Those who remember Google Glass or Snap’s Spectacles could be forgiven for scoffing at a new product from audio company Anker Soundcore: audio sunglasses.
Also known as Frames (like the Bose Frames before them), these are sunglasses with integrated speakers meant to be used as an alternative to wearing earbuds or headphones. While several companies have started introducing audio sunglasses—including Bose and Ray-Ban—I was excited to try a pair of Soundcore’s audio sunglasses for myself.
When I first heard about Soundcore’s Frames, I wasn’t sure what to think. Sure, they sound cool, but that doesn’t mean they sound cool. (Pun intended.) Could audio sunglasses actually deliver quality sound? What’s the point of combining the two? Why would I spend money on something that’s just a worse version of two things I already own?
Touted as an “open-ear sound experience,” the Soundcore Frames offer both surround sound and interchangeable frames — meaning you can pop off the front and change the style to suit your mood — which was an interesting feature that didn’t necessarily make me more excited to give them a try. While they do offer clear glasses as an option they don’t come with a prescription — although users can have prescription lenses installed themselves — so I decided to stick with their main offering of sunglasses.
Fortunately, my skepticism was very, very wrong.
How do Soundcore Frames work?
Soundcore Frames work exactly how you might think audio sunglasses would work. Their OpenSurround System uses four tiny speakers and a built-in audio processor to deliver immersive surround sound through the “audio temples” (aka the sides of the glasses) so you can listen to music or even take phone calls without covering your ears.
One of the coolest parts of the Soundcore Frames is how simple they are to use. You just slip them on your face, wait a few seconds, and they turn on automatically. They benefit from both voice control and a decent selection of intuitive touch commands: double tap the side of the audio temple to play/pause, slide your fingertip forward to turn up the volume, or slide your fingertip backward to turn the volume down. You can even customize the controls to different sides of the temples — I used one side to control playback and volume while the other was set to activate the voice assistant with a double tap and to skip tracks with a forward or backward slide…all without needing to touch my phone or connect anything to WiFi.
The Frames also boast an impressive list of additional features: They’re water-resistant, they offer two built-in microphones with ambient noise cancellation and an automatic privacy feature to prevent eavesdropping when you’re on a call by adjusting the volume to reduce sound leakage, and you can even choose from seven different levels of surround sound to completely tailor your listening experience.
Credit: RJ Andersen / Mashable
How’s the audio quality?
My first impression of the Soundcore Frames was shock: These sunglasses actually sound good. Is the audio quality on par with my Bose QuietComfort 45s? No, but I didn’t expect it to be. Part of me expected the audio to be tinny and weak, but it was rich and surprisingly decent. Within my apartment, I could definitely hear where the audio didn’t compare to traditional headphones, but walking outside in the city was an entirely different experience.
I’ve always felt apprehensive wearing headphones while walking in the city, even during the day. Covering my ears feels like a massive risk as a woman, and these sunglasses completely eliminated that sensation. Obviously, it felt a little weird at first to be able to hear music and the world around me in such startling clarity, but I quickly fell in love with the sensation.
Phone calls also sounded pretty good too. I was able to hear the other person loud and clear each time, and my mom even added that she couldn’t tell I wasn’t actually on my phone. Outside it was a bit more of a struggle to be heard — especially if a loud truck rumbled past —but I’ve had that issue with my Bose QCs as well.
Can other people hear what you’re listening to?
Yes, but only when the volume is cranked. My partner and I tested this feature immediately because it was one of our primary questions. However, even when I cranked up my favorite song to a level that was decently loud for me, he could only barely hear it, and only when we were standing about three feet apart.
I tested this again by sending a Snapchat video of the sunglasses to my friends, and even with the camera recording right in front of my face you couldn’t hear much of anything until I turned the volume all the way up.
What about the battery life?
I’ve had my Soundcore Frames for a few weeks, and I’ve only had to charge them once. Granted, I do tend to only wear them outside on sunny days when I’m running errands — maybe for 10-15 minutes max — so I haven’t really had the chance to run the battery dry.
Soundcore’s website says the Frames have a 5.5-hour playtime. That seems pretty good for sunglasses, and it’ll get you through a day out at the beach listening to music. They also charge surprisingly fast — 10 minutes of charging equates to about 90 minutes of listening time.
Credit: RJ Andersen / Mashable
Soundcore Frames pros
Obviously, there’s a lot that I liked about the Soundcore Frames. It’s a pretty flawless experience, and I really appreciated several of the more understated features: powering on automatically when you wear the glasses, the subtle double tap to play/pause, and the effortless integration with Siri made playing my favorite music on Spotify a breeze.
I also loved how the glasses charged. Simply fold them up, snap the magnetic charging cable to the audio temples, and voila. It’s a really thoughtful and convenient design that makes sense: who doesn’t fold up their sunglasses when they aren’t in use?
The audio quality was also impressive, and I really enjoyed being able to listen to music and still hear the world around me. I wear glasses most of the time, so I only wore the Soundcore Frames on shorter walks where I could get away with slightly blurry vision but I immediately ordered more contact lenses so I could enjoy them on longer walks and hikes. Glasses-wears could have prescription lenses manufactured by a third party and installed in the frames.
Plus, the selection of frames surprised me. Most audio sunglasses on the market today only offer a few different styles, but the Soundcore Frames selection was great. You could even order prescription glasses or blue-light glasses instead of sunglasses, and the process of switching the frames was super simple. No tools are required — you just tug them off at the hinges and pop on whatever frame you like.
The only downside to the Soundcore Frames
After using the Frames for over a month, I was obviously in love with them. What I didn’t love is the companion app. It’s not a terrible app — many companies (Bose included) encourage users to download companion apps — but Soundcore’s app feels like a constant funnel of firmware updates.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. It’s a sign that they’re committed to improving the product, but I did have a firmware update completely disable the Frames’ Bluetooth functionality. Thankfully, Soundcore’s support team was incredibly responsive, and they offered me a replacement pair immediately — as well as the option to wait to receive the newly-released Soundcore Frames charging case. I opted to wait a few weeks for the case, and I was pleased with both the quality of the charging case and the ease of use. Within seconds, my Frames were reset and the Bluetooth issue was fixed, and I was able to download the new firmware with no issues.
Are they worth it?
I’ve been showing off my Soundcore Frames to pretty much anyone who will listen, and everyone who tries them has said the same thing: These things are surprisingly cool. The audio quality is decent, the touch functionality is seamless, and the entire experience is both futuristic and functional.
Are they a little expensive? Compared to standard sunglasses, yes. Compared to designer sunglasses? Not really. The Marina frame that I chose was only $109, and — considering you can get additional interchangeable frames for only $29 — you can mix it up and add several different styles to your collection without spending a lot of extra money.
All in all, I was worried that the Soundcore Frames would be a gimmick, but I’ll happily admit that I was wrong. I found myself reaching for them when I was going for a walk, taking my dogs out, or simply running errands, and while they might not replace my favorite headphones, they’re definitely gunning for a spot as my favorite sunglasses.