Review of the Between 3ANC Earbuds: A solid earphone but a bit too touchy for its own good.
I wear earbuds all the time: the gym, walking the canyons with my dog, runs (inside and out), and while in flight. I’ve had the same pair for the past two years and wanted to see what other options might be out there. Enter the 3ANC: a space-age, touch-based IEM that seemed like it might eliminate the need to fumble for my phone any time I wanted to engage with my music or take a call. But after two weeks with it, I’m tired of touching my ears.
Accessories and Options
Between 3ANC comes in two color variants: Onyx and Bone (I had one in bone). It’s a nice, matte white color that distinguishes it from Apple’s glossy white. and despite all the touching and inner ear sitting, it never stained or looked dirty.
Each pair comes with three different sizes of “fit wings.” Size 1 is pre-installed, and while I found the fit nice, it didn’t have that snug, airtight seal it needed, so I opted for Size 2. Something a bit different here from other earbuds is that you have to replace two pieces rather than one. One fit-wing goes over the backing of the unit and the other goes over the bud. Replacing the fit-wing on the unit itself was quick and painless. Replacing the piece over the ear bud took multiple tries, as the there’s an inner hole which is smaller than the exposed bud. It takes a bit of patience and wasn’t as easy as most other earbuds.
The Between 3ANC have a nice weight to them; not one that drags down your ear, but a nice, sturdy feel when you pick them up. What makes these earbuds unique is their rectangular, ever so slightly curved surface. The top 40% of the ear bud is a touch control surface, with the bottom 60% a sleek, chrome looking material that made me do a few double takes when I saw myself in the mirror; I looked like I was getting ready for a Star Trek Convention.
And while I appreciated the cool factor and that despite all the touching and inner ear sitting, it never stained or looked dirty, it wasn’t always the most practical design for something sitting inside my less than rectangular ear.
Materials and Construction
From the case to earphones themselves, everything feels sturdy, which lends it a more expensive aesthetic. The case lid has a very satisfying magnetic snap when closing but provides no fight when opening. I dropped the case a couple times and on both hard and soft surfaces, the lid remained closed with both earbuds intact.
The Between 3ANC employs a series of two balanced armature drivers and a generous 10mm dynamic driver to conduct its business. The combination of these 3 transducers (hence the “3” in the name) are an unusually heavy duty delivery system for a category littered with either single dynamic drivers or lesser BA options. Although I can’t say with any certainty, it isn’t hard to believe that this higher end setup could easily have contributed to the outstanding sound quality that the IEM was able to produce.
Fit & Finish
These babies don’t look like anything I’ve seen before. I was consciously checking out ear buds on everyone around me at my gym, on a round trip flight, and walking around the city and most products looked the same. Nothing that had the sleek look of the 3ANC.
There is a nice distinction between the two materials which make up the exterior: the touch control surface, and the metallic, bottom section which goes into the charging unit. The top had a slight texture to it, almost a bit of a grip, which is great since that’s where your finger is going to spend most of its time. The metallic lower section was not slippery at all, but it was obvious when my finger moved too far down and I needed to readjust to get back to the touch control surface.
Once I moved on to the Size 2 fit-wings, it seemed they were custom molded for my ears. During runs, weightlifting, and adjustments, they never wiggled out of place, and no sweat seemed to get inside the device itself, an issue I’ve had with other IEMs in this category.
I do wish the touch surface was bigger, however. When I reached for them to pause, my hand almost always reached the lower 2/3rds of the device which didn’t have the touch surface. I found myself constantly reaching a bit higher past my ear canal in order to use them.
Ergonomics & Comfort
While the 3ANC look great, because of their shape, there were a few instances where they brushed up against my ear in a sharper way. Nothing painful, but sometimes when I had to touch the earbuds for volume or track changing, I was reminded this was not a curved unit. A big smile or stretching my face/mouth would cause the corners of the earbud to poke the inside of my ear. Same goes for lying with my back on a gym mat and turning my head to the side; the unit would get crunched inside my ears and press into my ear in an unpleasant way. This was not common, but it did happen at least once during every use.
