Xiaomi is an interesting brand that may have slipped under the radar of a lot of people in New Zealand.
The Chinese electronic manufacturer has already launched a high-end Android smartphone in Aotearoa this year that competes admirably with the top phones everyone is already familiar with.
So when it announced the launch of its new Redmi branded Buds 3 Pro headphones I was keen to give them a shot, particularly as they are cheap compared to others in the market offering Active Noise Cancelling (ANC).
Could the earbuds punch above their weight and potentially steal the market share of more expensive headphones, or will the shortcomings of such a low-price impact their performance?
I've been using the Redmi Buds 3 Pro for a couple of weeks and here are my thoughts.
When it comes to the basics, the Buds 3 have everything going for them.
In the box you not only get a cute oval charging case that's really easy and comfortable to hold, but also three sets of spare tips to go with the pre-installed medium tips to make sure these fit as good as possible.
The case is charged via USB-C which is great - I always have one at my desk ready to charge a multitude of devices, so the cable that came with these simply went into my 'spare' pile in the drawer.
If you're a little more feng shui minded than me and prefer a wireless solution then you're covered here too - the case is compatible with Qi wireless chargers for the ultimate in grab and go.
Battery-wise, the performance is also pretty strong. I wore these for up to four hours at a time and it never run out, which isn't too much of a surprise given the company says they'll last around 6 hours with noise cancellation off and at 50 percent volume.
The charging case adds another 28 hours or so of usage that's going to see you through a weekend even if you accidentally leave your charging cable at home.
The earbuds themselves are IPX4 rated, so if you like to get a little sweaty with your exercise or Aotearoa's humidity has you reaching for a towel you won't need to worry about your music cutting out.
As for the ANC? It's pretty good, but not outstanding. Again, it's hardly a surprise given the price point, but there's a definite reduction in the background noise while outside without it being completely killed.
The transparency mode allowed me to have a conversation with my partner without taking the earbuds out - just pressing and holding on either bud for a couple of seconds switches the modes easily.
In my home office, there's often the incessant drone of computer fans and other assorted noises, so I sometimes put on a pair of over-ear headphones just to give me some silence. The ANC here managed to impressively kill those noises stone dead.
The on-bud controls can also be used to play and pause the music as well as skip the current track, but there's no way to skip backwards or to configure the tap controls to better suit your usage.
An added bonus is that they can be connected to two devices simultaneously. If you're like me and have phones, smart speakers and computers all braying for attention this can save more than a few seconds when a switch is necessary.
There's also wear detection, so your music will be paused automatically if you take one of the earbuds out and will start up again when it goes back in. All things considered, that's a very strong set of features.
It's unusual that I'm so ambivalent when it comes to the overall quality of sound delivered, particularly when it is the most important aspect of any set of headphones. But I've never experienced a more audible difference between different types of music before.
When using these while listening to Iron Maiden's classic Live After Death album I was a little underwhelmed. The bass was there, which I appreciated, but the overall sound wasn't as full as I would like.
Bruce Dickinson's operatic vocals sounded good, but the backing instruments sounded fuzzy in comparison, almost as if they are dulled to let the vocals stand out. Just in case it was a mixing issue, I tried the same with Black Sabbath's Paranoid album and heard a similar response.
Regardless, I appreciated the decent volume you get out of these earbuds. If you're going to listen to some quality heavy metal, you may as well play it loud to go with the air guitar playing.
But other types of music sounded much better. I thoroughly enjoyed Kiwi songstress Lorde's Solar Power album with these and my trusty classical music playlist provided hours of distraction while I worked without anything too noticeable.
If you avoid loud guitars then I suspect you'll find these much more suitable than those who like the wailing of a Les Paul.
One of the more annoying things about the Buds 3 Pro was being unable to unlock the full range of functionality.
If you have a Xiaomi smartphone you can download companion software which unlocks an AI algorithm to judge ambient noise and your listening habits to automatically adjust the noise cancellation to one of four separate modes - adaptive, light, balanced or deep.
Without it, you're limited to just deep ANC or transparency mode.
Xiaomi certainly isn't the first - and won't be the last - brand to unlock performance boosts for those on its own platforms but still, it's a disappointment I could have made these sound better for want of an iOS or general Android app.
One of my other pet peeves with earbuds is the lack of volume control on the buds themselves. Apple is another prime offender here.
When I'm running I tend to leave my smartphone at home, and therefore rely on a watch to record performance and play music. It's much harder to negotiate changing volume on the go that way than simply by touching the earbuds themselves.
They also started to become a little uncomfortable after a few hours of use. This is a relatively minor flaw as it's not very often I'll wear any headphones for much longer than two hours in one go.
The overall shape is a little quirky but the fit is pretty good if you rotate once in your ears for a decent seal - but just don't be surprised if you really start to notice them after a bit.
Are the Buds 3 Pro going to absolutely blow you away? No, but then that's not exactly a fair expectation for a set of ANC earbuds that cost just $129.
For that kind of price you'd often get a lot less than you do if you buy Redmi's top-of-the-range earphones.
When I'm in full audio geek mode and I'm wanting as close to true fidelity as possible, then I'm not going to reach for these as the sound just isn't quite right for my favoured usage.
But for such a low cost, I'm willing to forgive a fair bit.
I'm surprised at just how functional these are and when I'm heading out for some exercise I'll no longer worry if my AirPods Pros aren't handy.
The touch controls are as receptive as I want them to be and the ANC dulls the outside sound just enough I don't have to worry about what I'm listening to being drowned out by the traffic.
And that's without unlocking all the potential offered if you have a Xiaomi-branded phone. If you do, then these are a no-brainer.
For me, they're a more-than-acceptable back-up to much more expensive earbuds that I'm suddenly not sure justify that massive difference in price.
Newshub was supplied with a pair of Redmi Buds 3 Pro for this review.