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Sound: N/A
Value: ********
(Read about our ratings)

What in your everyday life costs $12? If you’re careful, maybe a meal from McDonald’s? A trip to the grocery store is way more. A movie matinee? Not in my area. Do you have any electronics gear that costs $12? A cable perhaps, or some spare silicone eartips. Certainly not fully functional true wireless earphones, and yet that’s what I found on Temu.

I’m no stranger to ultra-cheap audio. I’ve reviewed plenty of cheap gear and was A/V editor at Wirecutter during the early years of the $20 earbud testing. Time and tech move forward, but I can’t help being amazed that it’s possible to buy true wireless earbuds for $12 (all prices USD). Once a category with just a handful of big-name players, it’s now practically a commodity product. So much so that these earbuds don’t even have a name. Their listing just says “In-Ear Game Earphone Wireless Ultra-Long Standby Esports Earphone Semi-Open Music Earphone Leisure Entertainment Listening to Music Beautiful Headphone Configuration Cool Atmosphere Light Charge Compartment Storage Box.” No manufacturing name is listed there either, just a seller. Both were revealed by the box on arrival: “TWS/X37” and Shenzhen Chaoyin Electronics Co., Ltd. So I’ll call these SCE X37s.

Not surprisingly, there’s not much technical info available either. They have an earbud-plus-tail design similar to Apple AirPods. Their most interesting feature is their design, which the Temu page called “anime.” I’d call it “sci-fi,” and it’s 100 percent the reason I bought these ’phones. That and the fact they were $12.48. I had no expectation that any of these Temu finds would sound good, regardless of how they were marketed, so I went for cheap and interesting. With the Onikuma earphones, that tactic worked out surprisingly well (for the price). With the cheaper SCEs, less so.

In the box

Unsurprisingly, there’s not much in the box: a multi-lingual and impressively generic instruction booklet and a USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable. The box smelled oddly of coffee.

SCE

Use

These are among the cheapest-feeling products I’ve ever used, with by far the lightest case and earbuds I’ve ever felt. I don’t think I could actually crush them to dust in my hand, but it’s close. Their AirPod-esque design is about as comfortable, or not, as that design has ever been.

Amazingly, unlike the Onikuma T20 and Mgall MG-C03 earphones, the SCEs actually reconnected regularly to my Pixel 7. If anything, they hated the Sony NW-A306, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The Bluetooth label on a source device is just “TWS” as in “true wireless,” not even “X37.” Off-the-shelf parts with no modifications it seems. No surprise there, I guess.

Sound

The X37s are a tale of two sources, and I’m not definitively sure what’s going on. I’ll leave my guesses out of it, but what’s happening is important. When connected to my Sony NW-A306 media player, they had some of the worst sound I’ve ever heard in an audio product. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. There was a swishy swirliness to the treble that sounded like tape flutter. It was unlistenable, even for $12.48. But when connected to my Pixel 7, their sound was entirely decent. Not quite as good as the Onikumas, but less of a crystalline entity than the Mgalls. So for all my tests and comparisons, I used my phone as the source.

SCE

With my Pixel 7, the sound was entirely passable: not good, not terrible. There was a boost in the upper midrange and just enough bass to give some semblance of balance. “Good for $12” isn’t much of a compliment, but honestly, I’ve heard worse. If I wanted to listen to some music and I had no other option, I wouldn’t ditch these and hum to myself.

With Joni Mitchell’s “California” (Blue, 24-bit/192kHz FLAC, Rhino Entertainment / Qobuz), there was a decent soundstage that seemed to spread just beyond my ears. There was a cheap, single-driver radio aspect to the sound, with upper treble and lower bass lopped off. There was some sibilance, but less than you might expect given the price.

The bigger sound of “Modern Love” from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (24/192 FLAC, Parlophone Records / Qobuz) didn’t do as well since the bassline and kick drum are important parts of the mix, and here they were rather subdued. There was some sizzle to the cymbals.

SCE

I didn’t give them an official rating at the top because of this weirdness with sources. As long as they work with your device, I’d give the sound a 4/10. If they don’t, 1/10.

Comparison

Comparing to the other Temu finds seemed logical. I cued up the quintessential audio test track, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman, 16/44.1 FLAC, Elektra Records / Qobuz), and swapped first between the SCE X37s and the Onikuma T20s. Through the X37s, there was a brittle artificiality to Chapman’s guitar, with none of the space that makes this song so atmospheric. Chapman’s voice lacked weight, and the acoustic guitar was much more prominent in the mix than it should have been. The Onikumas struggled to reach a listenable volume, but they sounded better overall. There was more bass and a lot more hi-hat. Chapman sounded like she’d taken half a step back from the mike. That said, there was enough treble to give some life to the acoustic guitar, and Chapman sounded more like Chapman. An easy win for the Onikumas, despite their outrageously higher price—$6 more than the X37s.

On average, the Mgall MG-C03s sounded worse than the X37s at their best, but better than the X37s at their worst. It was all midrange and treble with the Mgalls. Bass was but a suggestion. The percussion sometimes overwhelmed Chapman’s voice. Despite its prevalence, the MG-C03 earphones’ treble wasn’t particularly harsh or biting, offering some delicacy to the higher notes on the guitar. Overall, they sounded like three-way speakers with the woofer gouged out. By comparison, the X37s were practically well balanced. They’re not well balanced by any stretch, but at least there was some low end.

Conclusion

If you read my review of the Onikumas, or even the overall Temu story, I try to toe a careful line about how it’s fun to pile on the budget performance of cheap products while not ridiculing their existence as a whole. Such gatekeeping is boring. However, the X37s show an important other side of that: sometimes these things just don’t work. Imagine the person spending $12 on something only for it not to work at all. If that person could only afford that $12 for headphones, what would they do? That’s unacceptable.

SCE

What’s so frustrating about the X37s, or whatever they’re called, is that they don’t sound bad otherwise. Perfectly fine for $12 for sure, if they work with your device. Maybe it’s fine for some people to take that risk, but in my opinion, that shouldn’t be a concern for any product, regardless of price.

. . . Geoffrey Morrison
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Associated Equipment

  • Smartphone: Google Pixel 7.
  • Portable media player: Sony NW-A306.

SCE X37 Earphones
Price: $12.48.
Warranty: LOL.

Shenzhen Chaoyin Electronics Co, LTD
Shenzhen, China

Website: www.temu.com

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