Dripp Dropp TWS Earbuds Hands-On Review
The TWS earbuds market is big business, with the global earphones and headphones market valued at US$10.52 billion in 2018, according to Grand View Research. Counterpoint, another industry analysis firm, estimates that sales of TWS wearables will grow from 46 million units in 2018 to 129 million units in 2020, a market currently dominated by the likes of Apple, Sony and Samsung. A major supplier of chips to this emerging market is Qualcomm, which currently sells multiple audio SoCs to thousands of OEMs globally.
While searching marketplaces like Amazon or AliExpress will reveal hundreds of companies selling Qualcomm-branded TWS earbuds, one pair caught our eye last month on crowdfunding website Indiegogo. Dripp Audio, a start-up based in Shenzhen, China, launched a campaign for what it promised to be the "most affordable" TWS earbuds on the market, for which it exceeded its campaign goal of US$10,000 in funding. The company estimates that it will start shipping to backers in January next year, but in the meantime, it has kindly provided us with a pair of Drip Dropps to test.
We have been using the Dripp Dropps daily for close to two weeks now, during which we have worn them while working, exercising and just generally when out and about. Dripp Audio currently sells the Dripp Dropps on Indiegogo for US$49, having initially priced them at US$39 for early backers. The company states on its campaign page that the Dripp Dropps will eventually retail for US$99, although it remains unclear where it will sell the earbuds besides Indiegogo.
Please note that this is a hands-on review. While we shall discuss our experiences with the earbuds, we shall not be covering them to the depth that we usually do in our laptop or smartphone reviews.
Case & Design - Black plastic, magnets and micro USB
The Dripp Dropps resemble many other TWS earbuds, as does their pill-shaped charging case. The earbuds and case both have black plastic chassis, although the latter has a much glossier finish than the former. The top of the case also has a silver trim around its bottom edge. Adorning both is the Dripp Audio logo, which the company has included on both earbuds. While the case also has regulatory text printed on its bottom, the earbuds only have L or R printed on them to denote what ear in which they should be placed. Dripp Audio opted to print these letters in dark grey for some reason, making them difficult to read in the brightest of ambient lighting.
Each earbud weighs around 6 g, although we measure the total carry weight at 56 g with the case included. Our review units fit snugly in our ears with the medium-sized rubber tips without applying any uncomfortable pressure to our ear canal as we have found some earbuds to do in the past. Each earbud has touch-sensitive controls on their sides, about which we will cover later. These sit at the top of the stem of the earbuds, but we often found these troublesome to locate with our fingers when in our ears. In principle, these should be easy to find when you learn the location of the touch-sensitive area, but the lack of a tactile hint of where the area is meant that we regularly ended up taking multiple stabs at activating the controls.
The Dripp Dropps have two metal contacts on each earbud, which allow them to charge via the included charging case. While the earbuds charge quickly, the case itself does not. The reason for the latter is the presence of a micro USB port, which is a shame. Most smartphones have USB Type-C ports now, so having to carry an additional cable when we are away from home for a few days seems ill-thought-out. Likewise, Dripp Audio has included a set of four LEDs on the inside of the case to inform you of its charge level. The earbuds each have an LED too, which changes to red when they start charging. However, there is no way of knowing the charge level of the earbuds. There are no LEDs on the outside of the case to let you know this, which could have been useful, nor do the earbuds display a green LED when they are fully charged. Incidentally, more than one person remarked the earbuds light up like a Christmas tree when pairing, as they cycle between blue and red until they pair with a device. Admittedly, this is a minor gripe and one that would probably only arrive during the festive season. Rounding off the I/O are two microphones, which sit on the bottom edge of both earbuds.
Connectivity & Controls - aptX, but no volume controls
We can confirm that the Dripp Dropps use the aptX codec, as the screenshot to the right demonstrates. They do not support AAC, though. The earbuds also support Bluetooth 5 and achieved up to about twenty metres range before cutting out. We conducted this test with the earbuds one interior and one exterior wall away from our OnePlus 7 Pro, for reference. In short, you should encounter no reception issues with wearing the Dripp Dropps around your house or office. Your experience will vary between smartphones though, as our Pixel 3a does not have the Bluetooth range that our OnePlus 7 Pro does, for instance.
While the Dripp Dropps have decent range, we encountered pairing and connection issues during our time with them. At one point, only one earbud would connect to our OnePlus, an issue that we replicated with our ThinkPad X1 Extreme too. Oddly, the earbuds occasionally appeared as two devices in our smartphone and laptop's Bluetooth settings. However, turning the earbuds off and on rectified these issues.
