Today we’re checking out Optoma’s entry into the world of fully wireless Bluetooth earphones, the BE Free8.
Wireless gear is more or less being forced upon the mainstream through the removal of headphone jacks on what is the main player for the majority of people, their cell phones. People like me absolutely detest dongles and other add-ons that enable your existing wired headphones to work with these compromised devices, so quality wireless options help make the loss of the headphone jack slightly more bearable.
What part does the BE Free8 play in the “wireless revolution” we’re currently experiencing? Let’s find out.
A big thanks to Jyri at Nuforce for reaching out to see if I would be interested in checking out the BE Free8. It was sent over free of charge for the purposes of a fair and impartial review. The thoughts within this review are my own and do not represent Optoma, NuForce, or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided.
At the time of this review the BE Free8 was retailing for 149.00 USD. You can read up on the BE Free8 here; https://www.optomausa.com/audioproduct/be-free8
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer unique examples of signatures I enjoy.
The BE Free8 was paired with my LG G5 and Shanling M1 which both support apt-X. I also used it briefly with the F.Audio S1 but that pairing wasn’t ideal due to a slight degredation in sound quality as a result of no apt-X support, and volume. Even with the S1 on the lowest volume setting the BE Free8 was too loud for me, unless outside in a noisy environment or if listening to a particularly quiet recording.
- Frequency response – 20hz-20,000hz
- Sensitivity – 92db +/-3db
- Driver type – 6mm dynamic with Nuforce Sonic Coating
- Battery life – 4 hours plus an additional 12 hours with the charging case (16 hours combined)
- Wireless type – Bluetooth
- Supported codecs – HSP 1.2, HFP 1.6, A2DP 1.2, AVRCP 1.4, SBC, AAC, APTX LOW LATENCY
- Operating range – 33 feet or more
- Connection mode – NMFI (NearField Magnetic Induction)
- Compatibility – Compatible with both AAC and aptX® LL technologies
- Weight – 1.6oz
Packaging and Accessories:
The BE Free8’s multilayered unboxing experience is pretty nice overall. The exterior sheeth contains a fairly hi-resolution image of the earpieces on the front. On the rear you have an image showing the interior components along with a list of features. You also catch a sneek peek at their custom shallow Spintfit tips.
Sliding out the inner box like you would a drawer, the BE Free8 and charge case greet you nestled in a dense foam inlay like a prized possession tucked in among your socks. Beneath is a slender card-board box stretching the length of the package which contains the rest of the accessories. Underneath in yet another pocket your find the manual and safety instructions in a whopping 30 languages. I don’t know why that always impresses me so much…anyway, in all you get;
- BE Free8 earphones
- Charge case
- Custom Spinfit tips / short (s/m)
- Custom Spitfit tips / long (xs/s/m)
- microUSB charge cable
I love the inclusion of a slew of custom Spinfit tips because that brand makes some killer tips. I just have one question; why none in large? Guaranteed some of you out there will need large tips. That oddity aside, the packaging is attractive, unboxing experience quite pleasant, and while not overly extensive the quality of the accessories are top tier.
Build, Comfort and Isolation:
The BE Free8’s earpieces are composed entirely of plastic and as a result are supremely lightweight. The matte plastic used on the inner half of the shells feels pretty nice. The exterior is a glossy piano black plastic which looks good. Rub your fingernail across the ridges and they sound somewhat hollow. While the materials don’t feel particularly upscale, fit and finish is stellar. Any seams are smooth and consistent, really only visible due to the move from a matte to glossy surface. The charge points and vents are all cleanly cut and consistent. It all looks quite clean.
The charge case is really well-built too. It shares the same glossy exterior as the outer half of the earpieces but feels substantially more dense and solid. The weight is a major positive giving it a premium feel in hand. The lid also opens and closes smoothly with a solid thunk as the magnets solidly and securely pull it into place. The cutouts for the earpieces are perfectly constructed with no unnecessary play making lining up the charge points a no-brainer. No fiddling required. The charge indicator lights are cleanly integrated as well, really only visible when in use. I also like that the three lights but the usb input give you a rough indication of the remaining number of charges. It’s definitely the most expensive looking and feeling of the charge cases I’ve come across so far.
