Welcome to another round of “Kevin’s Cheap Earbud/Headphone reviews”. On the bench today, we have the Lenovo ThinkPlus XT88 earbuds.
Why these styles of reviews?
I run this style of review as – and I know people may go into shock when they learn this – some people don’t have money for AirPods, Galaxy Buds, Bose Headphones or whatever the codename of the Sony Buds are called.
Some people have to live within budgets. Again, shocking. And if you lose your headphones often enough, paying out for replacements gets tiring, really fast.
So welcome back to the Cheap Earbud review.
The Feeble Rationale
It’s that wonderful time again when I need another pair of Bluetooth earbuds – and this time for work.
I’m getting more than a little sick of untangling my classic Apple Earpods cable in the office. Thus, cheap earbuds are the order of the day.
As this is coming out of my pocket, rather than someone else, I need something that is 1) cheap and 2) has reasonable call quality and that sound that words can come out.
If they can play music, that would be handy too, as would reasonable noise isolation.
So, because I’m feeling cheap as hell, I’ve gone to Temu to order these. And you can spend hours shopping for earbuds.
And the prices are… well… cheap.
True Wireless Sound Earbuds have been cheap for the past few years – I thought I was doing well when I bought some from Tiger for £20. I’ve had cheaper sets from Anker and AuKey since then – but I fancied a roll on the dice to see what stuff I could get.
As usual, I’m looking for something that doesn’t require an app to drive the headphones – mainly because you shouldn’t have to rely on an app to drive your headphone experience.
I chose a pair of Lenovo Thinkplus XT88. Why? I managed to get the price down to £2.97.
Seriously – I wish there was a more complex explanation – these are for office life, not for out-and-about life.
You can find them online at various price points, starting at £2.45 upwards (excluding delivery).
It took around a week for my Temu package to arrive from China at a supermarket pickup point in Birmingham. Considering some of the horror stories you see with Wish, I was fully expecting to write off the cost.
I was happy not to see the £3 I spent written off.
Per the product sheet:
- Effective distance: > 10m
- Horn diameter: • 13mm
- Horn power: 11mW * 2
- Impedance: 32 0
- Microphone sensitivity: – 40dB + 3dB
- SNR: = 95dB
- Distortion: < 3%
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20KHz
- Duration: about 4 hours
- Earphone battery capacity: 35mAh
- Battery capacity of charging chamber: 250mAh
- Headphone charging time: about 1.5 hours
- Charging time of charging chamber: about 1.5 hours
So in theory- these are going to be good enough for short-haul flying, with a runtime of 4 hours or so. Not so much a problem for me, as they’ll live in the box most of the time, but if you’re going flying with these, keep that battery case charged up.
Time for the unboxing experience. Arriving from China and in a consignment of other things, the box is a little squashed. But they arrived.
So, let’s dig in
All the main items are encased in plastic, with the buds wrapped up.
In the box, there is a USB Cable A to C cable, extra ear tips, an instruction manual and a quality check certificate.
Removing the plastic wrap, I realised I went for the steel-look version (or black as they like to call it) of the Lenovo ThinkPlus XT88. Of course, they’re plastic as heck.
The pebble is about 7cm by 4cm across by about 2cm deep. Perfect for loosing in a bag or on a messy desk.
The earbuds themselves have LED lights to show their charge status, along with touch controls to operate them as opposed to physical buttons.
Comfort and Fit
With three sets of tips (small, medium and large) supplied with Lenovo Thinkplus XT88 earbuds, I tried the medium tips. These had reasonable noise isolation seals from the off, blocking out a lot of ambient noise without any issue.
They’re good enough to block office life out for a while.
I suspect foam tips might be better in the longer term for noise sealing, but with music playing, they are good enough for removing a lot of noise that some people can generate.
Like most modern earbuds, these are charged in the case, which is powered by a USB-C connector. I charged this with both the supplied USB-A to C cable, as well as a Dell Laptop mains charger, without issues.
Isn’t it nice when USB-C charging is implemented correctly?
The earbuds were ready to pair out of the box, with them having some charge in them. These were simple enough to pair over the usual Bluetooth pairing methods on your device of choice (here, I’m using an iPhone 7 for experience… as that’s my work toy).
Lenovo ThinkPlus XT88 showing in Bluetooth settings. I need to clean this sometime.
As there is no other software, re-pairing these in the future could provide hours of unwanted entertainment.
Like nearly every modern set of earbuds, they have an annoying set of controls. These are very much capacitive touch controls as opposed to a button controlling them.
