House of Marley has established itself as the premier eco-friendly audio manufacturer, releasing everything from wireless headphones to USB turntables composed entirely of recycled materials. Over the past two years, it has expanded into the true wireless market and released two models: the Redemption ANC and Liberate Air True. While considered decent AirPods alternatives, the biggest issue with both products was their price points, which were listed at $149.99 and up.
Looking to stay competitive, HoM wanted to launch a new model that not only stays true to their brand initiative but also promised great performance for half of the price of their premium offerings. That model would turn out to become the Champion.
- Our expert picks for the best wireless earbuds, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review
Boasting dynamic sound, stable battery life, and a chic, eco-friendly design, the Champion is a model that has no business being in the cheap wireless earbuds category. I say that because, in reality, they should go for more when taking such hallmarks into account. Arguments can be made about the lack of smart controls and special features. However, the Champion nails the basics so well that you would be foolish not to consider owning it, especially if you’re on a budget and want something that sounds better than the regular AirPods.
House of Marley Champion: Availability and price
The House of Marley Champion is available for $69 at Amazon or directly from HoM. These wireless earbuds are sold in one color: Black. Bundled with the purchase are a charging case, a USB-C charging cable, two sets of ear tips, a quick start guide, and a warranty booklet.
House of Marley Champion: Design and comfort
HoM’s penchant for sustainable craftsmanship has been its greatest strength and the Champion is exemplary. These buds are built from bamboo, natural fiber composites, and proprietary REGRIND silicone, which the company managed to create by “reclaiming and upcycling post-process and post-consumer waste.” That is phenomenal in itself.
What about the build quality? The casing is extremely durable, reassuring you that these buds won’t break if dropped from a high distance or stepped on. I really like the wooden multifunctional button with an engraved logo, along with the buds’ smooth matte finish. There is an LED indicator on the right to inform users of battery levels and connectivity status.
The charging case is even more impressive. It’s both sturdier and lighter (1.4 ounces) than the AirPods case (1.34 ounces). More importantly, the lid does a better job of keeping the buds secured; you won’t have to worry about them spilling across the floor if ever the case hits the ground. The wooden construction does make the case susceptible to chipping, but in this scenario, scuffs or scratches can actually blend into the grainy design, creating a worn-and-seasoned look. Details like the protruding wood piece on the front also make the case more distinctive.
House of Marley Champion: Touch controls and digital assistant
At 0.17 ounces, these are some of the lightest and comfiest buds out there. I wore them daily for about 3 hours straight until fatigue set in. My only complaint is that having a button right on the front affects comfort, especially if you’re someone who constantly pauses or changes tracks, as pressing it digs the buds further into your ear.
Fit-wise, the Champion is surprisingly stable. I didn’t expect this at all since the angled sound port doesn’t rest entirely on the concha, which I thought would have increased slippage. All credit goes to the non-toxic silicone gel tips that create a tight seal to keep the buds latched onto your ears.
House of Marley Champion: Touch controls and digital assistant
It’s always disappointing to see no touch controls or motion detection on a pair of wireless earbuds. Fortunately, the physical buttons on these buds are responsive to presses and produce excellent tactility. Single and multiple-press gestures are programmed into the Champion, giving you a decent range of functions, including play/pause and answer/end call (1x press), skip back (2x press on right bud), skip forward (2x press on left bud), and voice activation (3x press). On-board controls would have been a cool addition.
Google Assistant and Siri are accessible, and though they work for the most part, the latter had some latency issues. It took Siri several seconds to recognize and respond to inquiries. The good news is that Apple’s bot picked up my every word and comprehended commands to deliver accurate results. This also applied to Google Assistant, which operated much faster.
House of Marley Champion: Audio quality
Overall, HoM did a commendable job tuning the Champion. The sound is clean and energetic with punchy bass that complements most contemporary music genres. That’s not to say they won’t perform well with Classical or Jazz tracks either; I just prefer models with versatile soundstages that can be tweaked like the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2.
