Music has always been a huge part of my life. I can’t remember a time when our house was silent growing up, whether we were listening to Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station that inspired the film The Boat That Rocked, or my dad’s records. As a young kid, I was first drawn to the album art (something lost on today’s music streaming platforms)—the more theatrical, the better. Around seven years old, I remember finally mastering the record player. I dropped the needle on Black Sabbath’s debut album Black Sabbath, a slight crackle preceding the opening ambient thunderstorm and huge distorted drop into the title track. Mind-blowing. In order to relive that moment, I decided to listen to that song as I wrote this, and even today, my hair stands on end. Well, that was it; I was hooked. I spent my weekends trawling through my dad’s records: Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Stevie Ray, Hendrix, Floyd, Skynyrd, Cream, Halen, and so forth. It wasn’t long until I bought a guitar, grew out my hair, and spent school lunch breaks hidden away in the music block. At this point, you’re probably thinking, what has any of this got to do with the Tribit StormBox Micro and FlyBuds NC? Well, amigo, I had to make it clear that when it comes to music and thus sound quality, I don’t mess around.
The StormBox Micro ($50) and FlyBuds NC ($50) are mid-range audio accessories, and subsequently, competitors to the likes of Anker (one of my favourite companies for affordable, yet quality, tech). Thus, it would be unfair to draw direct comparisons to the likes of Bose or Bang & Olufsen, whose comparable products are over triple the price. That said, sometimes cheaper alternatives surprise you, and this is one such occasion.
The StormBox Micro is a portable Bluetooth speaker designed with the outdoors in mind. Incorporating an IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating, it offers up to eight hours of playback (recharged via USB-C), integrates a tear-resistant strap, Bluetooth 5.0 technology, and an impressive 100 feet of range. One particularly notable feature is the ability to pair two of these speakers when you desire stereo sound or want to play music in multiple locations. After two weeks on test, I have to say I’m impressed. The StormBox Micro features built-in “XBass,” which provides surprising bass tones for such a small device. What Hi-Fi? agrees, awarding the Stormbox a five-star rating, and states, “We’re pleasantly surprised by the bass clout the Tribit is able to deliver.” Personally, I feel the mid-tones are where this speaker really excels, providing a balanced, crisp sound across musical genres. I’ve found that some smaller speakers push the bass EQ a little too far in pursuit of that “big sound,” but this is generally at the detriment of overall clarity.
I found the StormBox EQ to be well balanced and, despite pushing it to the max volume, experienced minimal distortion (something equivalent Anker speakers have suffered with in the past). The speaker has a reassuring weight and overall build quality that I generally associate with products twice the price. The tear-resistant strap is well designed, ultra-stretchy, and super secure when hooked in. Tribit states the StormBox is “ultra-rugged and designed to sustain even severe accidents,” and whilst only time will tell, the outer casing does feel shock-resistant and tough. Another stand-out feature is the Bluetooth 5.0 technology, which connects to my phone/laptop much faster than my Bose Soundlink III. The StormBox is a fantastic lightweight speaker, showcasing thoughtful features and packing a disproportionately big sound. This is reflected by their CNET review, which awarded the StormBox “Editors Choice,” calling it a “pocket-size Bluetooth speaker with a surprisingly big sound.”
The second product I had on test was the FlyBuds NC. These Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds feature 4MIC active noise cancellation, up to 35-hour playback (10 hours from a single charge and 25 additional hours when paired with the pocketable charging case), one-step pairing, built-in microphones, smart touch control, and are sweat/water-resistant. The StormBox is an excellent speaker, but the FlyBuds really are outstanding. I live for the outdoors and listen to music/podcasts constantly when I’m biking, running, hiking, working out, and kayaking. If I’m not outside, I’m inside working on my laptop—pre-pandemic, often in cafes or other public spaces.
Consequently, I wear earbuds constantly, and over the years, I’ve gone through countless pairs. I’ve worn the FlyBuds daily over the past fortnight, and they’re the best sound quality for the price I’ve experienced. Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to tell these apart from Apple’s Airpods ($199), despite being a quarter of the price. The bass tones are far superior to that of my comparable Anker Soundcore Life P2s yet remain well balanced with the mid and high tones.
I gave the FlyBuds the ultimate shakedown with a complete run-through of the latest Tool album Fear Inoculum, and the FlyBuds did a superb job translating the band’s world-class production. The touch controls are also excellent, intuitive, responsive, and made operation on the move relatively seamless. The Bluetooth 5.0, like the StormBox, performed much better than most of the Bluetooth tech I own and connected almost instantaneously (there were also no random issues with connection drop-out, which I’ve suffered from with comparable products). The USB-C quick charging is rapid, although the battery life is so impressive, I’ve only charged once over the past two weeks. Just 10 minutes of charge will give you approximately an hour of playback, thanks to the FlyBuds ultra-low 6mA power consumption. The pocketable charging case only takes 1.5 hours to fully charge and provides the earbuds with an additional 25 hours of playback.
There are complaints online about the quality of the supplied ear tips, but I’ve yet to experience any issues with them walking or mountain biking. However, some reviewers have stated that noise cancellation performs even better when the FlyBuds are paired with premium tips. Another nice touch is Transparency Mode, initiated by the touch controls, that activates the four built-in microphones to amplify what’s happening around you without the need to remove the earbuds (this is great for crossing a road or pausing music to speak to someone).
On overlanding trips and outdoor adventures, you don’t always want to bring along your most valuable audio accessories. Nevertheless, if you’re a music lover, you want to avoid cheap products that sound terrible. The Tribit StormBox and Flybuds are two fantastic options for travelling music aficionados who want portable, high-quality sound at an affordable price.
$50 StormBox Micro/FlyBuds NC | tribit.com
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