Oppo is returning to sound, and taking a stab with its own wireless earphones. At $249, the Oppo Enco W51 could be one solid deal, if it weren’t for one thing.
Truly wireless earphones are a dime a dozen these days, because everyone has them. Apple, Beats, BlueAnt, Bose, Huawei, Jabra, JBL, LG, Plantronics, Realme, Samsung, Skullcandy, Sony. We could prattle off names until we’re blue in the face and probably not run out of companies that make these things.
Some of them will have a history in audio, a heritage in sound. Much like how you’ll typically want to buy a camera from a company that understands lenses and optics, it’s not thoroughly surprising if you opt to buy a pair audio gear from a brand that has been dabbling in sound for some time. There are some exceptions, and Apple is clearly one of them, but not everyone gets sound. Some companies get it more than others.
You might not realise it, but Oppo could be one of those brands. While it’s a company known for making mid-range phones as well as the very capable flagship this year, it rose from Oppo Digital, a brand synonymous with high-end audio and excellent Blu-ray players.
Oppo Digital died some years back, but the company still has members working at Oppo, and they might have had a hand in its latest effort: personal and portable audio.
In 2020, Oppo has a pair of $249 earphones with noise cancellation, arriving in the W51. One of three pairs of truly wireless Oppo earphones this year, but the W51 is the flagship, and it might just harness some of that audio awesomeness Oppo is known for.
Design and features
Open the rather small Oppo Enco W51 case up and you’ll find a pair of wireless and cordless earphones not unlike others out there, with an in-earphone design that rather resembles what happens when a spaceship and Thor’s hammer collide.
We’re not going to call these the sexiest earphones we’ve seen, but they’re definitely not offensive in the slightest, offering an earphone style with a stalk coming down the side, rather a lot like some other brand you’re probably very familiar with, but with stabilisation to hold the earpiece in.
Inside those earphones, there’s a 7mm dynamic driver partnered up with some technology to handle noise cancellation, working with microphones to quell background sound, and working to play sound to and from each other.
Water resistance is included on the Enco W51, supporting an IP54 resistance, and charging from the included small case, which holds a maximum of 20 hours of charge plus a little under four if noise cancellation is switched on, and more if you opt for no noise cancellation at all. The case is charged by USB Type C, and also supports wireless charging, which is handy for folks living in a wireless world.
The whole thing weighs around 55 grams, too, while the earphones are just a few grams between them. You’ll even find a selection of several ear tip sizes in the box. Handy.
Oppo has a heritage in audio thanks to Oppo Digital, but controlling its earphones may not be a part of that, and it shows in the Enco W51, because there’s not a lot of control to speak of.
While there are tap controls, the way they’re configured for most devices is a little strange, almost to the point where Oppo will confuse the most seasoned reviewers, and that’s clearly not everyone.
As a point, typical earphone controls are touch to pause and play, with double taps going forward or backward a track, and volume changes often being based on how long you press if there’s no volume rocker. There’s no volume rocker on the Enco W51, but Oppo’s controls are still a little unusual as it is.
Using the Enco W51, you’ll find you can double tap the left earpiece to turn noise cancellation on and off, with no customisation — just on and off. You can double tap the right earpiece to jump forward a track. Oh, and triple tapping either earpiece will trigger the phone’s assistant, which is Siri on the iPhone or Google Assistant on Androids. Bizarrely there is no single tap here, and pause and play may as well just be taking the earphones out of your ears, because that’s what it does.
To say the controls are a little out of kilter from regular wireless earphone design would be an understatement. In the years we’ve had of reviewing earphones, we’re not sure we’ve come across a pair of earphones that rewrites the controls in this way. Or doesn’t have them at all, which appears to be the case for these.
Thankfully, there’s more to the Oppo Enco W51 than merely the strange and impractical controls. There’s also how they sound.
As usual, we’re testing our earphones using the Pickr Sound Test, which you can listen to for yourself using Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and even Tidal, and that starts with electronic, where we found a relatively solid punch in the bottom end, with much of the focus on the mids and the highs. Daft Punk’s “Contact” serves as a great introduction, with solid drums and bottom end, though it can sound a little muddled there. It’s not the distinct punch you might expect, but it’s good all the same, joining with relative balance on the electronic-laden mids, and more than you might expect.
Over to something with a little more vocal work, Carly Rae Jepsen’s bass punches in the bottom end resonate well, delivering a relatively solid soundstage, though one that doesn’t feel overwhelmingly wide. The detail is definitely there, however, and the sound is good.
And that’s something we heard across pop, R&B, and soul: Ariana Grande’s “Into You” was a little cramped in space, but definitely detailed and vibrant, never missing the bottom end, while Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” hit hard when it kicked in, with warmth on the vocals over the percussion and instruments. And the old school soul of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain” delivered clarity to the drums, vocals, and bass line, the latter of which feels like it could be more rounded, but still sounds good all the same.
Over in rock, the deeper sound of the bass reverbs with a strong delivery in Muse’s “Madness”, which pushes Enco W51 nicely, providing a bigger sound than these diminuitive itty-bitty earphones would imply. The sound here is big and wide, though the vocals in the mids feels like they could need a little more polish overall. It’s much the same in Rage Against The Machine’s “Take The Power Back”, both of which shape the sound as balanced and fairly clean, marginally brighter than warm. A great sound, though.