The BE Free8 isolates a lot better than I was expecting, above average for sure. Using them while typing the clacking of the keys was dulled to a light chatter. People chatting was reduced significantly. The drone of nearby cars was dulled drastically. Really well isolating earphone.
As a result of the ergonomic, lightweight design, and the inclusion of a slew of high quality tips that fit and seal quite well, the BE Free8 is very comfortable. Secure too. With them in place I could whip my head around like a maniac without them falling out of place. It’s pretty impressive actually, especially when you consider NuForce isn’t relying on ear fins or guides to hold them in, just solid engineering.
A strong and stable connection is a must with any wireless earphone, and even more so with a fully wireless product. The connection needs to be reliable both between the primary earpiece and the transmitting device, and between left and right earpieces. If any one of these lanes are compromised, why bother? The BE Free8 thankfully works fine on all fronts.
Connecting with a device was easy. Hold the multifunction button on the left earpiece for 2 second until it turns on (or just remove it from the charge case), then keep holding till it starts flashing orange and white. Locate it on your device (it’ll likely show up as BE Free8) and select it. All done. Connecting the right earpiece is just as easy. Once you have connected the left earpiece to your device, turn on the right earpiece. They’ll quickly find each other and connect. The only issue I had with this process was knowing when the right earpiece was turned on. Unlike the left which announces everything, the right side is mute.
Once you’ve got everything connected its all quite stable. While the primary earpiece uses Bluetooth to connect to your device, the earpieces use NFMI (near-field magnetic induction) technology to speak to each other. This tech is unidirectional meaning they’ll only remain connected when sitting directly opposed to each other; i.e. in your ears. It took me a while to realize this, though it was fun forcing disconnects by moving one of the earpieces in front of my nose, or behind my head. Yes, while you can force disconnects between the two earpieces with surprising ease, that’s not a normal use case. NFMI is mostly worth this oddity because when worn normally, the two earpieces stayed connected very reliably.
The Bluetooth side of the connection process was pretty standard. 33 feet could be achieved unobstructed. In most cases, however, it was significantly less; a chair or couch or doorway would knock that down immediately. For me personally it’s not an issue since I almost always have my device on me or at the very least within reach. Someone planning to use this with the device far away might be less satisfied.
Overall I was quite pleased with the wireless performance. The connection quality was strong and just as reliable the Accutone Vega and SoundPEATS Q16, two fully wireless products that handle this well.
The BE Free8 is a winner here too. I was able to routinely meet the rated 4 four hours and got at least 12 extra hours out of the charge case before it was drained. This performance makes the Accutone Vega’s mediocre battery life even more apparent, and holds up well to the 6 hours you get with the charge case-less SoundPEATS Q16.
Charge times were pretty reasonable too. Each recharge via the case took around an hour and a half, and the case itself was good to go after about three and a half hours. While I’m sure there is better out there, in daily use the BE Free8’s battery life proved to be plenty usable. Four hours is enough to get you through travel to and from work, an exercise session, and even half a standard workday. I never found myself needing more. I want the battery to last longer, sure, but I didn’t need it to. Also, considering the size of the BE Free8, what you’re getting is more than respectable. If I want to sit down for a marathon listening session, that is what wired earphones are for.
A well tuned micro driver is always a pleasure to listen to in my opinion. Crisp treble, well-defined mids, and tight bass; can’t go wrong with those qualities. Despite some noticeable background noise from all the electronics at work, the BE Free8’s somewhat warm sounding, v-shaped signature succeeds at giving listeners a positive experience.
Treble is prominent but not exaggerated. It is free of any noticeable digital edginess I’ve heard in some lesser wireless products leading to a very smooth and detailed sound. Even at high volumes it’s quite non-fatiguing, in line with the tuning of other NuForce products I’ve tried. Overall detail is good. It doesn’t pick up really minute nuances, but this thing isn’t really meant for critical listening.
Heading into the mid-range it takes a step back and is less prominent than the treble and bass. There is a touch of bleed from the mid-bass regions, but it is minimal and doesn’t muddy the lower mids. The BE Free8’s warmth really benefits the mid-range giving vocals a creamy smoothness to them, though it also masks some micro-details.
