I have had my fair share of struggles with headsets for many years. It wasn’t until 2015, though that I got tired and spent a tidy sum on a decent pair of headsets.
However, like others I had had before, they were wired. Which is not a problem since they delivered and that had been my way of listening to stuff on my pocket radio and, later, phones, but that wasn’t necessarily the future that the world had moved to.
The future is wireless
If you are living in this day and age, you can only hold on to your dear wired headsets for so long. Sooner or later, you are bound to give in and go the way of everyone else: wireless.
The problem is, finding affordable wireless headsets to go with in Kenya is not as easy as you may think.
Mostly, you will be limited by the amount of money you have if you are looking for quality. Particularly when it comes to the little earphones. The cheap no-name ones that one can easily pick in downtown Nairobi are as bad as bad comes both in terms of design and build quality and the sound quality.
Sure, there’s not much to expect from earphones that cost Kshs 5,000 and below but there are levels I can’t allow myself to sink to. Which is why I ended up taking quite some time before I opened my wallet and decided to spend my little cash on what I’d be using to listen to GMoney in the Morning on my commute to work and my fire Spotify TBT playlists in the evening or catch up on old episodes of Friends as I make the long journey home.
I even turned to Twitter at the late stages of my search seeking help.
What wireless headsets are you using? Would you recommend them to someone?
— 𝖊 𝖈 𝖍 𝖊 𝖓 𝖟 𝖊 with AI (@echenze) February 7, 2018
1. Pace Mate
The Pace Mate earphones were launched in late 2017 by Pace Africa, a Kenyan brand.
When I bought them, it was the first time that I was seeing them up close and personal and interacting with them. Right off the bat, I was impressed.
When checking where I could get them, I was presented with two options: buy from Jumia Kenya or directly through Pace Africa’s website. Being Valentines (2018), my order would have qualified for free shipping from Jumia Kenya so there wasn’t going to be much of a difference cost-wise. Or so I thought. A hasty decision to order the Pace Mate from Pace Africa’s website now has me thanking my lucky stars. Because I was working late, I finally made up my mind just before I slept at around 2AM the following day (February 15th) and placed the order.
I was surprised that the promise given by an alert on the website upon completion of the order placement process that an invoice and further details would be sent via email didn’t materialize. However, it is the speed with which the order was processed that had me forget about that tiny glitch in the entire process. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call at about 10AM to confirm the order and the shipping address.
6 hours later, the Pace Mate had arrived. That’s the fastest delivery of any item I’ve ever bought online in the country (uuum, that has since been beaten by Masoko). The previous record holders were some young guys who sold me a smart laptop bag (the one featured here) in late 2017. Turns out, Pace Africa delivers within 24 hours. The Kshs 3,800 asking price for the earphones is all that one pays, nothing more. I am not so sure if that is the case for deliveries done outside Nairobi, though.
Back to the earphones themselves, I was really impressed by the packaging. It’s neat and nice. The box sets the tone for great expectations, something that the Pace Mates are able to live up to, at least initially and before comparison with others like the Anker SoundBuds Slim and the JBL E25BT which are also subjects of this review.
I like that spare ear tips, as would be expected, are included in the box. There are also spare in-ear hooks in the box which is a nice touch. I immediately switched to these so that the earphones don’t fall off easily. Not that that ever happened but that was just me taking precautions.
Another thing I really like about the Pace Mates is the collar/neckband design i.e. they have a hardened plastic which fits around the neck so that they are always resting at least around the shoulder areas and not dangling everywhere as is the case with the JBL E25BT.
Talking about plastic, there’s lots of it all over, as can be expected of a cheap pair of earphones. The only exceptions are the drivers which have a metallic build that is also magnetic to allow them to come together and not fly all over the place when they’re not plugged into your ears. Again, well thought out.
Pairing the Pace Mates is easy and pretty straightforward. The same is the case when switching devices.
I am not an audiophile and, for the price of the headsets in this piece, I don’t have that high expectations but the Pace Mates managed to hold their end of the bargain. The bass is at acceptable levels just as are the highs and the lows though they are not as defined as one would get on a better pair of earphones. There’s no sound distortion that I came across. Sound is crisp and clear. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing disappointing.
The one thing I outrightly did not like about the Pace Mate is that the LED indicator doesn’t stay on throughout when charging. So, at first, I thought there was something wrong with my unit. It wasn’t until it had spent quick some time charging that I took it, paired it with the device to check the battery level and found it full. For a moment there, my heart was in my hands. It’s not a good place to be in, trust me. As a result, I am not exactly sure how long it takes to charge the Pace Mate when they’re flat all the way to 100%.
