You may have been hearing a lot of talk of spatial audio lately. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses formats like Dolby Atmos Music, and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio (360RA), and more and more streaming music services are starting to support spatial audio, including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, and Deezer. But here’s the curious thing about spatial audio: Even though it can sound a lot more immersive than stereo, your existing stereo headphones are more than capable of letting you hear spatial audio.Contents
That’s because, when delivered over a set of headphones or earbuds, spatial audio is the product of 3D audio effects — the art and science of tricking your brain into hearing something in three dimensions using only two small speakers. And here’s another curious thing: If you have the right software, almost any audio can be given the spatial audio treatment even if it isn’t one of the formats mentioned above.
That’s the big selling feature of Swedish audio brand, Sudio’s new $129 E2 wireless earbuds. Sudio has integrated spatial audio software from another Swedish company — Dirac — whose Virtuo digital signal processing can, in theory, “upscale” any audio source into a spatial audio experience. Does it work? And if it does, is it the only reason to buy the Sudio E2? Or can they compete in areas like noise cancellation and battery life too? Let’s check them out.
The Sudio E2 look just like slightly beefier AirPods Pro. They feature the same short stem that sits outside the ear, the same ergonomically shaped body, and the same silicone ear tips that are the key to getting a good seal. Unlike the AirPods Pro, which only ship with three sizes of ear tips, Sudio includes a total of five, which will make getting that seal easier — especially for folks who have hard-to-fit ears. Another difference is that while Apple’s earbuds only come in white, you can buy the E2 in your choice of black, sand, jade, or grey.
I found the Sudio E2 very comfortable and enjoyed wearing them for several hours at a time.
The charging case is also a bit larger than Apple’s, falling somewhere between the AirPods Pro and the one that Jabra uses for its Elite 75t. You can charge the case wirelessly with any Qi-compatible charging mat, or use the included USB-A to USB-C charging cable. A small LED indicator light on the front of the case lets you know the charging/battery status for the case, while a second set of LEDs on the earbuds tell you how their capacity is doing.
The case is easy to open and close, with a magnet that’s strong enough to keep it from opening accidentally. The E2 are also easy to remove and replace, and never failed to connect correctly with their charging contacts.
Each earbud has a polished plastic touch sensor, and they’re protected from water and sweat thanks to an IPX4-rating.
I found the Sudio E2 very comfortable and enjoyed wearing them for several hours at a time without noticing any pressure points. Given the number of ear tips Sudio provides, I suspect you’ll find them pretty comfy too, so long as you’re OK with ear canal-sealing earbuds in general.
Even if you like the feel of the preinstalled medium tips, I recommend you try the other sizes too. The mediums felt just fine to me, but when I used the large tips, they improved how securely the E2 fit, and they also brought out a bit more low-end bass.
The touch controls can be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of performance. On the one hand, they’re easy to find and use. Taps were usually recognized accurately and there’s a tiny chirp sound to confirm when you tapped correctly. But on the other hand, there was sometimes a surprising amount of lag between tapping and getting that feedback chirp plus the desired action. When resuming playback of a song after pausing, it can take a full second or more for playback to begin again. Pausing, curiously, is almost instantaneous.
Purists will find the tuning too boosted, but bass fanatics will love the deep, earthy, and punchy low-end.
You get all of the usual options: Play/pause, call answer/end/reject, track skip forward/back, volume up/down, and voice assistant access, plus toggles for ANC and Dirac Virtuo modes (more on these later). The one command that’s missing is microphone mute for when you’re on calls, and the one control feature that’s missing is auto-pause when you remove an earbud.
Sudio doesn’t provide a companion app for the E2, so you can’t customize these controls or use advanced features like EQ adjustment, or find my earbuds. Pairing the E2 to your phone or computer is easy enough, but there are no speedy options like Google Fast Pair or Microsoft Swift Pair. A bigger drawback is the lack of Bluetooth multipoint for connecting the E2 to two devices simultaneously. On the bright side, you can use each earbud independently for phone calls or music — a good way to stretch out battery life if you need it.
Bluetooth range is on the short side — indoors, I was only able to get about 25 feet away from my iPhone 11 before I lost the connection. Outside was better, at about 40 feet. But while I was within range, the connection itself was very reliable. It rarely dropped and even then, only for a split second.
Even when playing in standard stereo mode (without Dirac Virtuo engaged), the E2 sound great.
Purists will find the tuning too boosted for their liking, but bass fanatics will love the deep, earthy, and punchy low-end. It’s impressively powerful, and thankfully, it manages to avoid stomping all over the midranges, so you still get plenty of clarity and detail where it matters. The highs are also bright and clear, though I did note a touch of sibilance — very minor and not likely to be a problem for most listening.
A surprising drawback, especially at this price, is the absence of any Bluetooth codec support beyond the standard SBC.
There’s no way to adjust the E2’s EQ, but it’s remarkably adept at a variety of genres. From Billie Eilish to Dave Brubeck, there’s a richness to the sound that is really enjoyable.
One slight drawback is the way the E2 handle volume. At 50% or below, quality takes a real hit and you start to lose a lot of the detail and depth. They perform their best at around 75%.
Another surprising drawback, especially at this price, is the absence of any Bluetooth codec support beyond the standard (and required) SBC codec. No AAC, no aptX variants, and no LDAC. Given how good they sound on just SBC, it’s not a deal-breaker, but I’m left idly wondering how much better they might sound if they did include higher-quality codecs.
Dirac is a Swedish audio company that specializes in digital signal processing — in other words, special software and algorithms that can significantly change how audio sounds, without changing the speakers, amplifiers, or any other hardware ingredients.
