After reviewing the excellent OnePlus Type-C Bullets, I’ve struggled to think of a good reason for other USB-C buds to even exist. You can’t get much cheaper than their $20 asking price, and you can’t get more comfortable. But there’s always room for sonic and hardware improvements, and that’s where Denmark’s Aiaiai comes in with its Pipe 2.0 USB-C earphones. At $40, they’re double the price of a pair of USB-C Bullets, and they justify their premium with thicker, sturdier construction and a more lucid and engaging sound.
I’ve been testing a pair of the Pipe 2 for a few days, and, at the risk of undermining my reputation as a stickler for sound quality, I like their sound just as much as I like that of the OnePlus USB-C Bullets. The two pairs of buds are, nonetheless, very different.
OnePlus tunes its Bullets to be all bass and mids, with the treble being as present as a disinterested high school student. Aiaiai’s Pipe 2, on the other hand, have much more going on in the frequency range that lends the sound a sense of presence and dynamism, and vocals come through with more emotion as a result. Both pairs of earphones have a consumer-friendly, bass-heavy tuning, but Aiaiai throws in more treble fizz that lends music a greater sense of air and space. It’s really just another flavor of good music reproduction: if you want the most easygoing and warm sound, you should go for the OnePlus menu option, or for that extra emotion and engagement, Aiaiai has your dish of choice.
Neither of these USB-C earbud sets would qualify to be considered hi-fi or especially detailed and refined. The Pipe 2 have a soft, ill-defined bass and a small amount of distortion across the frequency spectrum, but both are detectable as issues only if you’re listening out for them (or some reckless reviewer tells you about them). In the primary use case for a pair of cheap and universal earbuds, these perform very well. Most of my sound quality qualms fall away when out in the noisy environment of an urban street, and the passive noise isolation on offer from the Pipe 2 means I only hear what the stuff I want to.
Aiaiai’s distinguishing feature has always been a heavy-duty construction that’s pleasantly tactile and more durable than your average pair of headphones. The Pipe 2 come with a thicker cable, a nicer remote control, and better strain relief at the ends of the wire than the OnePlus Bullets. I’d have liked to see a carrying case in the box as well, but instead of that Aiaiai provides a selection of four differently colored silicone ear tip sets to go with the usual black. I like this, as it allows me to color-code the left and right bud, which makes it easier to just grab these and pop them in. Comfort and ease of use are right on par with the OnePlus Type-C Bullets.
It’s hard to miss the fact that, in the space of a couple of months, we’ve gone from a chronic lack of good options for cheap USB-C buds to having a choice of desirable sub-$50 offerings. SoundMagic is also getting into this competition with its $59.99 E11D USB-C earphones. With CES on the horizon in early January, we might be on the precipice of USB-C earphones finally becoming as numerous, affordable, and reliable as the old analog 3.5mm earbuds.