Hardware Reviews

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 review: the best alternative to AirPods?

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 review
Budding stars: these sub-£100 headphones are very decent indeed
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 £99.95
  • Sound quality
  • Battery life
  • Reliability
  • Value for money

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

A few Bluetooth reliability issues short of greatness, the Cambridge Audio Melomanina 1 buds are still very decent wireless buds

Overall
4.1

Pros

  • Stellar battery life
  • Decent sound quality for both podcasts and music

Cons

  • Bluetooth occasionally drops out
  • Call performance is poor

For dog owners, headphones are almost as essential a piece of equipment for walks as a lead and poo bags. My Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless cans are magnificent, but they’re no good in the rain or the baking sun, so I needed a lightweight, weatherproof alternative. Enter the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 buds, which dropped off Santa’s sleigh.

After a couple of weeks of testing, I’m impressed with them – but they do have one or two notable flaws. Are these the right wireless buds for you? Or a better alternative than Apple’s AirPods? Here’s everything you need to know about the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Bluetooth headphones.

How well do they fit in the ear canal?

First off, I must point out that I have a sizeable pair of lugholes – the kind of ears that have no problem hearing a whispered conversation from 50 yards away. When we’re at the beach, the family use them for shade.

That accepted, I’m very happy with the way the Melomania 1 buds sit in my ears. The headphones come with three different sizes of silicon tips and a memory foam set, and I found the memory foam offered by far the best fit, allowing you to squeeze them snugly in the ear canal.

The buds are fairly sizeable, much bigger than AirPods, but super light. They weigh only 4.6g each and – while it would be a stretch to say you don’t feel them in your ears – they don’t feel the least bit obstrusive.

They are definitely noticeable in your earholes, even with my cavernous lugholes. I don’t think they look silly, but you can judge for yourself from the selfie below.

Maybe time to stock up on the hair dye…

I do find the backs of my ears are a little sore after a period of extended wear, where the back of the buds press against the flesh, but that quickly wears off.

One final note about the fit: it’s difficult to put the buds into your ear without pressing the button on the back of each ear bud, which can result in the buds disconnecting. After a couple of weeks, I’ve largely mastered the technqiue, but I’d mark this down as a minor irritation.

How is the sound quality?

For a pair of in-ear, sub-£100 earbuds, I think the sound quality from the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 buds is superb.

The caveat here is getting the right choice of tip. On the first morning, I used a pair of the rubber tips and the buds sounds thin and insubstantial, because the headphones weren’t sitting properly in my ear canal.

With the memory foam tips in place, the sound instantly sounded better, with a surprisingly rich bass and plenty of detail. Whether it’s podcasts, classical or thumping dance music, the Melomania 1s handle the audio with delicate care.

A slightly more attractive model (Picture credit: Cambridge Audio)

The memory foam buds also help with the active noise cancelling, sealing the ear canal and making for a more secluded experience. They’re not in the same league as the Sony WH-1000XM3 cans when it comes to drowning out traffic noise, but then you wouldn’t expect them to be: they’re a third of the price and a completely different design. However, they’re much better at noise cancelling than a pair of AirPods I borrowed for comparison – streets ahead, in fact. Granted, the AirPod Pros with their active noise cancellation would have been a fairer comparison here, but then they’re 2.5x the price of the Melomania 1.

How strong is the Bluetooth connection?

Here we arrive at my major gripe with the Melomania 1 – the too frequent audio dips and wibbles.

Cambridge Audio’s marketing waffle says the buds are equipped with Bluetooth 5, which “ensures a superior connection with no drops in signal, wireless connectivity at up to 30 metres, and improved battery life”. I’m sorry to say that hasn’t been my experience.

First, it’s critical that you follow Cambridge’s advice and pair the correct earbud with your phone. Either the left or right earbud can be paired, and you should pair the one that’s on the same side as the pocket you carry your phone in. I didn’t do this for the first couple of days and the connection was rotten, with frequent drop-outs.

