Review: Soundcore Frames
Over the years I've tested a number of eyeglasses that had integrated speakers in the temple pieces. Most have been almost comical failures. Uncomfortable to wear, with poor sound quality, and featuring designs that looked ridiculously clunky, they were impossible to recommend. Anker aims to redeem the idea with its Soundcore Frames (from $199), and largely succeeds.
The basic kit comes with a pair of temples (the parts that go over your ears) that house the audio system, and a frame (the front piece that holds the lenses). There are a variety of bundles depending on what retailer you visit. Once you have the basic bundle, you can purchase additional frames (from $49) to give your glasses additional looks and capabilities. For instance, there are models with tinted sunglasses, ones that take out the blue light that causes problems for those spending too much time in front of a computer, and even models that can be fit with prescription lenses. The breadth of design choices is quite remarkable. Anker sent me so many that I could open my own eyeglass store. There are retro glasses, modern designs, and classic looks; eyeglasses with metal frames or resin designs. You can look like a fashonista, a spy, or even presidential.
The temple pieces are much thinner than those I've tried in the past. They have enough fluidity and curves to mostly hide the electronics within.
The Soundcore Frames also get high marks for control and customization. They have built in voice control, so you don't have to enable Alexa or similar services to be able to control them with simple commands. Just say "volume up" or "next track" and they respond. Tapping on the temple pieces also can control what you're listening to, and you can customize the functionality through the app, setting up swipe or tap commands for each temple piece.
So how do they sound? Well, compared to what? These are not audiophile devices like the new Soundcore Pro earbuds, but the sound was listenable, if a bit lacking in bass. When the focus was on getting work done rather than blasting out a beat or teasing out every nuance in a recording they were satisfactory, if a bit on the crisp side. If I was walking down the street I had complete awareness, a big plus. You can adjust the sound envelope of the glasses with the app's equalizer.
Each of the temples has two sound drivers delivering what Anker calls Immersive Open Ear Audio, so unlike earbuds, these don't go directly into your ear, but act more like open-air headsets. As a result, the bass is much weaker than what you'd get with most earbuds. Also, and for some this will be the determinative factor, close neighbors will be able to hear whatever it is you're playing. This meant I couldn't read in bed with the glasses next to my wife because it distracted her. This also means that in a quiet room or elevator, people around you will also have an awareness that you are listening to music, and may even be able to sing along to the faint melodies that emerge at moderate to high volume.
However, for a fall bike ride they were ideal, giving me enough volume so I could enjoy music streamed in from Qobuz and Amazon without blocking me from hearing traffic all around me. Likewise, when working on my computer they kept my workspace relatively quiet while surrounding me in sound, and shielding my eyes from harmful blue light. If someone came up to talk to me I could easily hear them even while the music played on, something I couldn't do with most earbuds.
The built in microphone means I can use them to receive calls via Bluetooth. You can pick up (or reject) calls by voice command or with a tap on the temples.
The design of these glasses is miles ahead of the Fauna eyewear I tested earlier. The drawbacks of those far outweighed the usefulness of the built-in sound, and the Soundcore Frame designers seem to have solved for most of the issues I raised with the nascent technology. First, no big bulky charging case is required. On the Fauna you not only need a special case to charge the glasses, you need it to turn them on if they power down. Unfortunately, the Soundcore glasses still require the use of a special magnetic charging cable, so you really have to be careful not to misplace it; a standard USB would have been preferable.
Another distinguishing feature: when you take off the glasses the Soundcore Frames stop playing; the Fauna don't, presumably because they expect you to put them in the big case you're supposed to carry around with you? This is an important feature, not only because it presumably saves on battery power, but because it provides an immediate way to turn off the sound. Remember, these glasses can be heard, albiet quietly, even when they are on your head.
Fit and look also distinguish the brands. The latter is largely subjective, I suppose, but the entire Soundcore line is based on the idea that you can change the "look" of your eyewear by swapping things out, so design is paramount. The temple pieces on the Soundcore are more refined, less bulky, and more normal. They don't look as much as if they've been stuffed with electronics. They also fit my head better, sitting nicely without any adjustments. If the Faunas need adjustment (as the one's I tested did) you have to take them to and optometrist.
Listen, a nice pair of sunglasses can easily set you back as much as these, without even providing sound. If you find a style or two to your liking these offer additional functionality over standard glasses, plus the ability to completely change looks by just swapping out the frames.
The big question, as with every gadget, is 'does this solve a need you have'. If you want the convenience of having sound built into your eyewear, and are willing to forgo the ultimate in sound quality for that convenience, these are my top pick. The Soundcore Frames are the best and most comfortable eyeglass-with-speakers I've tried, and their customization and performance are second to none.