There are wireless headphones and then there are truly wireless headphones. The Erato Apollo 7's fall into the latter category. While not the first completely wireless earbuds—the Bragi Dash and others paved the way—these certainly feel like a big step in the right direction.
Erato took the Kickstarter path, and their pitch appears to be capturing the attention of backers. As of this writing, the company has garnered nearly twice its goal of $88,888.
Unlike most of the backers, I was fortunate enough to actually use these headphones on the CES Asia show floor. Fear not, backers: they’re beautiful, they really work, and they sound pretty good (which is more than we were able to say about the Bragi Dash).
The Apollo 7's are expected to ship in June 2016 for $299, but if you back the project now, you can get them at the reduced price of $249.
The Apollo 7’s are beautiful. They're tiny and delicate, and for some reason I just wanted to pop them in my mouth and swallow them. Don't ask me to explain why.
With no wires to provide a home for controls, functionality is a bit limited. Each earbud has just one tiny button on it. Tap once to play/pause, double-tap the right earbud to raise volume, and double-tap the left button to lower volume. According to company reps, there are a few more Konami code–esque button combos that provide additional functionality, but the basics were the extent of what I was able to experience on the show floor.
The carrying case is about half the size of a pack of cigarettes and doubles as a portable charging station for the buds. The case's color matches the earbuds, and in the Apollo 7's case, that little touch of design prowess matters. Let's face it: You're going to get stopped for questions all the time when you wear these, so you may as well look fashionable.
The Apollo 7’s have a built-in microphone, so Siri and Google Now are fully supported. Unfortunately, we couldn't test this feature on the show floor.
The headphones are also waterproof. There are no specs provided to back up that claim, but the company's website states they should work even after being submerged. At the very least, you should feel confident they’ll hold up after a sweaty workout or a run in the rain.
Sound Quality & Fit
Considering how ridiculously small the Apollo 7's are, it's kind of a miracle that they sound even halfway decent. But that's exactly as good as they sound: halfway decent.
Granted, a crowded trade show floor is no place for critical performance testing. But even here, I could tell that the single microdriver was not able to produce much bass. The mid-tones were clear, but thin. Erato is working on a three-microdriver model for its next iteration, so it’s likely this was just the best price-to-performance ratio the company could achieve its first time out. We look forward to getting them in the lab for more thorough testing.
High-end audio performance is a bit beyond the point, however. The Apollo 7's are part of a whole new category of personal audio, a sort of super-personal audio, like the device Joaquin Phoenix wears in Her, but minus the Scarlett Johansson part. Truly wireless earbuds offer an unparalleled match of discretion and convenience. Granted, you're also a lot more likely to lose them, which is why Erato will be selling single-earbud replacements (price TBD). (Maybe that’s just a clever new business plan?)
Whatever the shortcomings of the sound quality, the isolation is fantastic. I was sitting less than 30 feet from a live drummer and had no problem jamming out to the Coltrane streaming from my iPhone. Erato includes three sets of silicone tips and three sets of Comply foam tips that should fit most ear sizes.
If you're concerned that the tiny buds might jiggle out—an entirely valid concern—the company also includes three sets of wing-shaped stabilizers that lock the buds more securely into the folds of your ear. They also allow Erato to market the Apollo 7's to the fitness crowd.
Erato says the earbuds are good for three hours of music playback or four hours of phone conversation, and you can extend that range with the supremely pocketable case, which doubles as a portable recharging station. When you place the buds in their slots, a little light will indicate that charging has started. A full charge of the case's power bank is enough to recharge the smaller batteries in the earbuds two times.
Let's break down the math: That means that as long as you carry the case, you can be away from an outlet for about nine hours of music listening per day, with a few recharging breaks in between.
The Erato Apollo 7 headphones offer Bluetooth 4.1 with A2DP 1.2, AVRCP 1.4, HFP 1.6, and HSP 1.2 support. Audio codec support includes aptX, AAC, and SBC.