There are plenty of affordable affordable true wireless earphones we can recommend without hesistation, but we’ve yet to test a similarly priced pair of true wireless earbuds—the style of earpiece that doesn’t seal off your ear canal—that has impressed us. At $39.99, TCL’s MoveAudio S150 earbuds are quite affordable, and offer a modest IPX4 water-resistance rating. But their open design is problematic, both from an audio standpoint and in terms of in-ear fit security. Coupled with unimpressive battery life, you can find far better options, even at this affordable price.
An Open Design With an Insecure Fit
Available in white, the MoveAudio S150 earbuds take plenty of design cues from Apple’s AirPods: The earpieces have a stem-like design that doesn’t quite seal off the ear canal, and the charging case is a rounded square. It’s hard to understand the logic behind not sealing off the ear canal; instead of using eartips, the glossy plastic of the earpiece narrows a bit and projects audio into the ear canal. This creates a host of audio issues we’ll discuss in the next section, but it also makes for a problematic in-ear fit.
The earpieces have a modest IPX4 rating, which means they can withstand sweaty workouts and light rain, and can be wiped off with a damp cloth. But can they stay in your ears during a rigorous, sweaty workout? Not quite. Sure, we all have different ear shapes, but these barely stayed in place while I was sitting at my desk testing them. If you’re going to go the earbud route, the earpiece needs to be large enough to use your ear itself to stabilize the fit. And it probably needs to be made of a material other than slippery, glossy plastic. I did manage to achieve a fairly stable in-ear fit once, but even then the ear-to-ear audio balance was off.
The on-ear controls are sensitive to touch and easy enough to operate. A double press on the right ear handles playback, while on the left ear, it summons your device’s voice assistant. A two-second press on the left or right navigates backward or skips a track, respectively. A two-second press also answers or ends calls on either ear. Each ear can also be used alone, with simplified controls laid out in the manual. There are no volume controls, however.
Internally, 13mm dynamic drivers deliver the audio. The earbuds are compatible with Bluetooth 5.0. Pairing was problematic at first, as only one ear connected. After a couple of tries, we were able to get both earpieces connected to an iPhone.
The charging case is slippery and can be cumbersome to open as a result. It has a flip-top lid, a single battery status LED on the front face below the lid opening, and a USB-C port on the rear panel. An included USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable is the only accessory other than the case.
TCL estimates battery life to be roughly 3.5 hours, with another 16.5 hours or so in the charging case. These numbers are bad, even for true wireless earbuds, and even for a budget model—they’re the lowest estimated battery life numbers we’ve seen in recent memory. Regardless, your results will vary with your volume levels.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the MoveAudio S150 earbuds are capable of delivering a strong sense of bass depth—the drivers do have some oomph. But that’s going to rely on how you place them in your ears, since they can sit in a variety of angles and positions that radically alter the sound signature. So, let it be said that we did hear some powerful sub-bass depth on this track, but it was short lived as the earbuds shifted position, and it was hard to get the two ears to sound balanced together, which is what happens in the absence of an in-canal seal.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the MoveAudio S150’s general sound signature. The drums sound like Dixie cups being tapped lightly. Angling the earbuds for better bass depth is possible, but then the secure fit feels off, and getting them to both angle in the exact same way is tricky—you’ll likely have one ear sounding slightly (or wildly) different from the other, which creates balance issues.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of crisp high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness. The vinyl crackle and hiss also take a big step forward in the mix. Particularly if you can’t find the angle that allows for ideal bass depth, the sound signature here will be bright and light. Even if you nail the angle, the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are more implied than delivered—the drivers don’t quite reach down that low. The vocals are delivered with solid clarity, with a little added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, can actually sound pretty good through the MoveAudio S150 if you get the fit just right. The lows are rich and subtle, and the higher-register instrumentation retains its bright focus in the mix. If the fit is off, this all falls apart, as it does with all other genres.
The mic offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we could understand every word we recorded cleanly and clearly. There was only a hint of Bluetooth distortion, and even some added sense of low-frequency depth.
Inexpensive, But Not Worth It
TCL’s MoveAudio S150 earbuds are capable of producing dynamic audio, but more often than not, fit issues lead to mismatched ear-to-ear balance and poor sound quality. Their battery life is meager, and the fit strikes me as not secure enough to for exercise, which somewhat diminishes the value of the modest IP rating. Maybe it sounds like I’m being really harsh—these are only $40, after all. But the $30 JLab Go Air, the $35 Tribit FlyBuds 3, and the $50 EarFun Free all manage to create in-ear seals while equalling—if not besting—the MoveAudio S150’s water-resistance rating. They also have better battery life, a more security, and superior sound quality, proving you don’t have to spend more to find much stronger value.
The Bottom Line
The TCL MoveAudio S150 earbuds deliver true wireless audio for a relatively inexpensive price, but from a poor fit to short battery life, they fail to impress on any front.
TCL MoveAudio S150 Specs
|Active Noise Cancellation||No|