We review a lot of headphones and earphones here at TechCrunch, and most of them compete for the low to mid-range of the headphone market. With price points ranging from $75 to $300 or so, they’re often terribly the same. The feature set is no different. They sound different, yes, but not so different that you feel like your life would be ruined if you had chosen one game over the other. It’s rare, then, that they send me a team that breaks the mold. That’s precisely what happened with Angry Miao’s Cyberblade headset. The base station (yes, there is a base station) feels like it’s carved from steel and glass. The entire setup weighs a whopping 370 grams, that’s 13 ounces. It’s also rare for a company to refuse to tell me what their price is.
Like much of the Angry Miao line, this is a product that seems to be aimed at gamers: from the multi-colored LED feast for your eyes, to the ridiculously stylish base station, to the carrying case for the device, which includes a rotary volume knob that controls the volume on your computer or phone. There was a lot of “What ever loving heavens is going on here?” in the process of unboxing and setting up these headphones. They also pack a stupid amount of technology into all of this, and it’s a refreshing take on “What if we didn’t have to make headphones that were as small and light as possible?” paradigm.
The company shared with me why it is making headphones. They point out that wireless headphones have been around for a minute but are plagued by delays. As such, they’re not great for gaming, and the company claims that a lot can be done with the audio processing chips that already exist in the headset.
Angry Miao decided to turn things around. He created a base station that includes an audio processing chip. Because it’s designed to plug into your computer, it matters a lot less how power-hungry the chip is, which in turn unlocks a lot of extra computing power in the charging cradle. In fact, when he pairs the earbuds with his phone, he doesn’t actually pair the earbuds themselves; you match the charger box. That means the headphones can be controlled from the case using a private audio streaming protocol. It also unlocks a ton of additional audio processing possibilities. The company maintains that this unlocks the next generation of high-definition audio with all the bells and whistles without sacrificing the battery life of the headphones.
When the headset is connected to a computer and with Active Sound Enhancement (ASE) enabled, the company claims it gives users super-fast ultra-low latency audio with a delay of approximately 40ms (compared to the claimed 200ms delay). of AirPods Pro, according to Angry Miao). The company claims this means it can deliver high-quality audio with low latency, unlike other low-latency products that sacrifice audio quality for speed. In addition, the company offers the usual active noise cancellation battery and audio source-dependent sound optimizations: for Zoom meetings, games, music, movies, you name it.
Is it fantastically cool? Absolutely. Do the earbuds have noticeably better audio quality than my Sony LinkBuds S earbuds? Not really. Was I able to notice the difference in sound latency when I was gaming? Not really, but I’m not exactly a professional gamer.
I spoke to the company’s CEO, Li Nan, in a rather chaotic interview, but he assures me that lag is a terrible problem for everyone, including non-gamers, without really being able to explain why.
“Old applications like a movie player have higher latency and use a software trick to fix the latency issue. But in the future, the hardware must take a step forward,” says Nan. “Our product is fast enough that we don’t need any additional work at the software level. We all have very good latency. That will make it much more difficult for other brands.”
I challenge Nan on why 200 milliseconds, a fifth of a second, was such a big deal when watching Netflix. Yes, there is a software tweak to potentially sync audio with video, but so what?
There was no clear answer, and I’m still not entirely clear why these earphones should exist, or what their price is: the company steadfastly refused to tell me, other than that “they’re a bit more expensive than Apple AirPods Pro”, before After Nan asked me if I would buy them at that price, I told her I didn’t know what the price was and she confirmed again that they were a bit more expensive than the AirPods Pro.
Chaos aside, and honestly the only reason I’m writing this article, these are some of the best-made in-ear headphones I’ve ever seen. I don’t give a fuck about the weight, and I don’t need RGB LEDs in my headset, base station, or carry bag, but I’ll be damned if these aren’t some of the most highly engineered headsets I’ve ever seen. And, in a world where everyone optimizes on price, they stood out for that reason.
Supposedly, the company is doing a round of pre-orders on Kickstarter starting today and will then offer the product for sale from its website. Presumably the price is listed on the Kickstarter page, but if I’m being honest, given the level of secrecy the company has had so far, I wouldn’t bet on it.