In a world of truly wireless earbuds and disappearing headphone jacks, wired earbuds are quickly falling to the wayside. However, we’ve seen a few pairs of USB-C earbuds hit the market since the debut of Google’s Pixel 2, and now, Essential is jumping into that market with its own option.

Launched earlier this year, Essential’s new Earphones HD are a pair of USB-C earbuds designed to provide stellar audio quality in a package you don’t have to pair or charge. Simply plug them into the USB-C port on your Essential Phone, or any other device with a USB-C port, and you’ll have stellar audio — that’s the goal. Do they deliver? Let’s take a closer look.

The first and foremost aspect of these earbuds you have to consider is the audio quality. To keep it short and to the point, they sound great. Bass is strong, if a bit overpowering at times, with a solid overall sound, regardless of what you’re listening to. Personally, it’s hard to make out a real difference between these and a good pair of wireless earbuds, but the best description I can give is that these earbuds sound more natural.

Even more impressive, though, is the volume these earbuds can put out. Even without active noise-cancellation, you’ll have no problem tuning out the outside world with these earbuds set to around 50% volume. Anything over 70% is nearly uncomfortable to listen to, and maxing it out is just unbearably loud for more than a few seconds.

Comfort is important on any pair of earbuds as well, and I’m glad to report that these are solid. While fans of Earpod-esque designs will be disappointed with the rubber tips here, I found myself totally satisfied, even over long listening periods.

Essential has also made a great move in making these compatible with any device with a USB-C port. The goal, obviously is to use them for the Essential Phone, but I had no problems plugging into my Pixel 2 XL or HP Spectre laptop to listen to some tunes.

These earbuds certainly have killer audio, so is there anything wrong with them? The design and build quality of the Earphones HD are, unfortunately, areas I have problems with. There’s nothing particularly bad about the design of the buds, but they’re a bit boring if you ask me.

I’d have loved to see some colors or even just a unique design, but these could easily be confused for cheap earbuds you can buy off of Amazon, and they legitimately do look a lot like a pair we featured a few months ago.

Then, there’s the build quality. With headphones that cost $100, you’d expect excellent quality from the materials, but these earphones again take a misstep here. The rubberized cable and aluminum accents are nice, but these feel pretty cheap, and the included carrying case doesn’t help matters. It would have been great to see perhaps a braided cable, and maybe a carrying case that’s quick and easy to use.

One final complaint, and it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, is a slight background hiss. When audio is paused, you might hear the slight hiss, but only if you’re actively listening for it. Personally, it didn’t bother me too much seeing as I took the headphones off when I wasn’t actively listening to music, but it’s something worth pointing out for sure.

At $100, I don’t think you’ll necessarily find better audio quality with USB-C earbuds, but I do think you can find earphones with a better build quality. The Libratone Q Adapt I reviewed last year, for example, offer better build-quality, active noise cancellation, and great sound quality for an extra $50. Of course, you can also just deal with dongles and get similar 3.5mm headphones for much less, but that’s up to you…

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Ben Schoon

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