The Dripp Dropps also support touch gestures, as we mentioned earlier. The earbuds support single, double and triple taps, which Drip Audio has mapped to changing the track, stopping and resuming playback and bringing up the default digital assistant. Pressing the left earbud one returns to the start of the current track or returns to the previous track, while pressing the right earbud goes forward a track, for reference. The other gestures work with either earbud, as does the long-press to power off. There is no need to turn on the earbuds using the same gesture though, as they automatically turn on when removed from their charging case. Sadly, the earbuds do not have volume controls, which we found a pain when we wanted to change the volume but did not have our phone to hand.
Sound Quality - Audible calls and passable audio quality
The built-in microphones worked well during our call tests, and picked out our voice nicely even in busy environments. Voices sounded intelligible too, and at no point did we feel the need to switch to using our smartphone.
The Dripp Dropps have comparatively good audio quality in general too, at least compared with equivalently-priced earbuds. While their music does not sound as lively or vibrant as it does on high-end TWS headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM or WF-1000X series, for example, the Dripp Dropps sound much better than other sub-US$50 earbuds we have tried.
Our review units reproduce highs well, and does a good job of recreating mid-tones too. Bass frequencies are present, but they do not sound as full as those that our WH-1000XM2 or even Motorola Verve Loop can create. While the Dripp Dropps offer greater clarity than the Verve Loops do, our Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones sound more balanced than our review units do.
With that said, we are yet to try other QCC3020 powered earbuds, so the Dripp Dropps potentially only sound as good as their chipset. Qualcomm offers other superior chipsets too, like the QCC3034 found in the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2. While we are yet to try these, there are higher-quality Qualcomm audio chipsets on the market than the QCC3020. You can find all aptX-certified headphones here.
The Dripp Dropps support Qualcomm cVc noise cancelling too, which is not the same as active noise cancellation (ANC) that other more expensive TWS earbuds support. cVc worked well during our time with the Dripp Dropps and cancelled out most ambient noise. However, we could still hear background voices when in a coffee shop, for example, so ANC overear headphones may be a better option if you want to block out as much noise as possible. We also found the frequency that the Dripp Dropps output to minimise ambient noies more audible than the ones that our WH-1000XM2's produce. We expected as much considering the gulf in price between the two devices, but it is worth considering if that sort of thing bothers you.
Battery Life - 12 hours on a single charge, but short of 36 hours overall
The Dripp Dropps have an 85 mAh battery, which yielded between ten and twelve-hour runtimes during our tests. The case, meanwhile, has a 500 mAh battery, which Dripp Audio promises should give the earbuds two full charges before needing recharging itself. Our tests did not verify this, though. Case charge levels dropped by one LED for every three hours of playback, which would correspond with one full charge of the earbuds.
Over twenty-four hours use between having to charge the charging case is still excellent, though. Moreover, our experiences may not be reflected across other units. The case does take between two to two and a half hours to recharge fully, so we would recommend doing so overnight or when you do not need to use the earbuds.
Verdict - A decent set of TWS earbuds with a few flaws
Overall, the Dripp Dropp TWS earbuds have surpassed our expectations. They sound better than other sub-US$50 earbuds that we have tried thanks to their aptX support and their battery life is much better than their contemporaries. Additionally, they are lightweight, comfortable and fit nicely. While IP5X is an almost meaningless certification, the Dripp Dropps are at least sweat and rain resistant.
There are some downsides, though. Firstly, the lack of volume controls is a frustrating oversight and a feature that we expect from all TWS devices, regardless of whether they are earbuds or headphones. Moreover, reliably activating the touch controls is more difficult than it should be. Currently, our workaround is to remove one earbud to ensure that we have placed our finger correctly.
The Dripp Dropps are a good first attempt by Dripp Audio, but only at the sub-US$50 price point for which they are currently being sold.
The lack of a charging LED to inform when the earbuds are fully charged is a strange omission too. Likewise, the inclusion of micro USB port rather than USB Type-C is a shame. We also encountered pairing issues, the reasons for which we cannot explain. Finally, we are unsure of the warranty coverage that Dripp Audio would offer. The company is based in China, so conceivably one would need to send the Dripp Dropps back for a warranty repair. There is no mention of Indiegogo offering warranty either, or none that we have seen.
Ultimately, the Dripp Dropps are a good set of TWS earbuds in a crowded market. This only applies to their current pricing of US$49, though. A retail price of US$99 would be a sticking point that we are not sure the earbuds could overcome considering their shortcomings that we summarised above.