As someone who is active, not having to take out my phone while engaging in an activity is what I’m looking for: changing the volume to drown out the plane’s engines, pausing my music to talk to my gym crush, or quickly skipping a song I’ve heard too many times while running around a corner. For this reason I was most excited to test out these earbuds, but the touch surface led to the biggest challenge.
The best feature here is the ability to increase or decrease the volume while holding your finger on the surface. This worked flawlessly every time. The increase or decrease happens at the right pace and stops instantly when your finger lifts off the surface. I used this frequently and it did exactly what I expected.
Where the touch surface fell short was when I wanted to play/ pause, or skip a track. According to the instruction manual, you do a “short press, either side is ok” in order to play or pause music. This is not an official count, but it seemed to only work one out of every 15 attempts. In fact, the few times I was able to successfully pause the music was when I was trying to skip a track. For that function, the manual says to use a “double tap.” This seemed to work half the time. Occasionally it would play or pause the music, and the other part of the time, it would increase the volume. This happened so often in my attempts to skip a track, that I reached max volume. The first time I attempted to use the touch surface, it was while at the gym. I assumed I had misread the manual, or my environment wasn’t right. I tried all the functions again while sitting at a desk at home and consciously attempting to get them to work properly and the results were the same. So after about 3 days of use I resorted to pulling out my phone every time I wanted to skip a track or pause my music.
I really loved the way the 3ANC sounded in all genres of music tested. The kinds of tracks tested were from Spotify or digital albums I owned mastered for iTunes. The genres ranged from pop to rock, to film scores, to an episode of Fresh Air. In the noisy gym or on a plane or walking on the streets, the earbuds delivered a consistently detailed and inviting sound. High tones were articulated without being overbearing, mids were full, and lows were punchy and controlled (for an earphone).
The most impressive thing about the earbuds was the Active Noise Cancelling. My very first use was at a gym which is notorious for blasting EDM music, real pots and pans type stuff. But even when I had the most acoustic Taylor Swift track playing, I couldn’t hear the outside world. I actively switched the ANC feature on and off and when turned on, it sounded and felt like I was being hermetically sealed inside my own headspace.
The audio on phone calls was also exceptional. I took a call in the very loud gym and could hear the person as if they were standing about six inches from my ear. For the 60-second conversation, the other person didn’t mention my noisy setting.
Wide range of volume
Deep and detailed sound
Design has sharp edges
Touch surface is widely inconsistent
The 3ANC from Between is a very eye-catching earbud that feels good and sounds even better. From sedentary to physical activities, the quality was consistent, and I really did stop and check myself out more than once when passing a reflective surface. Unfortunately, the touch feature only works great for volume, but using your phone, or the app, is the better way to control the functions. This is the kind of thing I want to avoid while at the gym or when I’m out for a run. So if you’re looking for an earbud with seamless controls in an active setting, the 3ANC isn’t quite there yet.
The instruction manual mentions the battery life is 8 hours when ANC is activated, but I’ve gone past that threshold and the ear buds are still functioning. And speaking of the ANC, I’d like to address the one physical button which turns the ANC on and off, amongst other things. Like the touch surface, I found the button’s function to be inconsistent at best. You can use either the right or left earbud for all of the following features: ANC/ Transparency Mode- Short tap, Voice Assistant- Double tap, Battery Status- Triple tap.
Changing between ANC and transparency was easy and successful for every attempt. When I tried to get the battery status is where I ran into trouble. Each time you tap the button, there are different chimes. It’s not clear which chime means what. Sure, you could wait for the wall of sound to be shut out indicating that the ANC had been activated, but I was furiously tapping to get a battery indication, and out of about 20 attempts, I was able to get the battery status only once (a soothing male voices comes on and says “high”, “medium” or “low.”). it’s possible one of the chimes meant that I had done a double tap for the Voice Assistant, but there was no vocalization which told me that. I think this issue comes from the design: the button on top is so small and almost flush with the unit, it’s difficult to press. I don’t think my fingers are outside the average range. Once I had set the ANC, I didn’t want to use any other of the button’s functions anyway, but being able to check the battery as easily would’ve been nice. The instruction manual mentions the battery life is 8 hours when ANC is activated, but I’ve gone past that threshold and the ear buds are still functioning, so I’m not sure if theirs a voice which indicates when you’re an hour or 30 minutes away from death as I’ve experienced with other earbuds.