Sadly, there was no pictorial guide, but plenty of text.
These have the usual transport controls, as well as summoning voice assistants, and how to use them with a single earbud – allowing for call handling using that method.
The microphones on the Lenovo ThinkPlus XT88s were… passable. Not brilliant and certainly not as good as a wired set of Apple EarPods… but they are not totally awful. I did find that I had to talk a little louder than I would have liked – but then I found my volume tends to creep up when on the phone.
I found they were good enough to talk in the office and chat away with people on the phone, but they did lack a little detail. I’d have to investigate that further in the audio tests.
Moving onto a secondary use case for me – listening to audio. I’ve changed my playlist around a little – as I’m mainly streaming my music from Apple Music these days (your choice of music service can and will vary).
On the basic test list:
Spirit in the Sky- Keniio
We’ll kick off with a Eurovision banger (and winner of the audience vote in 2018). There’s a bit of muddiness in the base, but the vocals punch clearly on this track – along with yoiking being reasonably punchy, showing there is some range in these earbuds.
Corcovado – Huksek & Fatnotronic
This is a pretty dynamic track, working across the beat and instrument, along with a varying vocal range. And these earbuds just don’t perform in the base with the mids handled with a passable sound. They are good enough to bop along to, but this song deserves better earbuds.
Trans Europe Express (2009 Remaster) – Kraftwerk
Electronica at its finest, delivered with German Precision. It”s a shame that DB can’t run a service for Toffee these days. The base thumps don’t hit too great and the trebles seem a little mute for my liking sadly, compared to a direct feed.
Make it So – From Star Trek: Picard
If you haven’t watched Star Trek: Picard Season 3 (and more importantly, the final act from Episode 9), stop. Go and watch it. One of the scenes that made me tear up a little seeing the Big D again, along with the Crew of the USS Enterprise take their places, preparing to go into battle for one last time. The horns are a little muddy, but if you are watching it with the audio of the scene… you won’t care.
The War of the Worlds – Eve of the War
Rock opera at its finest – although this is the New Generation version, with Liam Nesson not trying to change into Qai Gon Gin as he narrates. Whilst the electronic instruments are fine, the more classical instruments suffer with these earbuds as they tend to be bass-heavy, with strings suffering more than anything else.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds theme
Back to Trek, we come to the current flagship series (shared by Lower Decks), which is Strange New Worlds, which blends Alexander Courage’s classic motifs with Jeff Russo’s composition for a “lifting” Star Trek theme. And yes, a theme where people are off in an episode format week after week to strange new worlds needs stirring music to accompany the drama and humour on screen. Again, horns are a little lacking, but it conveys the sense of adventure well.
I’ve removed Crab Rave for now. I might bring it back sometime, but as some other publications actively use it, I am… uneasy about using it.
You don’t need a lot of volume to drive these headphones – they can work pretty well at 30/40%.
The base is a little muddy, with it not as clear as the Anker buds I’ve tested, but it has a pleasing enough sound. As usual, these are very subjective terms (as I’m not paying an idiot amount out for a measuring head).
Worth £10? Maybe. Worth £2.79. Sure.
The price of wireless earbuds has crashed over the past few years – when I considered £20 for a set to be a bargain a few years ago. Whilst you can get the same ones at Tiger for £20, there are plenty of other options out there – I remember seeing some at Five Below for $8 (which I still have to take a look at), as well as most of the earbuds I’ve reviewed under the £25 barrier. Here are a few I’ve covered in the past
It’s clear that the pricing trajectory has been going one way – down. But you also have to balance your expectations at the same time. You cannot expose for Bose Quality for less than £10. It’s pretty impossible to balance that, so compromises are the order of the day -.
If you can live with these compromises, the Lenovo ThinkPlus XT88 may be up your street for passable voice calls and just about listenable music – especially if it’s at the workplace, or a place where you need a set of wireless earbuds to hand, and where using cabled EarPods isn’t viable (or you’ve lost them again).
Heck, the EarPods do have some good things going – especially in terms of Microphone pickup, as well as more than passable sound. A shame they cost now when they used to be in the box.
Summing up the Lenovo Thinkplus XT88 wireless earbuds are passable. They’re certainly not audiophile quality – and there’s enough mud in the bass to ensure you’ll be wanting other earbuds for a cleaner sound (for which, I can point you to Anker SoundCore P2i).
They’ll get you out of a jam – and if you’re budget-constrained (and can find them on certain Chinese vendors), they’re worth less than £3 a pair asked for at promotional prices.
Even at £10 – depending on your use case – they can get you out of a spot.
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