Wicked Audio Arq hands-on: Fully wireless earbuds for half the cost of Apple AirPods

The headphone jack is gone from most phones while our smartwatches also have the ability to play music via Bluetooth so having a wireless headset is becoming a necessity. Wicked Audio released an affordable product that doesn't compromise much.

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My primary form of exercise and relaxation is running outside and music is a big part of that experience. I've tested a number of headphones over the years and have moved to the truly wireless form factor found in earbuds like the Apple AirPods and Jabra Elite Active 65t. These models are good, but they also start at $160 so they aren't for everyone.

Wicked Audio PR reached out to me to gauge my interest in evaluating its new Arq wireless earbuds and I jumped at the chance since the $79.99 price seemed way too good to be true. After testing the earbuds out for the past couple of weeks I am no longer a skeptic.

There are indeed compromises that are made in order to have truly wireless earbuds for less than $100, but Wicked Audio gets the fundamentals right and gives up on some of the conveniences and advanced controls found on other expensive headsets.

Specifications of the Arq earbuds include:

  • Driver: 10mm dynamic
  • Freqency range: 20-20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 16 Ohms
  • Bluetooth: 4.2
  • Range: 32 feet
  • Battery life: Three hours for earbuds, 60 hours more with power bank battery charging case
  • Charging: 30 minutes to 100 percent
  • Battery bank capacity: 2,600 mAh
  • Fit to ears: Three sizes of silicone eartips

There is no water resistant rating on the earbuds, but Wicked Audio stated the exterior is sweat resistant and designed to withstand active lifestyles. I went running with them once and also wore them in light rain and they still work just fine so these conditions may be acceptable for their use. I haven't tested them in a downpour and they do not have an official water resistant rating so keep that in mind.

The earbuds are very lightweight and I've been able to wear them for hours with no discomfort at all. The Arq earbuds are rated for three hours of music playback and I personally saw just a bit longer than that over the past two weeks.

The earbuds are fairly generic looking with an all black finish, a single button on each one, and a small red/blue LED light. The stem that fits into your ear is angled so they fit my ear well and stayed in during my run. There are small, medium, and large silicone tips included with the medium ones fitting me well. While the fit may not be as secure as some other earbuds, the light weight helps them stay in place too.

The single button is one of the compromises since the button only supports powering on/off, play/pause of music, and answer/hang up of calls. There are no volume controls, mute option, or even a digital assistant function with these single button on each earbud.

One rather interesting aspect of these earbuds is that each serves as a "master" that can stand-alone without the other earbud connected. Thus, the buttons perform the same function and you could just use one at a time if you want another ear open for ambient noise.

Another area of compromise is in regards to usability. When you remove the Arq earbuds from the case, they do not turn on automatically and also do not turn off when you reinsert them. They also do not charge automatically and require that you turn on the charging case, using the button centered between the two earbud openings in the charging case, in order to initiate charging. The case will turn off and stop charging the earbuds once they are fully charged though.

Initial setup is also a bit interesting given the "master" design. You need to first sync the earbuds to each other and then pair them with your smartphone or smartwatch. After the initial setup though, subsequent use will have the earbuds paired to each other automatically and there are no special steps to use them together.

When using both earbuds, the left earbud acts as the communicator and will likely drain the battery a bit faster than the right earbud. When they are paired together pressing the center button to power down will result in both earbuds powering off.

Audio quality was much better than I expected and since I tend to listen to classic rock more than any other genre, I like my music a bit bass heavy. Often I see weak bass in wireless earbuds, but this is not the case with the Arq. Now, they are not as clear and crisp at the high end so overall the audio is good, but not excellent.

Volume is good and on my Note 9 I actually cannot keep Spotify at the highest volume level or my ears get blown out. Volume performs a bit differently on each specific device.

Phone calls were loud and clear with my test subjects stating that I sounded good as well on their end. With both headsets in my ears, the call sounded in the left earbud. In order to have the call sound in the right earbud only, you have to setup the Arq for use as a single earbud and pair it that way with your phone.

In regards to connectivity, I only experienced music cutting out when placing my phone down in my front pants pocket with my body blocking a direct signal to the earbuds. My Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, the Note 9, Sony Xperia XZ3, and Apple iPhone XS Max all performed well with the Arq earbuds.

The charging case is interesting in that it is about 5.5 inches long. The Arq storage space takes up just over a third of one end with a button to release the earbud storage cover. Four gold pins in each compartment connect to the earbuds to charge them. The rest of the long case is a 2,600 mAh battery pack that offers a reported 60 hours of battery life for the earbuds. The case is charged via microUSB.

A USB-A port is also found on the end of the case since it can be used to charge up your devices in a pinch. While this design approach doesn't let you easily carry your Arq earbuds in your pants pocket it does fit into a jacket and having some extra battery available for your smartphone may be a selling point for some people.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the Wicked Audio Arq true wireless earbuds. Audio quality and volume was much better than I anticipated and to be honest I don't use the buttons on my other wireless headsets for more than the essentials that the Arq provides. For half the price of the AirPods and other wireless headsets, it is definitely a product to consider as we move to Bluetooth headsets.