PAMU Z1 ANC Earbuds hands-on: Low cost, high comfort
Padmate is a fairly popular electronics company that enjoys success in many parts of the world. The company's latest audio product, the PAMU Z1 ANC earbuds, came across my desk early last month. Considering how flooded the true wireless stereo (TWS) earphone market has become over the past few years, what makes the US$99 Z1 buds stand out?
I've used the Z1 buds for the past 6 weeks and have compared them to the other TWS buds that routinely find their way into my ears: Apple's AirPods (2nd Gen), the venerable AirPods Pro (1st Gen), and 1MORE's TWS ANC buds. In short, PAMU's buds stand out in two areas: value and comfort. Let's take a deeper dive and see how hard the Z1s punch above their class.
Design and Fit
Perhaps the greatest strength of the PAMU Z1 buds is their design. The Z1s are made entirely from plastic but feel well-made and sturdy. The charging case is also made from plastic with a matte finish. It lacks the weight and robust firmness of Apple's offerings and feels somewhat light and thin in comparison. However, the case has stood up to moderate use over the past six weeks. There's nary a scuff or scratch, but the black plastic on the case and buds highlight fingerprints.
The best part of the Z1s is how comfortable they are. I typically have trouble with TWS earbuds. They either hurt the curves of my ear or slip out after a few minutes. Case in point: I have to use third-party tips for my AirPods Pro to keep them in place. This doesn't happen with the Z1s. I've been able to leave them in my ears for hours at a time while working outside. Not only do they cause no discomfort, but they also stay put despite my ears sweating and head consistently moving.
These are hands down the most comfortable earbuds, wireless or not, that I've worn to date. This alone made me reach for them over my AirPods Pro over the testing period.
The buds don't stick out very far. They don't sit along my earlobes like Apple's AirPods, but they don't stick out nearly as far as the 1MORE ANC buds. They are most comparable to Apple's AirPods Pro in terms of size and how far they extend from the ear, though the Z1s' tails are much broader.
The buds are very light and aren't cumbersome. Once they're in, I only know they're present because of the sound they pump out. Speaking of which...
Audio Quality and Features
The audio quality of the PAMU Z1s is good, but not great. The buds are bassy, so certain styles of music sound adequate. Compared to other TWS earbuds in this price range, the Z1s are above average. However, they don't offer a balanced sound profile. Spoken word audio (e.g., audiobooks or podcasts) come off as muffled or distorted toward the low end, and genres like jazz feel thin and weak.
Minor adjustments are available via the PAMU app. Here, users can change the ANC model, change the touch controls (more on that below), and pick from four preset EQs: Normal, Pop, Rock, or Jazz. The default preset is Pop, which pushes bass and thins out mids and highs. Rock tries to refocus on treble but feels anemic as a result. Normal is fairly flat and mediocre. Jazz is my personal favorite and brings more balance to the upper registers, but the drivers themselves seem built for bass. As a result, bass is also higher than any other register.
Overall, the Z1s seem to be trying to imitate Beats or other bass-heavy earphones. The sound profile is well-suited to some genres (think pop, rap, or other bass-centered music) but falls flat elsewhere.
On the feature front, the Z1 buds are fairly rudimentary. The earpieces have infrared touch zones for audio controls. Users can set four different touch controls via the app, one for a short tap and one for a long touch on each earpiece. By default, these are set to skip the current track (short tap, right), bring up the voice assistant (long press, right), play the previous track (short tap, left), or change the ANC profile (long press, left). The customization is a nice touch and not something regularly seen under $100.
The touch zones themselves are a bit spotty. In my experience, the buds correctly register a tap or press 85-90% of the time. However, this is better than my experience squeezing the tails of my AirPods Pro, which always takes me two or three tries to get. 1MORE's buds are the most responsive of my lot, but the Z1s come in a close second.
ANC, Microphone Quality, and Battery Life
The Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) works fairly well. Padmate claims the Z1s can reduce noise by about 40 dB, but I have a hard time believing that. In my unofficial "yard work noise test," the AirPods Pro dull the noise of my gasoline lawnmower to a low rumble. My 1MORE buds cut out the mower's noise fairly well but let some of the engine's roar through. The PAMU Z1s kill the least amount of noise. The ANC is good but nowhere near the level of the AirPods Pro (which Padmate uses as a direct comparison on the product page). The audio pass-through mode is similarly adequate but not up to snuff with the premium buds. For sub-$100 TWS buds, though, they're slightly above average in this regard.
The microphones are a disappointment. On phones calls, I could clearly hear callers, but the people on the other end said my voice sounded thin and robotic. This was a complaint whether my phone was in my pocket or directly next to one of the buds. I've found myself simply pulling a bud out to answer a call and holding the phone in its traditional position to avoid this unpleasantry.
Battery life is great. Padmate rates the earbuds at 6 hours, and with the ANC and pass-through off, I would routinely hit about 5-5.5 hours. With ANC on, the buds still last about 4-4.5 hours. Padmate claims the case can grant 24 hours of playtime, but in my experience, this is closer to under 15 hours (just under three recharges). The buds take about 2 hours to charge from empty to full, as does the case (which charges via USB-C only).
Padmate's PAMU Z1 TWS earbuds are somewhat of a mixed bag. The buds are some of the most comfortable I've ever had the pleasure of using, but they fall flat in other key areas, namely EQ and features. Padmate sadly overhypes the Z1s, promising features that aren't fully fleshed out and (disconcertingly) comparing the Z1s to premium TWS earbuds like Apple's AirPods Pro. A better competitor would be the standard AirPods, which don't offer any kind of noise-canceling despite selling for $80 more. Still, for less than $100, the PAMU Z1s are solid options that offer good battery life, a decent sound profile (if you like bass-heavy music), and a fantastic fit.
I have to address one item that has me perplexed. I believe that Padmate sent me early production units. On the product page for the Z1s, features like Qi wireless charging and double-tap controls are listed, both of which are conspicuously absent from my pair. Be that as it may, the key areas of the Z1s (sound quality, ANC, and battery life) are likely similar to my review unit. However, your mileage may vary.
The Padmate PAMU Z1 TWS earbuds are available on Padmate's website. They are listed for $99 but routinely sell for $69.
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Padmate PAMU Z1 TWS ANC earbuds free of charge for the purpose of testing.