola rates the Buds-S ANC at up to six hours of battery life with ANC on. They actually can go longer than that — provided you keep volume at the default level. That’s unlikely to happen with the available fit, but if your ears are sensitive enough, you could get more than seven hours. The case, which provides another two full charges, also supports wireless charging, but not quick charging. It takes about two hours to fully charge everything.

MOTOROLA MOTO BUDS-S ANC: WHAT’S NOT GOOD

Motorola Buds S Anc Close Up
Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

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I didn’t get off to a good start with the Moto Buds-S ANC because of connectivity issues. I had to re-pair them a few times to get them working. Sometimes, they would disconnect from my Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra for reasons I could never ascertain.

Even getting past that, the audio stands out even more. I blame most of this on the fit, which just isn’t stable enough to passively seal in as much sound as possible. That issue affects how good the ANC because the microphones can’t mask background noise enough to offset the leakage coming from the shaky fit. The fit, such as it is, already makes these less than ideal for working out or running, but I would also argue the IPX5 resistance rating isn’t particularly great for activity anyway.

Not only that, but Motorola strangely hinders the drivers from really pumping sound out. The Buds-S ANC are some of the quietest earbuds I’ve ever tested at default volume. I had to raise it to 75-80% to get to the same level competitors can deliver at 60%. That’s not good for the battery, and it squanders the otherwise solid lifespan these earbuds otherwise manage.

Motorola Buds S Anc Hands
Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

What makes this worse is that Motorola never developed an app to support the Buds-S ANC. Doing so would’ve at least provided an avenue to try rectifying some of the sound issues. Without an app, you can’t adjust the sound with an EQ, alter the touch controls, or update the firmware. Instead, you’re left with what you get, and it’s not clear whether or not the company will commit to firmware updates. It’s hard to understand how it could miss the boat on something this pervasive in the industry.

After a while, it became obvious to me that the Buds-S ANC stood out more for what they were missing than what they brought to the table. I get that not every pair of earbuds comes with an app, but they might get away with it because the sound and fit are on point. Motorola got both of these things wrong, and ancillary features suffer because of it.

MOTOROLA MOTO BUDS-S ANC: COMPETITION

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Motorola Buds S Anc Case Closed
Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

The Motorola Buds-S ANC won’t be part of the best wireless earbuds under these circumstances, and there are cheap AirPods clones that look the part and perform better for less. Since we’re talking about earbuds that are in the mid-range on price, the Jabra Elite 4 Active get the fit, comfort, sound, and app parts right at a lower price.

If you did want to go more rugged for a similar price, the Jaybird Vista 2 are ready for anything, and offer one of the best EQ experiences any pair of earbuds currently offer. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro sport a similar stem design, yet sound better and have excellent support.

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