Xiaomi’s Mi Neckband Pro lives up to its hype as the most affordable ANC neckband
Xiaomi last month launched the Mi Neckband Pro, a successor to the Mi Neckband that came out last year. Once again, Xiaomi has done a remarkable job at striking a killer balance between feature set and price tag. Although the overall market trend is swiftly moving towards truly wireless earphones, the neckband form factor has held its ground firmly in the Indian market.
We have already reviewed the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z and OPPO Enco M31, which remain our top picks for anyone in the market for Bluetooth earphones. The task ahead of the Mi Neckband Pro is to come close to these offerings at least, if not surpass them. The inclusion of ANC puts the Mi Neckband Pro in a solid position and combining that with a ₹1,800 price point, Xiaomi has ensured the earphones will not simply get lost in the sea of Bluetooth earphones and neckbands swirling in the market. The Mi Neckband Pro are also the cheapest Bluetooth earphones on the market with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).
I have been using the Mi Neckband Pro for the last three weeks as my daily driver earphones, and here’s what I think about them.
Disclaimer: The review unit of Mi Neckband Pro was provided by Xiaomi India. Xiaomi had no input in the content of this review. Unless otherwise specified, the observations stated in the review are with regards to Android smartphones.
Design & Controls
The Mi Neckband Pro has a very conventional design that comes across as slightly dated for a neckband launching in 2021. A flexible rubber collar and plastic tubes lays the foundation of the earphones. All controls are on the right module, along with a charging port that’s tightly sealed by a rubber cap. That rubber cap isn’t just for protection against dust and debris; it also hides a secret: a micro-USB port.
This fact remained under wraps for some days. It was only on the fourth day when I went to charge the earphones for the first time with, wait for it, a USB C cable that I learned about Xiaomi’s mischief. At least Xiaomi is kind enough to include a micro-USB cable inside the box so you don’t have to rummage through the drawers.
At 36g, the earphones are heavier than the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z (26g) and OPPO Enco M31 (22g). The rubber collar and plastic body are also on the thicker side, and although they’re not discomforting in any way, you do feel they’re on your neck all the time. The earcups are plastic and have shallow grooves on their back which, besides adding some friction, also add a premium feel. The end of the right earcup is slightly pointed, while the left one has a subtle indentation, so when you snap them, they kind of snugly lock into each other. This helps because the magnets themselves are a bit weak.
Water and sweat-resistant properties have become a must on Bluetooth earphones, considering one of their primary use cases involves using them during workouts and sports. The Mi Neckband Pro has an IPX5 rating which protects them against sweat and splashes of water.
The Mi Neckband Pro is not exactly lightweight or minimal, but they sure are comfortable. During the review, I was able to wear them for hours on end without inducing any irritation or discomfort. The earbuds have what Xiaomi calls an anti-cerumen design which doesn’t let ear wax stick to the tips. Xiaomi bundles two additional sets of ear tips to accommodate for different ear shapes and sizes. Since the bass and ANC performance are directly correlated to the seal formed by the ear tips, it’s very important to take your time trying out all tip sets and see which ones provide the best experience.
All physical controls are located on the left plastic module. Power and volume keys are outward-facing while the ANC is placed on the inner side. For reasons known only to Xiaomi, clipping the magnets together doesn’t act as a power on/off mechanism on the Mi Neckband Pro. You have to long-press the power button every time you wish to turn on the earphones, and of course, go through the same annoyance if you want to turn the device off. If you forget to turn off the earphones manually, they will remain powered on, wasting battery life for no good reason.
The Mi Neckband Pro has a 10mm driver fitted into each earcup. Support for the high-quality codec is missing, and SBC and AAC are your only options. It’s not a big deal given their price, but a thing to keep in mind if your use case involves gaming as both SBC and AAC codecs suffer from very high latency, resulting in a perceivable delay in games. They are fine for streaming video content, though.
Coming to the audio quality, the Mi Neckband Pro has an unmistakably bass-skewed sound signature. They are not bass heads by any means, but they do have that warm sound that is the name of the game on most consumer earphones on the market. Most of the boosting is focused on the sub-bass, which is where those deep, satisfying thumps lie.
I’m not a fan of boosted bass or bass-heavy earphones, for that matter, but I feel the bass on the Mi Neckband Pro is enjoyable — even if it doesn’t match the balanced bass profile that I usually look for. It’s certainly more balanced and better-defined than the OnePlus Wireless Bullets Z. There is an extra kick that goes well with hip hop and electronic music genres.
As is usually the case with warm-sounding earphones, the mid-range is recessed. Vocals remain clean and discernible, but they fail to leave a mark and sound less captivating when they’re the essence of the track. The emphasis on bass means they are also prone to get crowded by lower frequencies sometimes.
