The Wicked Arq earbuds allow you to enjoy many of the features present in more expensive wireless earphones but at about half the price.
Traveling can be a truly wicked experience. As a lover of words and their origins, I like to toy with double meanings. Take the word wicked for example. Did your mind immediately think of the synonyms terrible, awful, or evil? Or did you jump to excellent, amazing, or think similarly to the boy in The Incredibles “That was totally wicked?” This past weekend, my family and I embarked on an Amtrak train ride from Carbondale,Illinois to Chicago, Illinois to visit the Museum of Science and Industry. We had never travelled via train and we thought it would be a neat experience for our children. We were correct as it turned out to be an amazing adventure. With our backpacks in hand, packed for our two day excursion, we boarded the train and found a family section with four seats facing each other. After the initial excitement wore off, we settled into our routines and enjoyed some individual electronics time. I chose to pack along a pair of Wicked Audio True Wireless Headphones, to listen to music, Audible books and to watch movies on Movies Anywhere.
The Wicked Audio True Wireless Headphones arrived in a 6 1/8 inches tall by 6 3/8 inches wide by 2 3/16 inches thick retail package. In true Wicked Audio fashion, the cover proudly displayed a 4 3/8 inches long by 1 1/8 inches wide cylindrical charging case charging a “True Wireless” earbud. The ARQ name was displayed along the bottom right, in bold black font and the Wicked Audio title and logo were displayed along the top left. Across the upper right, I found a Bluetooth logo and “UP TO 60HRS of PLAY TIME.” Beyond the facts, I love that Wicked plays with the customers. The red “True Wireless” Logo was circled with black ink, the yellow bold “OPEN FLAP” had an arrow pointing toward the left panel and then to the small nylon pull tab. Additionally, the phrase “No Strings Attached” was written on the cover. The spine of the packaging listed “True Wireless,” where’s the side flap provided ten product defining icons: Bluetooth, Sweat Resistant, Rubberized, Rechargeable, Noise Isolation, Hands-Free, Wide Range, High Fidelity, Enhanced bass and angled housing.
The layout of the rear panel proved to be well done; arranged in three columns, the upper two black columns and lower white column successfully organized the information. The upper black column provided the device specifications: 10mm drivers, 103DB sensitivity, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency, 3 hour ear bud battery life, 60 hour playtime with repeated charges from the base, standard 32ft/10m Bluetooth range, 30 minute earbud charge time, 5 hours to fill the 2600mAh charging bank, and the ability to play/pause/answer/hang up. The middle column listed the features of the device: rechargeable battery, hands-free, triple battery protection, enhanced bass, noise-isolation, high-fidelity, angled housing, true wireless Bluetooth, and a power bank charging case. The lower column listed the package contents. Within the box, you should expect to find a pair of ARQ True Wireless earbuds, the power bank charging case, three pairs of cushion, in different sizes, an instruction manual, and a micro-USB to USB-A charging cable. The top panel had the plastic product hanging tab, “ARQ” and a red rectangle denoting “True Wireless.” The bottom panel had the product SKU and logos for Wicked, Bluetooth, True Wireless, Triple Battery Protection, and many of the typical product manufacturing marks.
Lifting the side flap, the box opened to reveal a clear plastic display window, toward the right, and an attractive girl wearing the earbuds, toward the left. In cursive white writing, the inner flap rehashed the details that were provided in the middle column of the back panel of the packaging. Written on the clear plastic were the words “No Strings Attached.” Behind the showcase window, you will find the black cylindrical charging case and earbuds cradled within a black foam tray. Setting these aside, you will find the instruction manual and a small bag of accessory eartips, the 20 inches USB-A to USB-micro charging cable, and a quick informational guide hidden beneath the felt. Within the accessory bag, there was a “Hey! Read me! You’ll be glad you did” pamphlet. Akin to a quick start guide, the small square page provided incredibly useful information. Instead of reading the entire manual/quick start, I decided to simply charge the charging case. The four LED illuminated and I waited a few hours only to find the lights still illuminated. I pulled out the earbuds, they did not power-on. I replaced them into the case, pulled them back out, and experienced the same result. There was a small black button inside the lid of the case, I pressed that once and it did nothing. I held the button and saw the blue LED illuminate and red LED on the back of the earbuds flashed once. Excitedly, I pulled them out of the charging case only to hear power low and the devices shut off. Frustrated, I turned to the “Hey! Read me!” Pamphlet and understood my error.
