Bottom line: Cowin stays within budget territory with the Apex Elite, and thinks it has the right stuff with these earbuds once you wear them and start the music. It's hard to argue with the results, even if there are bumps along the way that set things back a little.
- Good audio quality
- Decent ANC and Ambient modes
- Small and lightweight
- Pretty durable
- Good call quality
- Affordable price
- Finicky touch controls
- No wireless charging
- No dedicated app
If you've never worn or heard anything from Cowin, it might be hard to convince you its headphones are even worth the lower prices they often sell for. Like most upstarts, the value proposition is that you come away feeling like you got more for less, and that's probably the best way to summarize the Apex Elite.
Budget earbuds come with caveats just about all the time, and that's no different here, but when performance meets most of the feature promises, you get something that sounds like a good deal.
Cowin Apex Elite Wireless Earbuds What I like
This isn't Cowin's first kick at the can for true wireless earbuds. While I haven't tested the others to get a sense of what I was wading into here, the Apex Elite did turn out to be a nice debut for me, personally. Engineers and designers put some thought into their look and feel, and it's fairly obvious that at least some of those things come from Cowin's earlier efforts, especially the Apex Pro.
That includes going with a stem design — a popular choice, given all the cheap AirPods clones available now. But they don't look like cheap knockoffs, either. Their understated look is neither flashy nor boring, and for that reason, no one would look out of place wearing these earbuds. The lightweight build also gives them a feathery feel over longer listening periods, which is also easy to appreciate. It's even easier to like all that when you factor in the IPX7 water and sweat resistance that makes these earbuds pretty durable for workouts and runs.
Fit and comfort are all about finding the right size. The three sizes of silicone ear tips (small, medium, large) actually come in two sets of softness for six pairs total. My review unit was missing the "super soft" set, but Cowin says they do come with all Apex Elite units. It's getting a good seal that matters most, and when there are 10mm drivers inside, there's enough power to pump out some decent audio. More on that in a bit.
The charging case is a nice size. Not quite as small as others, but nowhere near as big, either. The earbuds are a snug fit inside, with magnets locking them into place for consistent charging. If you plan to try extra-large ear tips, be careful because the top of the inside of the case contours to the body of the earbuds, so if they're too elevated, the case doesn't necessarily close properly.
I wasn't initially taken with these earbuds after first listening to them out of the box, but they grew on me after a couple of days. Like many earbuds in the affordable range, they skew a little more to the lows, yet deliver enough balance in the mids and highs for agreeable sound. Doing so makes them easier to like, regardless of the musical genres you prefer to serenade your ears. The soundstage is resonant, and even vibrant with the right tracks, but I found them surprisingly good when listening to acoustic, Spanish guitar, and flamenco tunes.
But even with popular music, the results aren't bad at all. Låpsley's Falling Short sounded just as good as Dua Lipa's Don't Start Now, despite being completely different songs. It's interesting because bass guitar melodies might feel more bass-heavy than the kind you'd find in a hip hop track, but it really is a subjective point.
The 10mm drivers don't force you to raise the volume as much, which serves to help with battery life. Then there's the active noise cancelation (ANC) and ambient mode support. ANC is always hit or miss at this price range, and the Apex Elite didn't jilt my expectations in any significant way. Holding either earbud for two seconds toggles between ANC on, ambient mode, and ANC off, so it's easy to switch on the fly.
The Apex Elite aren't bad at cutting down low-frequency background noises, though less so with high-frequency sounds. Again, right on par with earbuds in this range. Ambient mode isn't bad, even if it isn't remarkable. I had little problem engaging in conversation with it on, but I've definitely heard better from other, more expensive pairs. I was, however, impressed with the call quality, which made callers sound loud and clear, and I never once heard a complaint about how I came through.
Cowin rates battery life at up to six hours per charge, albeit five hours with ANC on. Those numbers aren't terrible, but certainly not exceptional. The one saving grace is you won't have to raise the volume as much, thus preserving the best the battery can muster. I generally got about 4.5 hours with ANC on, sometimes less. With it off, and only a tick upward on volume, I got very close to six hours.
The case has up to three extra charges, for a total of 20 hours with ANC on. No wireless charging, unfortunately, but you should be up and running again reasonably quickly with USB-C charging.
Cowin Apex Elite Wireless Earbuds What needs work
Cowin has a dedicated app for headphones — just not these particular ones. I point this out because an app that gives earbuds an equalizer and other customizable features is one way to bring more out of them. While these earbuds do sound good, I kept thinking what it would've been like to play around with an EQ and see where they could go from there. Maybe it's a lot to ask for budget earbuds, but others are doing it already, and now is as good a time as any of Cowin spread the wealth with its own headphones.
The onboard controls are generally fine if you're sticking to play/pause and toggling the ANC/ambient modes. Things get tricky when you have to triple-tap to bring up the voice assistant, which isn't always successful. Because play/pause is a double-tap, there were plenty of false positives. I also didn't like that I had no way of skipping or repeating a track. I would need to pull out my phone to do that every time.
What would've made more sense was to allocate different controls to either side to increase the number of options. It's also where a dedicated app with some customization might've helped, but given these are budget earbuds, it's a little strange that skipping a track didn't make the cut for onboard controls.
I also wasn't crazy about the lack of an LED on the outside of the case. You have to flip it open to see what the LEDs inside tell you about battery or charging level. It's a minor gripe, but one of those things that stands out when competitors place at least one LED on the outside to visualize charging and battery life.
Cowin Apex Elite Wireless Earbuds The competition
Cowin is playing in a crowded space, considering how pervasive cheap true wireless earbuds have become. It would be easy to dismiss them if they weren't so compelling for the price of entry, and that's something Cowin can attest to with the Apex Elite. The only thing is they're not alone in doing the same.
The Creative Outlier Air V2 are cheaper, and don't have ANC or ambient modes, but sound amazing and offer some of the best battery life available. The Aukey EP-N7 are very similar in both design and performance, though differ in key areas, like durability and driver size. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 always stand out as an excellent alternative in this range, especially with a dedicated app that includes a superb EQ to alter the sound profile.
Cowin Apex Elite Wireless Earbuds Should you buy them?
You should buy this if...
- You want truly wireless earbuds
- You're on a tighter budget
- You want good sound for the buck
- You want ANC and ambient modes
You should not buy this if...
- You want a companion app or equalizer
- You want more codec support (aptX, AAC)
- You need longer battery life per charge
- You're willing to spend more
Cowin has neither reinvented anything, nor made a groundbreaking move, but it did something people like, which is to deliver value at a price they can afford. The crowd-pleasing sound is good enough to appeal to eclectic tastes, and that's more than can be said for some earbuds out there. When you're talking about a pair of true wireless earbuds on a tighter budget, the Apex Elite earned their spot in that conversation.
4 out of 5
They're also yet another example of an upstart that sound better than the AirPods. That they have ANC adds to it, as does the comfortable fit and durability that makes them tougher out of the box. So long as you find a good fit with the various ear tips, odds are you will like what you get for what you paid.
Fitting right in
Get what you pay for
They are budget earbuds, which does means they miss out on some things, but the features that count stand out in the right ways more than anything else, which is why the Apex Elite aren't to be taken lightly. With audio for the masses, and comfortable durability for the active crowd, they come off as a nice value proposition.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
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