We’ve looked at a number of “true wireless” ear buds ever since there was a whiff of a rumour that Apple might be planning their own. Of course, as with all things, there was life before the Apple AirPods debuted in December of 2016, but the Apple marketing machine was in full gear suggesting that this was the first time that this type of product was brought to market in the scale that the Cupertino giant did. Whilst they may be right in terms of sales, there are many products that seek to provide a cheaper gateway into truly wireless audio. Today, we’re looking at the Syllable D9X.
We spent some time with the Syllable D900 Mini Bluetooth offering some time ago and Mark generally gave them a positive response. I’ve also looked at the D900 directly and whilst I liked them too, I found them a little too fiddly with some design flaws.
With the Syllable D9X, one of the latest products from Syllable, there are subtle changes which I’m intrigued to try out. Let’s see what you get in the package first.
Specifications – Syllable D9X
- Syllable D9X Package
- 4 x battery units
- 1 x USB cable
- 1 x Charging caddy
- Spare ear tips
- Storage bag
- Carry case
- Bluetooth protocol: A2DP,AVRCP,HFP,HSP
- Driver unit: 8mm
- Frequency response: 20-2000Hz
- Impedance: 16ohms
- Sensitivity: 100 ± 3 dB
- Headphone Sensitivity: 106db
- Microphone Sensitivity: -42db±3db
- Battery: Talk time: 2h // Standby time: 2h // Charging Time.: 0.5h
Design & Use – Syllable D9X
There’s quite a lot packed into this little package as you can see. The whole presentation is a step up over their previous offerings with a better design of the charging cradle, spare batteries included, and places for them all in the included and surprisingly small, hard carry case. A nice first impression.
The Syllable D9X units themselves sport a glossy black plastic finish with the right hand ear piece carrying the multi-function button, which instead of a small rubberised button as seen on some similar devices, is instead the entire outer section of the unit for easy of manipulation. The button can be used to voice dial, play and pause music as well as skipping tracks and answering calls.
The ear bud is split into two distinct parts which again differs from Syllable’s previous products. There is generic a silicone ear bud with different sizes in the package, as well as a separate silicone ear hook which sits beneath the ear bud and has some rotation for a comfortable fit. In practice I found this to be a little limiting as my ears aren’t symmetrical. They fit well, but it took me a little fiddling to get the positioning correct. Once I had however these never once felt like they were going to drop out unlike other offerings I’ve used. They stayed put during my gym visits under cardio machine conditions. That alone to me is impressive.
In order to power the ear buds you need to connect up the battery. This is the first two-piece truly wireless solution I’ve used and I’m a little surprised it works as well as it does. Each of the small 1 inch long battery units is magnetised and connects to the front of the ear buds to deliver power. Each battery unit stores 150 mAh of juice which in our testing is good enough for just shy of 2 hours of continuous use which is what Syllable suggest.
The charging cradle stores the four included battery units. When depositing them into the two charging ports, blue lightning bolt LEDs flash to indicate the units are charging. There are also two additional docking points for the two spare batteries to be docked when not in use. This is a brilliant storage mechanism and one of the best I’ve seen in such a small package. When you do need to charge the battery units, the charging cradle can deliver around 4 full charges for each unit, and the charging cradle can be connected up to a microUSB outlet using the included cable to top up its battery.
The definitive nature of the connection here is something I love about the Syllable D9X. I dislike knowing whether a unit will turn themselves off after a short period of time, or having to hold a button down and wait for an audible notification that they are powering down when I’m done using them. Here, with the Syllable D9X you simply snap off the battery. No messing. You know immediately they are powered down, aren’t draining anything at all, and you’re good to go. It might be just me, but the black and white nature of that connection is a plus.
There is a downside to this design as well however. Whilst they fit snuggly and didn’t come out at all during my gym visits, the battery magnet, whilst strong, is not foolproof. A number of times I reached to skip a track, or adjust them in ear and in doing so I knocked the battery causing a disconnection to occur. As they are well magnetised, 99% of the time they immediately caught the connection again and re-connected to my phone and continued playing. However on a few occasions the force I used was enough to separate the two entirely and see the battery dropping to the floor. This resulted, in one occasion, with one of the battery units being lost, no doubt catching some metal on its fall in the gym and holding onto the bottom of a machine or something. Either way, the fact I could replicate this “disturbance” with ease was a little infuriating. If you never have to adjust your ear buds, then you’ll be absolutely fine. Accidentally knock them on a few occasions and you might find yourself scrabbling around the floor trying to find them. Thank God Syllable include spares.
Audio – Syllable D9X
Mark criticised the D900 Mini units for being bass heavy and were he reviewing these I think he might think these were also slightly too bass-happy. Having used both I can at least point to the fact it’s been toned back a little here. The sound stage is quite flat-out of the gate, and whilst the lows are noticeable, the highs are also crisp. The mids get a little muddy in some scenarios, not quite sure where they sit and tending to slant towards the low-end, but on the whole most people will be happy with the abilities of the Syllable D9X at this price point.
The bass is, as I mentioned, most prevalent, however it’s not the crispest low-end you’re likely to hear in a wireless ear bud solution. Playing some old Jungle tracks had me struggling to discern the individual drums in the background, however the mids seemed to take over and whilst not perhaps true to the tone of the actual track, the overall blend was nice enough.
They won’t replace over the ear 40mm drivers, but what Syllable have managed to get out of the 8mm drivers on the buds here is acceptable; acceptable to good in fact.
Call quality is a little muddy and foggy (I think the UK’s weather influenced those adjectives!). Whilst those I called said they could hear me fine, I found their response a little distant. Acceptable in a pinch however and calling from my wireless headphones is not something I make a habit of.
Conclusion – Syllable D9X
I want to love the Syllable D9X for the way in which they managed to deliver such a portable package at this price point. I want to shake the designers by the hand and tell them that they took something that shouldn’t work well and defied physics to do just that. I do and I can respectively. There is a nagging annoyance in the back of my head however.
I will continue to use them at the gym without hesitation. I get none of the connectivity issues that have plagued its peers, the Jabees solutions being a prime example. Design wise they are small, powerful, and the charging solution is top notch. The fact that Syllable provide spare batteries, spare ear buds, spare ear hooks, a carry case and carry pouch is also excellent.
My one reservation stems from the fact I now only have 3 of the original 4 battery units due to losing one through what can only be described as a slight adjustment during a gym session. They are so damn small that you can lose them. I can’t find where to buy alternatives, and that aside, it makes me worry a little more than I should when I’m out using them. This isn’t going to be a daily concern for some, but for me, I adjust my ear buds semi regularly, and take them off to clean, so it’s a consideration. Perhaps a combination of magnetic and a folding clasp in a next generation would be the Holy Grail for me personally? Who knows.
Audio wise it’s a similar story to that of the D900 here. They are bass heavy but not to the extent that your ears are going to bleed. Any smartphone with an EQ is going to easily solve this. For those that suggest this shouldn’t be something that has to be done, I simply say that in that case Monitors shouldn’t have any calibration settings, right? Acoustic playback is going to see the mids fall over the fence into highs, whilst Hip-Hip tracks are going to pull them the other way into the lows. Purists will hate this, but the actual output is more than acceptable.
For most, this is going to be an excellent package. The price point might sound steep, but considering the package, it really isn’t. Syllable are a company I keep my eye on now as they keep coming up with actual improvements in their products unlike others who just trot out re-skinned versions of their previous products annually. Kudos for that, and keep doing what you’re doing Syllable! D10x with plastic clasps too please and I’m sold!