The quick start guide provided three paragraphs detailing the pairing process (if the factory preset failed), the LED sequence when paired or unpaired, how to repair the devices, how to pair to your smart device, and lastly that the charging case contains a power saving feature. If the earbuds are within the charging case, you will need to ensure that the power bank is turned on, else the earbuds will not charge. To gain a better understanding of the Wicked ARQ earbuds, I turned to the twelve-panel instruction manual. The first panel provided a detailed, labeled, diagram of the charging case, the package contents, and the ARQ earbuds. The second panel detailed the method to charge the charging case and the earbuds. The side of the 5 3/8 inches long by 1 1/4 inch diameter charging case had a micro-USB input port and a USB-A output port. To charge the case, plug the included cable into a USB-A port and then the micro-USB port into the charging case (roughly five hours to charge to full). To charge the earbuds or to charge an external device, press the power button on the inside of the case. The blue LED will illuminate on the side of the case, alerting you to the powered-on status. I loved that the case powered off automatically, once the earbuds were fully charged (30 minutes). I also liked that in an emergency situation, you could harness the 2600mAh to add some needed power to a phone or tablet. When finished, conserve power by turning off the charging case.
With the earbuds fully charged, I removed them from the charging case and followed the prompts. The right device paired easily with the left device and a female voice will alert “connected,” and “pairing.” Navigate to settings, Bluetooth and select Wicked Arq from the list. The right earbud will pair and then the left earbud will pair. The preinstalled tips worked well for my ear canals but Wicked did include two other pairs to try if needed. To install the Arq earbuds into the ears, orient the long axis towards the top of your scalp and then rotate them towards the back of the head. I was pleased with the shape and with the fit within my ear canal and concha cavum. For my first test, I navigated to audiocheck.net to test the headphone parameters. I used the Low-Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10-200 Hz) and heard a full rumbling sound starting at 20Hz. Utilizing the High-Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22-8 kHz), I was able to hear the test tone at 15kHz, which was the upper limit of my hearing. After the above tests were complete, I tested the Left/Right/Center programming and found them to be correctly programmed. Lastly, I used the Stereo Perception and Sound Localization Test section, which continues to be my favorite part of the audiocheck website.
If you have read any of my headphone reviews, you will know that I use the same test tracks. Recently, I have grown to appreciate binaural recordings. Two recordings in particular have become my favorites: “Sound Of Silence (3D Binaural Audio)- Simon and Garfunkel Cover-Jarvis Brothers (Ear to Ear), and Bohemian Rhapsody-3D Audio (Total Immersion) by Queen. I enjoyed the ability to visualize the music in space. To further test the staging, I utilized Radiohead “The National Anthem,” Bob Marley and the Wailers “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” “Hurt” and “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash, “Carribean Blue” by Enya, the “Dragonborn” Skyrim Theme by Jason Soule, and Yosi Horikawa Wandering/Bubbles. To test the bass, I utilized the sultry bass line from “Train Song” by Holly Cole, the cacophony of urban sounds from the Dark Knight Rises “Why so serious, Jokers Theme,” the Synth-pop “Bright Lights Bigger City” by Cee-Lo Green, the country version of “Ring of Fire” from Home Free, and the opening sequence to Star Wars Episode 2. In particular, the ending low F# growl from Tim Faust was felt as much as it was heard. I was pleased with the fullness of the sound and with the bass, but at times, the bass was a little too heavy. Despite this, the bass proved to be much better than some of the highs. This pair of earbuds cannot compete with audiophile level earbuds but again, they did not try to do so. At half the price of AirPods 2.0 and
To test higher frequency sounds, I utilized the Far and Away Soundtrack, Queen “Somebody to Love,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and selections from Billy Joel “Piano Man,” and “The Longest Time.” Despite the balance of the earbuds, they will never give you the fullness of an over-ear wired system. For a pair of budget earbuds, the Wicked Arq did a reasonable job but our desire for minimalism limits the sizes of the drivers and the ability to provide full, smooth, luxurious sound. The earbuds proved to be comfortable and lasted just under three hours at 6 ticks on my iPhone XS Max. I listened to music using Amazon Prime Unlimited, I listened to Eragon with Audible and I watched the Bohemian Rhapsody Movie on Movies Anywhere. I also watched a few YouTube videos to evaluate the video/audio sync. Unfortunately, I have tested quite a few Bluetooth headphones, which were not suitable for YouTube viewing. With less than optimal codecs, the sound/visual material did not jive. I was pleased to find paired audio/visual information when watching YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Movies Anywhere.
I felt that the 3-hour limit was reasonable, especially since they could be recharged a dozen times. The shape of the charging case fit nicely into the pocket of my cargo shorts and even into the pocket of my work slacks. The earbuds remained in my ears during jogging, jumping jacks, pull-ups, and during my train commute. The buttons were a little stiff and difficult to press but did not prove to be a deal breaker. A double press of either of the earbuds advanced the track, whereas a single press, allowed music to play/pause/answer a call. Pressing the button caused the device to press further into the ear canal and led to an odd popping/pressure/suction feel.
The biggest complaint of the earbuds was the power on/power off feature. I did not like that the earbuds did not automatically disconnect from Bluetooth, when placed back into the charging case. You will need to turn off the charging case, else you may come back to depleted earbuds. Or you may try to answer a call, only to discover that the earbuds remain attached to your phone. If you are looking for a sub $80 pair of wireless earbuds, the Wicked Arq may be an ideal option for you.