Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen

Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen – earphones that kill 99.9% of bacteria and sound good too (review)

8.5

The Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen comes in five fresh colours and uses a new Biomaster antimicrobial technology to kill 99.9% of microbes that can cause discolouration, staining, and odours.

Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen comes from a Swedish company, so any claims must meet the European Union’s harsh truth in advertising laws. The protection is embedded in the bud material and lasts a lifetime (whatever a buds lifetime is).

Overview

AirPod style with stalks
Colours: Pink Gold, Mint, White, Black, Silver
Six sets of silicone ear tips to ensure the proper fit
Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC and AAC codec (no aptX for Qualcomm) – stores eight device connections
Super light at 4.9g each
Passive noise cancellation (not active)
20Hz-20kHz and 107dB SPL (about 80dB speaker equivalent)
Two mics per bud for background noise reduction
Up to 6 hours play with a 45mA battery
USB-C charge case with 600mAh battery for 24 hours of recharge. Charge time 1.8 hours
1-year warranty and 30-day return policy
Website here

 The Air 1 Zen (US$79.99) is part of the Air 1 range, including an ANC version (Air 1 ANC US$119.99) and a Qualcomm True Wireless aptX version (Air 1 Plus US$99.99).

But here is the problem. They are currently only available from Happy Plugs in Stockholm, and the landed cost is approximately A$150. It is still reasonable value with the bacteria-killing feature. But there is considerable competition from Skull Candy Dime (review here 8.10 and $69.95) and the plethora of true wireless earphones from JBL ($70-150), Jabra’s excellent 65t and Active ($119-149), Bluetant ($139), SkullCandy and more.

But wait – if you enter the code GadgetGuy20 at checkout you will get a 20% discount so hopefully, after you read this review, you will at least strongly consider them.

First impression

I don’t like AirPod dorky storks – but obviously, some do, so we won’t hold that against them.

They are well packaged, especially for retail, with a see-through cover and recyclable packaging. The exciting feature is the Biomaster antimicrobial tech baked into the stork and shell. It is proven to kill many microbes, but it is not a substitute for physical cleaning. And the choice of five colours is great.

Fit and comfort – all-day use

But more interesting is the six pairs of different sized ear tips – except they are not size indicated. It looks like large, medium, and small and less ‘depth’ (flatter) sets. Because it relies on noise isolation (not ANC), all you need is a close fit that prevents them from falling out of your ears.

Extended use was good – they are light and comfortable. We can’t recommend them for exercise use as they are not at least IPX4 rated – but perfect for walkers.

BT connection

On a Windows PC, it will find them as stereo (SBC codec) and AG Audio (mono with microphone channel). Ensure that you use SBC mode as otherwise the sound is mono and clipped to about 6kHz max. PS – Windows has a few quasi EQ sound settings that can enhance the sound – play with them.

On Android, it will auto-switch between SBC and hands-free. On iOS, it uses the AAC codec.

Sound isolation

They don’t claim any, but the right size tip will cut out ambient background noise while letting voice and traffic noise awareness through.

Hands-free – reasonable

Two mics per stork mean it can reduce external noise like the wind during a call. Calls were clear and did not sound like I was in a tunnel. There is no side-voice (lets you hear your voice).

Let’s just say that you would have to spend $100 more to get any substantially better result.

Battery – 6 hours is achievable

All these have to do is power a DAC and transducers, so a small battery gives up to 6 hours of use at 50% volume. We found the ideal volume was about 65%. The USB-C charge case has a further 3×6 = 24 hours charge.

We tested them for a week – 1 hour walks each day and extended single use until the battery ran out. We got nearly 5 x 1-hour walking and 5 hours continuous use. Bud charge in the case was just over an hour. Not far off their claim.

How do they sound? Pretty good!

As with most BT earphones, it depends on the quality of the audio content. They appear to have a reasonably flat response (good) that does not add nor subtract from the original music. But without an EQ, that flat response can at times sound a little dull.

We tested with a white noise generator, and bass starts from about 50Hz, and we get a reasonably strong signal to 10kHz, where it starts to drop off.

Our reference track Blues Brothers Peter Gunn Theme was quite ‘satisfying’ – it has reasonable bass with the upper treble just missing the high trumpet notes.

The Beach Boys Fun Fun Fun (uses lots of treble) was a little hollow but still not bad.

We also use Manhattan Transfer Twilight Zone as it has a fantastic mix of synth music and vocals – very satisfying.

The sound stage was as wide as you can expect – it is inside your ears and has excellent left/right separation. If you want to learn more about a sound signature, read our guide here.

GadgetGuy’s take

The Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen is an example of the global economy at work. Designed in Stockholm, made in China and shipped worldwide – no boundaries. That online direct sales model means reasonable prices – it is just the freight and taxes that can get you. I would be far more effusive if Happy Plugs had an Amazon Store (for reasons of warranty etc.), but that adds 40% to the price!!!

Would I buy them? No, because I already use the very much more expensive BT ANC Sennheiser Momentum 2, Sony WF-1000XM4 and more and don’t mind spending more.

But if you are Joe and Jane Average and want a pair of reasonably priced, good-sounding earphones for general listening, these fit the bill nicely.

Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen
Happy Plugs Air 1 Zen is perfect for Joe and Jane Average that want reasonably priced and great sounding buds.
Features
7.9
Value for money
8
Performance
8.5
Ease of use
8.9
Design
9
Positives
Biomaster antimicrobial technology to kill 99.9% of microbes
Good sound signature and sound stage
Negatives
Online ordering from Stockholm - no store front
8.5