Following the release of Apple's AirPods in 2016, there's been a rush from all sorts of companies to create their version of truly wireless Bluetooth earbuds. Some of them, like Samsung's Galaxy Buds and the Jabra Elite 65t, have been great, whereas options targeted at budget-conscious consumers have left a lot to the imagination.
As such, when Back Bay reached out to me about reviewing its Duet 50 earbuds, I was a little apprehensive. The idea of truly wireless buds for under $50 is an exciting proposition, but when selling something for this cheap, something's gotta give — right?
The Back Bay Duet 50 do have their quirks, but all things considered, they're more than worth the asking price. And, as far as I'm concerned, are one of the best options in this niche.
A wonderful surprise
Bottom line: The Back Bay Duet 50 are the first affordable truly wireless earbuds I've owned that I genuinely enjoy using. Sound quality is strong considering the small size, battery life is excellent, and the overall build quality is far better than it has a right to be. For the price, this is a stupendous value.
- Good build quality
- Small carrying case
- Well-balanced sound
- Reliable Bluetooth connection
- IPX4 sweatproof
- Slight delay with video playback
- Playback controls are bad
Back Bay Duet 50 What I like
In my experience, there are two aspects that affordable wireless earbuds always tend to get wrong — build quality and design. The TaoTronics TT-BH052 I reviewed in November 2018 also aimed to bring truly wireless earbuds to the budget segment, but the chintzy plastic and large charging case made using them far less enjoyable than I would have liked. Thankfully, these are areas in which the Back Bay Duet 50 excel.
Both the earbuds and the included case are made out of plastic, but the whole package looks and feels quite lovely. The gray matte finish is smooth and doesn't pick up fingerprints, the magnets that hold the earbuds in the case are strong, and there's a subtle LED light in the middle of each bud to indicate its current connection status.
The charging case is also delightfully small, especially when compared to some other options out there in this price range. It doesn't fit in the tiny coin pocket of jeans as seamlessly as AirPods, but it's still lightyears ahead of a lot of the competition. Considering that the whole point of truly wireless earbuds is to be as portable and compact as possible, this is a big win for the Duet 50.
In regards to what it's like using the Duet 50, the experience is shockingly good.
The pairing process is as easy as can be. Just take one of the earbuds out of the case, listen for the "pairing" prompt, and select it from your phone's Bluetooth menu. Pop the other earbud in, and you're good to go.
The Duet 50 look, sound, and perform just as well as earbuds that cost more than triple its price.
Once the first pair is complete, all you have to do to connect the buds from that point forward is take them out of the case and put them in your ears. They'll automatically connect so you can start listening to your music, and throughout over a week's worth of testing — even in a crowded gym — I never had any issues with the Duet 50 connecting to my phone. I noticed some audio cut-out when moving too far away from my phone in an area with a lot of other wireless signals (Planet Fitness is packed on Tuesday nights), but in my 1200+ sq ft apartment, I can move around freely without a hitch.
As for sound quality, this is another area in which the Duet 50 surprised me.
Wireless earbuds of this form factor typically don't have the best sound due to the size constraints working against them, but the Back Bay Duet 50 impressed.
These certainly aren't the very best earbuds I've ever listened to, but considering the price and size of everything, I came away with a smile on my face. Sound is nicely-balanced with a clean profile. Bass isn't too heavy, but there's still a gentle little thump to give your music some depth. Even better, you can listen at high volumes without any distortion. The earbuds also support Qualcomm's aptX standard, a nice surprise for earbuds in this price range.
For my use of streaming songs via Spotify or working my way through podcasts, the Duet 50 offered a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
A couple of final highlights before moving on:
- There's an IPX4 rating to protect the Duet 50 against sweat. As a reminder, this is something that's not offered on the $160 AirPods.
- Back Bay advertises 40 hours of battery life, including 8 hours on the earbuds and an extra 32 hours via the charging case. After over a week of regular use, I still have at least 75% of a charge left in the case.
Back Bay Duet 50 What I don't like
While the Back Bay Duet 50 work well for music and podcasts, I did regularly encounter a slight audio delay when watching YouTube videos. No matter if I was streaming via a reliable data or Wi-Fi connection, the delay remained consistent.
It isn't the worst video playback I've ever encountered and not something I'd consider to be a deal-breaker, but it can get quite annoying at times if that's something that easily bugs you.
My other big gripe with the Duet 50 has to do with the playback controls. There's a button on both the left and right earbud, and through a variety of different presses, you can use these for controlling volume, skipping songs, playing and pausing audio, accepting/rejecting phone calls, and prompting the Google Assistant.
Having so much functionality baked into the buds is a great idea, but the implementation just isn't good. The buttons require a lot of force to press, meaning you have to jam the earbud into your ear if you want to use them. It's incredibly uncomfortable and resulted in me just using my phone for these controls.
Also, Micro-USB is used for charging. That's not fun. Give me USB-C or give me death.
Back Bay Duet 50 Should you buy them?
I'm sure you can already tell by this point in the review, but I'm quite smitten with the Back Bay Duet 50. The idea of truly wireless earbuds is still really cool to me even in mid-2019, and the fact that the Duet 50 perform as well as they do for such a low price is quite remarkable.
The video delay is annoying and the playback controls are pretty awful, but if you can look over those two gripes (which I think most people can), you end up with an incredible package. Design, sound quality, and battery life — core aspects for any earbuds — are all strong suits for the Duet 50.
I'd be quite happy with the earbuds even if they cost around $100, so the $45 retail price makes them that much more appealing. For anyone on a budget that wants to treat themselves to something that looks and feels like they spent more than they did, the Duet 50 fit the bill perfectly.
A wonderful surprise
Less than 1/3 the price of AirPods for 90% of the experience.
The Back Bay Duet 50 are the first affordable truly wireless earbuds I've owned that I genuinely enjoy using. Sound quality is strong considering the small size, battery life is excellent, and the overall build quality is far better than it has a right to be. For the price, this is a stupendous value
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