On melodic jams like The Fugees’ “No Woman, No Cry,” the introductory guitar play provided an intimate backdrop until the snares took over and delivered a sonic boom to my ears. The emphasized bass added more depth to the production, as the two instruments blended well together, while Wyclef Jean’s crooning was pronounced to feel the pain in his voice.
More vivacious tracks like Megadeth’s “Return to Hangar” took the low end up a notch without compromising the soundstage. The hard rock classic offered a nice exhibition of the frequency range, as the drums hit hard, clashing hi-hats were striking and the insane guitar riff at the bridge sounded vibrant. Much could also be said about the reproduction on Dexter Gordon’s “A Night in Tunisia,” as the double bass had an amazing snap to it in the beginning and carried over smoothly throughout the orchestral production. However, it was the sax solos that sold me on audio performance, which sounded sharp, not screechy like on most cheap (and poorly engineered) wireless earbuds.
Isolation is the Champion’s unsung feature. I have to reiterate how well the gel tips grip around the ear canal to prevent ambient noises from entering the soundscape. When sharing office space with my wife and newborn, not once was I distracted by the baby’s whimpers or what she had playing on the TV.
House of Marley Champion: Battery life and charging case
The Champion holds a sufficient amount of playtime: 8 hours on a single charge. Factor in max volume and heavy streaming, that number can drop drastically (est. 5 hours), but you can get somewhere between 7 to 7.5 hours when listening at 50% volume. By comparison, this is a few hours more than the AirPods (5 hours). I got to use them for 4 days (1.5 hours daily) before recharging. Speaking of which, the Champion has some of the strongest quick charging technology in the category, getting you 2 hours of use from a 15-minute charge.
As for the charging case, it can hold 28 hours when fully charged. Again, this is more playtime than any AirPods case (24 hours), and is right up there with top performers like the Klipsch T5 II (32 hours) and Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (29 hours). Wireless charging is missing from the spec sheet, a missed opportunity for HoM when seeing some of the other competitors with smaller charging cases support the feature.
House of Marley Champion: Call quality and connectivity
The Champion is an OK calling headset for video conferencing, but I wouldn’t recommend it for phone calls. According to my clients, I sounded loud and clear during Skype chats, though external sounds like keyboard clatter and my newborn’s cries were audible. My wife found it difficult to chat on the phone, stating that my voice sounded muffled with words fading out. She also noticed some of the distractions around me, from barking dogs to whisking cars.
Bluetooth 5.0 is hit or miss. You can expect a lengthy range; my testing saw the buds maintain a connection from as far as 35 feet before stuttering occurred. At the same time, connectivity wasn’t reliable. Oftentimes, I had to manually pair the buds because they wouldn’t automatically re-pair to a device whenever removed from the charging case. Keep in mind that you can alternate between using one or two buds, but it seemed like the Champion was always in mono mode because whenever I was able to connect the buds to a device, only one would work. This meant that I had to power on the other bud in order to listen in stereo. I’m not sure if this is a bug or programming issue on HoM’s end.
House of Marley Champion: Verdict
For $69, the Champion brings more to the table than most models in its price class. HoM’s warm sound signature hits just the right spot, feeding your ears with emphatic lows, while also producing crisp mids and highs. It’s cool that the buds provide effective isolation as well, allowing you to enjoy music in peace without requiring noise cancellation. The all-eco-friendly design is also an excellent representation of the brand’s commitment to sustainable audio products, and the entire package looks attractive.
But as the Champion’s low price would suggest, there are compromises. The biggest is the lack of a companion app with special features. If Anker and JLab can offer ways to customize their budget-friendly models, be it the controls or sound (e.g., EQ, presets), so can you, HoM. The exclusion of touch controls and motion sensors may also steer away shoppers who want wireless earbuds with contemporary functionality.
Nonetheless, if you’re someone who prioritizes audio and battery life, and are all in on green initiatives, then there is no reason to not own the Champion. Otherwise, it may be worth spending the extra coin on something more feature-laden like the Liberty Air 2, which is currently on sale for $79.99 at Amazon.