However, even with the right earbud paired with the Samsung Galaxy S9 in my right jeans pocket, it still suffers from intermittent Bluetooth wibbles – not enough to completely spoil the listening experience, but more than there should be. By comparison, my Sony WH-1000XM3s barely ever suffer a Bluetooth dropout.

This seems to be particularly the case in busy places with lots of wireless traffic, such as the shopping centre I visited the other day, where the connection would momentarily dip every couple of minutes or so. It’s such a shame, as it’s the one big black mark that prevents me giving the Melomania 1 buds our ultimate endorsement – a Buy Now award.

How good are the controls?

As mentioned preivously, the Melomania 1 headphones have a button on the back of each bud. You hold down the left bud for two seconds or longer to lower the volume and do likewise on the right to turn them up; play/pause is toggled with a quick tap on either, and you can hop to previous/next traps with a double tap on the corresponding bud.

You can also activate your phone’s voice assistant by pausing the music and then double pressing the left or right bud, which works pretty well.

Finally on the controls, you can answer a call with a quick press or reject a call with a long press – but now we’ve arrived at another weak spot.

How well do the Melomania 1 buds handle calls?

Not great, it has to be said. On both the calls I’ve received whilst out walking with the buds in, the callers have complained about the call quality – on the second call, I had to disconnect the buds and speak using the phone handset, which is obviously less than ideal.

Even in perfect conditions, at home with solid phone reception, the caller remarked that the call sounded “very echoey” and “worse than normal”. If you’re thinking of using these as a Bluetooth headset in a car, for example, it would probably be best to look elsewhere.

How long do the batteries last between charges?

Let’s end on a bright note, because battery life is magnificent.

The battery indicator on the charging pod (Picture credit: Cambridge Audio)

Like the AirPods, the Melomania 1 buds come with a dinky plastic charging case that top up the buds every time you put the headphones back in them.

Away from the case, Cambridge Audio says the buds will last nine hours between charges, and I wouldn’t quibble with that. Four hours of use on a train journey the other day depleted the battery by around 50% (the Bluetooth settings on your phone give a battery life percentage for the Melomanias).

The charger case provides another four full charges, giving you another 36 hours to play with before you need to chug them from the mains.

I put the buds back in the charging case after every use. They’ve been used for – on average – 1.5 hours daily since Christmas Day (two weeks ago at the time of writing) and the case is still reporting two-fifths of battery life left. It has tiny, white LEDs on the front to give you a battery life readout every time the case is flipped open.

The AirPods, by comparison, promise only 24 hours of battery life and only five hours on a single charge, so I would expect the Melomania 1 to comfortably outperform Apple buds on battery life.

The only slight irritiation when it comes to battery and charging is that the Melomanias use the old mini-USB socket rather than the increasingly common USB-C. The charging cable is provided, so it’s not a killer by any means, but the choice remains baffling.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 review: verdict

After a fortnight with the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 buds, am I regretting sticking them at the top of my Christmas wishlist? Absolutely not.

They’re not perfect, the occasional Bluetooth drop-outs and iffy call quality being my chief concerns. But sound quality is decent, battery life is stellar and weatherproofing means I can use them in the rain without fear they’re going to be dead by the time I get home.

When you consider their price – recently reduced to £99.95 on Amazon – I don’t think you could expect an awful lot more from buds that cost less than three figures.

They are a gnat’s whisker away from winning a Buy Now award, but we have high standards around here, as well as big ears.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 £99.95
  • Sound quality
  • Battery life
  • Reliability
  • Value for money

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

A few Bluetooth reliability issues short of greatness, the Cambridge Audio Melomanina 1 buds are still very decent wireless buds

Overall
4.1

Pros

  • Stellar battery life
  • Decent sound quality for both podcasts and music

Cons

  • Bluetooth occasionally drops out
  • Call performance is poor

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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