This was apparent while listening to Nicole Scherzinger’s version of Memory (from the “Cats” musical). When the song reaches its peak at 3:30, you want all focus on Nicole’s powerful high notes, which are the essence of this track. Listening to this portion on the Mi Neckband Pro, the high notes sounded hollow and devoid of charm, with lingering bass notes, in particular, making things muddier. Oppo’s Enco M31 reproduces this part exceptionally well, letting Nicole’s voice rise above everything as other instruments fade to the background and assume more complementary roles.
The treble range is rolled off, and as a result, instruments occupying the higher frequencies often come across as dull and lacking crispness. This is especially noticeable in symphonies and orchestral tracks. This is again quite common among mainstream earphones, especially with the warm sound signature, so as to avoid the listening fatigue associated with sharp, high-frequency sounds.
Overall, I think the Mi Neckband Pro offers decent audio quality that most casual listeners will be perfectly content with. They’re not for serious listeners, and Xiaomi’s marketing material makes that quite clear, so there’s hardly anything to complain about here.
ANC & ENC
If it wasn’t for ANC, the Mi Neckband Pro would have been a very ordinary pair of Bluetooth earphones. But by bringing one of the most sought-after features in earphones at this price, Xiaomi has managed to put these earphones into their own league. For many users, this might be the primary reason to consider the Mi Neckband Pro over other options. And thankfully, Xiaomi doesn’t disappoint here.
The ANC can be toggled on and off through a dedicated switch located on the right module. This is much more straightforward than those awkward switch combinations you have to go through on other ANC earphones. Xiaomi claims the ANC can effectively reduce surrounding noises by up to 25db. In the grand scheme of ANC, this number squarely falls in the average range, so you’re clearly not in for a big surprise here.
In my testing, the earphones did make a difference in lowering down the outside world. I found the ANC less effective on the lower frequency sounds, the noise of a ceiling fan, engine noise coming out of the vehicle, etc. I compared the Mi Neckband Pro side by side with OPPO Enco W51, and while I could still hear the noise of a ceiling fan running above me on the Mi Neckband Pro, I could barely hear it on the Enco W51. The results were surprising when it came to blocking human speech and background chatter, where I found the Mi Neckband Pro to be more effective than the Enco W51.
Don’t expect the ANC to blow your mind. At best, the Mi Neckband Pro can reduce the noise level to some extent, but you’ll still be able to hear pretty much everything that goes on around you. But at the end of the day, any kind of ANC is better than no ANC, so there’s little to complain about here.
Environmental Noise Cancellation (ENC) is another highlight of the Mi Neckband Pro. Xiaomi says ENC uses the on-board microphone to detect the direction of your speech and cuts down on other environmental noises by up to 90%, so recipients can hear your voice clearly.
We have seen this tech on the OPPO Enco M31, and we noted in our review that it made little to no difference in canceling outside noises. The same is true for the Mi Neckband Pro. When I was out on the streets and in noise settings, callers struggled to hear my voice, and the ENC made no difference at all suppressing surrounding noises.
The Mi Neckband Pro has a 150mAh battery with a claimed battery life of up to 20 hours. In my loop test with the volume set at 50% and ANC turned on, the earphones lasted roughly 18 hours and 25 minutes before they ran out of juice, a tad shorter than what the company claims. In day-to-day use, with around 2 to 3 hours of daily usage, I could easily get through a week without needing to charge.
Although the battery life is excellent, the charging technology isn’t. It’s a sin to use a MicroUSB on any consumer tech at this point. Xiaomi has little reason to ship it on its product, while even regional OEMs like Boat offer a Type C port on their similarly priced products.
The Mi Neckband Pro gets most things right. It has excellent battery life, an extra kick of bass without overdoing it, and ANC that works. The real sales driver is undoubtedly the ANC here. If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth neckband with ANC magic, there are zero alternatives to Mi Neckband Pro under the ₹2,000 range. It’s as simple as that. Even the closest competitor — the Realme Buds Wireless Pro — costs twice as much.
If ANC isn’t something you look for with a passion in a pair of earphones, there are much better options available with a more modern design, better sound, and higher battery life. If faithful sound reproduction is at the top of your list, look no further than the OPPO Enco M31. The battery life is mediocre, as is the build quality, but the sound they produce is totally worth every shortcoming these earphones have. What’s more, with support for the LDAC codec, they provide the perfect lag-free audio that mobile gamers always dream about.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z is another great option if you’re a care-free handler and have a track record of breaking things. With the Bullets Wireless Z, you’ll get the best-in-class build quality that can easily withstand abusive handling as well as an IP55 rating, unlike the IPX5 protection offered by most earphones. The sound quality isn’t their strength, however. In fact, I feel the Mi Neckband Pro delivers a more balanced sound than the Bullets Wireless Z.