Android Central 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.
Better with third-party foam tips
Reliable touch controls
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.
Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC: What's good
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You like Motorola
- You want something quieter
- You prefer a looser fit
- You want reliable default battery life
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want better sound quality
- You want better fit and comfort
- You want more codec support
- You want app support
2.5 out of 5
The Moto Buds-S ANC are middling in the areas earbuds can't afford to be, especially when we're talking about this mid-range, $150 asking price. It's a heavily competitive arena to be in, so if you don't bring it, nobody will be singing it. If these cost $80-$100 less, I could understand the shortcomings, but they're inexcusable at this price tag.
There are too many good alternatives to consider before taking a good look at the Buds-S ANC. Unless Motorola pulls out the stops to support and update them in ways that make them better, your best bet is to skip them and move on to the next.
Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC
Bottom Line: The Motorola Moto Buds-S ANC are quieter earbuds, even if that wasn't the initial intention. They sport bigger drivers, and come with active noise cancelation, plus three sizes of eartips to maybe find the fit that will work best.
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.