Virtuo leverages psychoacoustics to create a wider and deeper soundstage.
It’s an approach that doesn’t always yield great results. Klipsch embedded Dirac’s HD Sound technology in its T5 II ANC wireless earbuds and I wasn’t impressed at all — I thought the T5 sounded far better with its standard sound signature.
But Dirac Virtuo is a different beast, and it’s surprisingly good. Unlike HD Sound, which Dirac designed to compensate for the ways that earbud components “color” the sound you hear (thus possibly introducing changes from the original recordings), Virtuo leverages Dirac’s understanding of psychoacoustics to create a wider and deeper soundstage, effectively opening up the sonic space of songs and other audio.
Sudio’s diagram explains the effect perfectly — Virtuo creates a set of virtual stereo speakers and then moves them to a new position that is wider and farther forward than what you hear when Virtuo isn’t turned on.
At first listen, you may not appreciate what’s happening here, but after switching Virtuo on and off (via a long press on the left E2 earbud) it becomes much more apparent. Traditional stereo mixes have the effect of placing the listener on the same plane as the audio — instruments and vocals can be placed on either side of you, or in the center, but they rarely stray from that invisible line that stretches out from your head in either direction.
Virtuo pulls those audio elements forward (or pushes you back, I suppose), which helps to simulate what it’s like to listen to that same mix on a set of stereo speakers in a room. Not all tracks benefit from the Virtuo effect to the same degree. I actually found that older mixes improved more than newer ones. The Who’s Pinball Wizard, is a great example. Switching Virtuo on gives Pete Townshend’s iconic acoustic/electric riffs a new expansiveness, while also letting Roger Daltrey’s voice occupy a space in front of you instead of inside your head.
The three mics do a really good job of picking up your voice clearly and with virtually no distortion.
But the same can’t be said for a much newer track like Imagine Dragon’s Thunder, which proved nearly unchanged by the Virtuo processing.
Movie and TV soundtracks can be enhanced too — especially two-channel audio — with Virtuo offering a poor man’s version of Apple’s head-tracking spatial audio. Action sequences benefit the most, but with one caveat: Dialog can be a little harder to make out as the Virtuo effect pulls voices further away, reducing their clarity.
As good as the Sudio E2 sound, these are not top-flight wireless earbuds for either ANC or transparency. The ANC mode definitely reduces external noises and does so without introducing any unwanted hiss, but it’s a mild reduction — not the kind of cone-of-silence you’ll get from Apple’s AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. It’ll take the edge off the conversational din in coffee shops, or the roar of a jet engine inside the cabin, but you’ll still be aware of them, just a little less so.
Transparency mode is similarly tuned. It definitely lets more of the world in, which can help with situational awareness, but your voice will still sound a bit muffled.
The E2’s three mics do a really good job of picking up your voice clearly and with virtually no distortion, even when your surroundings get fairly noisy. Unfortunately, there’s no way to switch between ANC and transparency during a call, but if you start off in either of these modes before you place or receive a call, it will continue to work while you’re on the call.
Interestingly, Dirac’s Virtuo setting has a profound effect on the voices of callers. I’ve been using the E2 for Teams calls and when Virtuo is engaged, it’s like everyone on the call is speaking into a high-end studio-quality mic — which was unexpected given what I noted above for movie dialog. It’s a tad overwhelming, but if you ever struggle to hear your callers, it will help a ton.
Sudio claims the E2 get up to 6.5 hours per charge when not using ANC, transparency or Dirac Virtuo. When Dirac Virtuo is engaged, that drops to 5.5 hours. Using ANC on its own is a big drain, taking that number down to 4.4 hours, and if you should layer Dirac Virtuo on top of ANC, get ready to start recharging after just four hours. Total time when you include the charging case’s capacity is 30, 25, 20, and 18 hours, respectively.
Those numbers appear to be pretty accurate, and possibly on the conservative side. After running the E2 at 50% volume for two hours (with ANC and Virtuo on) the earbuds reported 55% battery life remaining.
If you find yourself running low, there’s a good quick-charge option: 10 minutes of case time will buy you an extra two hours (non-ANC, non-Virtuo) of play time.
The Sudio E2 won’t wow you with their ANC, but their robust sound quality, fun and functional Dirac Virtuo spatial audio, and decent battery life make them an interesting addition to the wireless earbud landscape, and definitely worth your consideration.
While we aren’t aware of any wireless buds that possess anything similar to the Sudio E2’s Dirac Virtuo spatial system, there are two excellent alternatives at (or near) the same price.
Jabra’s Elite 4 Active are $10 less at $119. They have very good sound quality, and they’re fully waterproof, making them a better choice for avid workout fans. They also possess better ANC and transparency than the E2. You can tweak them endlessly via the Jabra Sound+ app, and they support auto-pause. If you need a set of go-anywhere earbuds, they’re awesome.
Soundcore’s Liberty 2 Air Pro are the same price($129) as the E2, and like the Elite 4 Active, they’re packed with amazing features. They offer a sound that is as big and bold as the E2, plus plenty of app-based adjustments and auto-pause.
The Sudio E2 appear to be very well built, and with an IPX4 rating, they should be able to hold up well even with moderate water exposure. But perhaps the biggest indication that they will stand the test of time is that Sudio is offering to back them with a three-year warranty if you register your purchase within three months at Sudio Sphere, the company’s user registration site. That’s triple the length of the average wireless earbuds warranty period, and I don’t see how Sudio can offer it for free unless it has a lot of faith in its product’s durability.
Yes. They sound great and Dirac Virtuo is an excellent and easy-to-use audio tweak that can improve your enjoyment of music and movies — especially if you have a fondness for older recordings.