Over the years I've tried many brands of headphones and earbuds, with mixed success.
Some are so good they can make Bob Dylan sound pitch perfect; others are so bad they turn great songs into screeching torture sessions.
To my knowledge, however, I've never tried out a pair from Belkin despite owning a few of the brand's other products.
The US electronics company has just launched a new range of earbuds in Aotearoa and it's clear they mean business with a range of offerings and prices. But can they stand out in a market packed full of fearsome competition?
I've been using the top of the range Belkin Soundform Freedom True Wireless earbuds for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.
The first thing you notice after opening the package is the gorgeous black case with a shiny top which, as standard, doubles as the charger.
It uses a simple USB-C cable to juice up but, as an added bonus, will also work with any Qi wireless chargers you have too. It's a nice touch, even though the latter is a slower way to charge them.
The battery life is very good. The company says you should expect around eight hours in the buds themselves, with an extra 28 hours in the case. A total of 34 hours isn't to be sniffed at and will see you through any weekend away.
It's hard to see just how much battery life there is left in the earbuds after extended use because there is no app to manage them so you're left having to interpret lights on the bottom of the earbuds themselves, which isn't ideal. Regardless, I never had any issues with them running out of battery.
Another strong feature is the integration with Apple's Find My network. That gives some reassurance that if you leave them behind, or you're as untidy as me, you're going to be able to locate them if you have an iOS device. Unfortunately, Android users get no such functionality.
They're also IPX5 rated for sweat and splash resistance, so if you're a gym bunny or someone who likes to be outside despite Auckland's inclement weather, you don't have to worry that your earbuds are going to fail.
A combination of the recent humidity and a strenuous workout means I can attest to the fact they stand up to sweat pretty well. I was not a pretty picture when I'd finished on the bike.
Of course, these are all nice-to-haves when it compares to the main functionality: How they sound.
With podcasts, I felt the overall quality was good and the voices were clear - although voices do tend to be a whole lot more forgiving than music.
But as someone who listens to a lot of podcasts, it's important to me they don't actively make things worse given how poorly recorded some are and the Soundform Freedom True Wireless earbuds definitely didn't do that.
Music was more of a mixed bag. Generally I found the sound pleasant enough, although it definitely got harsher at louder volumes.
They're also bass heavy when it comes to my preferred types of music - rock and classical - and that can distort slightly depending on both the artist and the volume.
It's not necessarily all that noticeable if you're doing something else and music is your accompaniment - but a direct comparison by switching other earbuds in and out definitely makes the overall experience seem more average than high-end.
Listening to lighter music like Taylor Swift's Folklore and Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth lessened the feeling of harshness, but I never quite found the sound as full as I had hoped.
Some high-end earbuds have helped me hear things I've never heard before in music I've been listening to for decades. With these, it just sounded like more of what I've already heard; not bad, by any means. Just not brilliant.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the Belkins is the touch sensitivity on the earbuds themselves.
What makes it more disappointing is this should be a positive. Many earbuds lack decent controls and I enjoy having the right earbud for volume up and skipping forward tracks while the left does the opposite.
Unfortunately they consistently fail to deliver the action I want, often distracting me from what I was doing in the process.
The worst was when I was on an exercise bike and trying to pause what I was watching to have a conversation. To do that, you have to double tap on either the left or right earbud, but I ended up simply turning the volume up because the double tap wasn't recognised in time.
So instead of being able to hear my partner I instead deafened myself while she thought I was listening to her, my frustration rising with the volume. By the time Forgetting Sarah Marshall actually paused, my partner had gone and Russell Brand's annoying accent was left ringing in my ears for minutes afterwards.
It's also easy to trigger an unwanted action when you're simply trying to adjust them - which I did a lot as I found the overall fit a little less than ideal, particularly in my left ear.
Belkin supplies three sizes of plastic tips which helps, but when I moved my mouth while wearing them the seal kept breaking and I felt I was in danger of at least one falling out.
This means I was disinclined to use them on more energetic runs as stopping to search for an earbud is not something I appreciate having to do. It was less problematic on walks and stationary exercise equipment.
The other thing lacking is Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), instead we get environmental noise cancelation (ENC) instead. Unfortunately that only comes into play when you're making calls and not when listening to music.
The person I spoke to while using the earbuds had no issues with hearing me or the overall quality of the audio but there's not many these days that make a mess of that.
I'm afraid these days I'm an ANC man through-and-through and I consider this a bit of a miss considering there are other earbuds on the market in this price range that offer that functionality.
The Soundform Freedom True Wireless earbuds are a decent package, but nothing special.
They currently cost around $230 in New Zealand which isn't by any means extravagant, but it's also not particularly cheap.
It also leaves potential purchasers with a quandary. Do you fork out a little more for wireless earbuds that offer ANC or do you accept something that works, but delivers slightly less when it comes to overall sound quality?
I accept I might be a little luckier than most in trying out so many different brands that I understand what works for me with earbuds. It's not that the Belkins are bad, they're not. They're just not right for my personal usage.
If you're someone who spends a lot of time listening to music then you really do benefit from those higher-end earbuds, particularly in audio fidelity and comfort.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a pair of headphones to use in the gym, that's going to keep you motivated while you're getting swole or banging out another 10km run on the treadmill, these will do just fine.
Just don't expect to be blown away.
Newshub was supplied with a set of Belkin Soundform Freedom True Wireless earbuds for this review.