However, I know how long it should take to power them down: 10 hours. They lasted me the entire journey from Nairobi to Mombasa and I was really impressed.
Making phone calls is also possible using these and the voice is very clear.
By just using the Pace Mate, I found that my ears tire over time which you can say is to be expected but I don’t have a similar problem with the JBLs. Ergonomics.
The big question now is, do they deserve the Kshs 3,800 price? Sadly, I’ll have to say yes even though my initial reaction was that, wait, that’s quite a lot of money. It is but, for the most part, the product does go out of its way to make its owner feel like they did not throw money to the birds of the air.
Well, until they snap just before the turn of the year. My Pace Mates haven’t been working as they should since January 2019 and as of the last time I checked, they were best used as ornaments around the neck than for channelling any audio from my phone.
I have had similar issues with another pair of wireless headsets from Pace, the Focus, an experience that has also been echoed by other users. So, if you are looking for something that will last long, these ain’t it. I’d advise you look elsewhere. Like in the following two sets which continue functioning well, a year later.
2. Anker SoundBuds Slim
Anker is a renowned brand when it comes to its exceptional external/portable battery packs (“power banks”). However, as some company executives intimated to me in 2016, it has since diversified its product portfolio to include sound and other products. In the audio department, Anker has already carved itself a name more so when it comes to affordable home audio products like Bluetooth speakers, earphones and the like. The SoundBuds Slim happen to be products of the company’s current endeavours.
Since getting Anker products in the country is quite hard as they don’t have official local distribution so I had to go to a platform that I know I can’t miss what I have in mind: Amazon.
To say that I like my SoundBuds Slim would be an understatement. I love them.
That explains why, over a year since I started documenting my experiences with wireless headsets for the sake of this review, they are the last man standing (I have since sold both the JBL E25BT that follows on this review as well as the Pace Mate highlighted earlier).
They are made with my type of person in mind.
They are sweat-resistant meaning that whether it is the sweltering Nairobi January-February heat or just a casual jog or a bike ride, I don’t have to worry about what effects that has on the headsets. Their IPX5 rating even makes sure that I am safe from water jets in any direction. I have never found myself in a situation where that is necessary but it is good insurance.
That they are inexpensive doesn’t mean that they compromise where it matters the most: sound. Their bass is neither here nor there but their 6mm drivers do more than just enough to get crisp tunes flowing. While their maker rates them as having “high-fidelity audio”, I found those to be rather lofty claims that I couldn’t back up given that I have since had a better experience on other headsets and would put such a tag on those and not the SoundBuds Slim.
One year down the line, the SoundBuds Slim still last me at least 4 days on a single charge when used for at least an hour each trip during my commute in the morning and the evening. That means that the 8 that they are rated for is actually true.
3. JBL E25BT
Two words: they’re good. Very good.
JBL is a big name when it comes to audio products and so, a lot of what I have to say about the E25BT is stuff you’d expect.
The sound quality is excellent, the design is good and they are quite comfortable to wear. Well, unless you decide to use the included clip which I found to be rather uncomfortable though highly necessary since the E25BT, unlike the Pace Mate and the SoundBuds Slim, does not have magnets to keep the two buds together when not in use.
The braided-nylon design ensures that they are tangle-free all the time and, of the trio, are the easiest to simply stuff in your pants pocket or backpack’s side pocket and reach out to it and be swinging your head sideways to a tune in a minute.
My favourite feature is the ability to output sound to 2 devices simultaneously. You know, making a call on your connected phone while music still plays on another connected device like a tablet or a PC.
The bass, too. It is good.
I liked that the USB cable included in the box is reversible i.e. it doesn’t matter which way you plug it in to a wall adaptor (not included in the box). Unfortunately, the microUSB charging port on them is not the most ideal. It is not only hard to open, when it does eventually open, it feels like it is going to drop the next minute.
The JBL E25BT’s in-line buttons aren’t as good as those on the Pace Mate.
That there is no water or sweat protection for wireless earphones that cost the most on this list is a bummer. It means that you can’t take them with you on your workout, unless you are a fan of risking Kshs 5,000 just like that.
Since there are lots of counterfeit JBL products in the Kenyan market, you’ll just have to be very careful when going out to buy these or any other JBL headsets for that matter.
All the headsets had extra tips in the box, took just about the same amount of time to fully charge up and, were so-so when it comes to use for voice recording or making and receiving the calls so none had the upper hand over the other there.
Of the 3, which one would you pick? Better yet, what wireless earphones are you using?