The low end on the BE Free8 is some of the best I’ve heard from a fully wireless earphone. For a micro-driver the sub-bass presence is oddly robust giving you a visceral rumble on the lowest notes. Mid-bass is slightly humped but has good impact and tightness. Bloat and distortion are present but kept to a minimum, really only coming into play at unsafe listening volumes. The BE Free8 is great with bassy tracks which for me is key with a product like this. It’s often going to be used in noisy environments like the gym or public transit where bass tends to lose presence.
Sound stage isn’t bad either with the BE Free8 presenting sounds further from my head than I was expecting. I found this particularly nice with tracks that had instruments quietly introduce themselves, getting louder over time. That really gave the impression of an open stage. Imaging is also decent with smooth transitions between channels, though its not as accurate as I would want for gaming. Layering and separation are also adequate which when combined with the fairly open staging lead to congested tracks cleaning up nicely.
SoundPEATS Q16 (42.99): The Q16 is a more aggressive and edgy sounding earphone. Where it sounds like it’s bursting with pent up energy, the BE Free8 is much more mellow, smooth, and refined. Listening to the two back-to-back I found the Q16 has a more sub- than mid-bass focus with similar texturing. It’s mid-range is similarly prominent, but more detailed. Treble on the Q16 is colder and rougher; definitely more fatiguing. I found they imaged similarly well with the NuForce offering better depth of movement and the Q16 being a touch more accurate. There are aspects to the sound of both models I enjoy, though the BE Free8 is unquestionably more refined.
In terms of design there is no question; NuForce’s option is more stylish. The Q16 takes a function over form approach and is big, bulky, and kinda ugly. It’s comfortable though, and almost as nice to wear despite being a monster in comparison.
Connection quality is similar, though I found the BE Free8 stuttered less often. I must say that I prefer the tech used to connect the earpieces on the Q16 which is only a touch less stable, but more flexible. By that I mean I can take out the earpiece and put it where ever I want within a couple feet without it disconnecting. I routinely take the right earpiece out to talk to someone or listen for traffic for example, and the slight delay while the BE Free’s connection re-establishes gets annoying if I have to take them out regularly.
While the Q16’s initial battery life is better at 6 hours, there is no carrying case to extend it beyond this. When it’s dead, you need to find a computer or wall outlet to plug in. The value of having on hand a compact, portable charging case that you can use numerous times is not to be overlooked.
Accutone Vega (119.00 USD): The Vega has a flatter signature than the BE Free8 with more mid-range focus and less prominent treble. Bass on the BE Free8 extends deeper, but not by much as I noticed when listening to Andy Leech’s “The Hallows”. It also impacts harder and is more prominent with slightly more texture and detail. That detail extends to the treble, though the Vega is more clear in the mids. NuForce’s fully wireless earphone has a more spacious feel, though Accutone’s offering is more accurate in terms of imaging.
In terms of design, once again the BE Free8 has got style in spades versus the Vega’s chunky, blocky, rubber lined look which is nowhere near as low profile. Still, the Vega is nearly as comfortable and there is no risk of their falling out due to the use of ear hooks.
Connection quality is similarly positive with the Vega taking the edge. Like the Q16, it’s earpieces connect via more traditional methods and do not need to be directly opposed each other to remain connected. For me the extra flexibility this affords is worth a touch of stability. Others may not feel the same.
Where the BE Free8 run circles around the Vega is in battery performance. Let’s compare;
- Vega: 2 hours plus an extra 4 hours via the charge case = 6 hours total (2 hours of charge for two hours use)
- BE Free8: 4 hours plus an extra 12 hours via the charge case = 16 hours total (1.5 hours charge for 4 hours use)
Wireless earphones are getting better and better with each iteration and as manufacturers get more serious about both sound quality and wireless performance. Tech like aptX and services such as Spotify also help to make it worth their while to put in that extra effort and eke out all the performance they can get.
The BE Free8 is a great example of fully wireless done right. It essentially takes the best of two of my favorite fully wireless products from other brands and combines it into a much more physically attractive package. There are a few aspects I’m not particularly fond of, such as the unidirectional connection limitations of NFMI, but that really only comes into play when I’m interacting with others. I would also prefer a slightly more balanced signature, but the current one caters well to the majority so I can’t fault it there.
If in the market for a fully wireless product that won’t irritate you with constant dropouts, poor fitment, subpar battery life, or mediocre sound quality, the somewhat premium price tag of the BE Free8 might very well be worth it.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Track)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Track)
Andy Leech – The Hallows (Track)