Older rock works just as well, with our test tracks of David Bowie, Paul Simon, and The Who offering a capable sound that is cool, clear, and comfortable, and pretty much certifying the Enco W51 as great for most types of tracks.
Granted, the Enco W51 aren’t quite as delightful as Oppo’s planar magnetic headphones, but they’re still pretty special all the same, and a joy to listen to. There’s a sizeable sound stage with some strong balance that borders on warm at times, and a genuine surprise. The Enco W51 are surprisingly solid for what basically amounts to a new category for Oppo, and well worth your ears.
However they don’t have a lot going for them in the noise cancelling category. As it happens, noise cancellation on the Enco W51 is largely background noise, but with no customisation whatsoever. It’s just noise cancellation on and noise cancellation off, with no ambient mode either.
While we can’t give marks for the lack of thought thrown into the noise cancellation, we can at least say the battery life is acceptable, and may well be quite useful for folks walking around.
You’ll find the Enco W51 earphones are good for about 3.5 hours of battery per charge back in the case, with as much as 20 hours more in the case itself. That’s about normal for a pair of wireless earphones, but certainly nothing to complain about.
It also includes a wireless charging case, which is handy and surprising, given Oppo’s own phones tend to lack wireless charging.
And for $249, Oppo is definitely making a statement. Specifically one around how great sound can be had at a great price.
The inclusion of noise cancellation at the $249 price is also something to be considered, even if it’s not remotely the best noise cancellation out there. But at $249, the sound is top notch for the price, and very impressive.
Factor in that you also get a wireless charging case for the cost, and it’s a very solid deal.
What needs work?
But it’s a deal that still needs something in the way of finesse.
Oppo’s first major pair of wireless in-earphones is mostly a success, and a surprising one at that. We shouldn’t be so surprised given the company’s legacy in audio, which produced some of the better planar magnetic headphones of any brand back when Oppo Digital was a thing, as well as some more than decent portable amps.
So it should come as no surprise that Oppo’s earphones are a winner in the sound department, because they really are. Oppo has a legacy of sound to draw from and nails it in the Enco W51.
What it clearly needs work in is in controls, because they are not great. That’s really an understatement.
With a really odd selection of taps and touches the likes of which we’ve never seen, and then only a way to customise this on Oppo’s own phones, the Enco W51 are left in a rather odd position: better on Oppo phones, but great earphones for other devices with virtually no way to fix the controls unless you own an Oppo.
Testing the Enco W51 with an Oppo phone, you can actually change what the double taps do on each ear, but only the double taps. The triple taps are simply just the assistant (Google Assistant on an Oppo Android phone) or nothing. It’s bizarre that the customisation is so limited as it is, but somehow worse given you need an Oppo phone to change anything on a pair of earphones.
You might call it similar to what Apple offers for its AirPod models, but Apple also makes tablets that can change features, and the controls are a little more useful over in the world of AirPods, too. Here in the world of Oppo, you have to have an Oppo phone to change how the Enco W51 works, as other Android phones are locked out of changing the options. We tried with a Google Pixel and a Samsung Galaxy, and found neither supported the options, with the iPhone locked out from customisations, too. You can use the Enco W51 earphones with any phone, but you can only change the settings from one type: those made by Oppo.
That’s a real miss from where this reviewer sits, especially since the fix could be something as simple as an app. The Apple-owned audio brand Beats makes an app for its earphones for Android, otherwise supporting the customisation typically baked into iOS. Meanwhile, Oppo makes Android-based phones, but neither has an app for Android phones not made by Oppo, nor iOS devices made by Apple. In fact, based on the Oppo settings screen for the Enco W51 on Oppo phones, it’s entirely likely that the only way the earphones will see updates will be on Oppo phones. That’s crazy, and is a totally missed opportunity, especially given how solid the Enco W51 earphones are.
If anything, it can feel like the Enco W51 earphones are made for Oppo owners and only Oppo owners because of that lack of customisation, which is a weird situation altogether.
Frankly, we think Oppo should get to work on that ASAP, because as good as the Enco W51 are, the controls just aren’t that useful for anyone who doesn’t own an Oppo phone.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
When all is said and done, the Oppo Enco W51 offers solid sound with a catch. A big catch, at that, because Oppo seriously needs to work on those controls, or release an app. Or both. Let’s go with both.
The Enco W51 could be a serious competitor for the Apple AirPods if the controls were better, and if there was just more understanding that when you buy a pair of earphones, you’re essentially going for a platform agnostic audience. Consumers shouldn’t have to be asked “do they have this phone” when they’re choosing a pair of headphones, and yet that’s what the Oppo Enco W51 asks: do you have an Oppo, because these earphones will work better if you do.
That’s a real shame, because there’s quite a bit going here for what is basically a first effort. At $249, the sound quality makes the Enco W51 a real steal. We just wish the controls were so much better.
And if it sounds like we’re jumping on the Enco W51 because of its weird controls, know that this review was going so overwhelmingly well before we found out just how limited those were. It is crazy just how inflexible the whole thing seems, and these drag down what is an otherwise excellent pair of earphones, especially for the price.
If you own an Oppo phone and plan to stick with it for some time to come, the Enco W51 is a winner, but for everyone else, the situation is likely a little different.
For instance, f you can live with some bizarrely impractical controls and get around by using a smartwatch or even a phone, there’s an audio quality worthy of your affections for the sub-$300 price point. And if you want better controls, you might just want to shop around for a new pair or change to another phone.