I want to love Asus’ gaming earbuds, but there are problems

The Asus Cetra Supernova earbuds sitting on top of a gaming PC.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’ve been warming up to gaming earbuds over the past couple of years. Although one of the best headsets for PC gaming wins in terms of immersion, the low-profile nature of earbuds is better for comfort during long gaming sessions. Asus seems to agree, with its new Cetra True Wireless SuperNova earbuds squarely targeting gamers who value comfort as much as sound quality.

The $200 earbuds sound like the perfect package. You’ve getting noise cancellation, a low-latency connection, high-fidelity audio, and support for just about any platform imaginable. The package is excellent, and Asus manages fantastic audio quality and comfort while packing in many features. Still, there are a handful of minor issues here that Asus needs to address, especially at the premium price it’s asking, which is where my problems lie.

Meet the Cetra True Wireless SuperNova

The Asus Cetra Speednova earbuds sitting with their box.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

My ears immediately perked up when I heard about Asus’ Cetra True Wireless SuperNova earbuds. If you’re not familiar with the original Cetras, it’s a pair of relatively affordable $80 gaming earbuds. This updated version takes the original design, but it packs in a low-latency 2.4GHz connection and Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).

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That’s a potent combination for PC gamers, and one that’s shockingly hard to find. Earbuds with a low-latency connection don’t have good ANC, and earbuds with good ANC like the Sony WF-1000XM5s have a Bluetooth connection that’s too laggy for gaming. The Centra True Wireless SuperNovas strike a compelling balance.

As if a low-latency 2.4GHz connection and ANC weren’t enough, Asus improved the battery life for up to 46 hours with the included charging case. And it also added multipoint support, allowing you connect multiple devices simultaneously. The 2.4GHz connection even enables audio resolution at up to 96kHz, allowing you to listen to high-fidelity tracks like those found on Tidal.

A hand holding the left side of the Asus Cetra Speednova earbuds.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The earbuds work across a wide range of devices, too. There’s PC, Mac, iOS, and Android support — either through Bluetooth or by using the included 2.4GHz adapter — and there’s console support, too. The headset is plug-and-play with the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 using the 2.4GHz adapter, and you can use either the adapter or Bluetooth on the Nintendo Switch.

The features are spot-on, and the Cetra SuperNovas have the sound quality and comfort to back them up. Unfortunately, it’s a hassle to get them sounding the way Asus clearly intends, and there are some issues that were present on the original Cetras that Asus has yet to address.

Great sound quality with the right tweaks

Customization options in Asus Armoury Crate for the Cetra Speednova earbuds.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Cetra True Wireless SuperNova earbuds don’t make a great first impression on the sound quality front. They’re comfortable out of the box, and pairing is simple, but there were two glaring audio issues. First is the sound itself. It was tinny, with a nasty, uncomfortable boost in the upper midrange. It was also restrictive. The stereo field felt very narrow, pushing everything to the center rather than letting it space out.

It was unpleasant, but the Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) was worse. It didn’t seem to do much of anything, which was made all the worse by the fact that the tips gripped into my ears and made me listen to the hollow sound inside my head — draw whatever conclusions you will from that. The bad news is the the Cetra SuperNova earbuds are all wrong out of the box. The good news is that you can fix them.

If you plan on picking up these earbuds, you need to turn on Dirac Opteo. This is basically some digital audio processing that “optimizes headphone sound to overcome hardware limitations,” according to Dirac. And it makes a world of difference. It blasts the doors open on the stereo field, cuts down on that harsh upper midrange frequency, and drops the bass through the floor. It sounds like you’re listening to a completely different pair of earbuds across movies, music, and video games. I’m not sure if it’s possible to have this optimization baked into the earbuds themselves — you have to turn it on through software as it stands now — but it absolutely should be the default sound.

For the ANC, Asus has an adaptive mode that you can enable through software as well. There was a bit of microphone noise at first, but the headset adjusted to the ambient noise in my room and cut it out. It also got rid of that strange pressure you feel when there’s too tight of a seal with your earbuds.

The Asus Cetra Speednova earbuds sitting open on a PC case.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

These two alterations completely changed my view on the Cetra True Wireless SuperNova earbuds. If you don’t plan on installing Asus’ Armoury Crate software — available on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android — you’re getting a significantly worse pair of earbuds.

The flip side of that is that the earbuds themselves are actually very good with the tweaks. There’s a shocking amount of bass, so much so that I found myself using the EQ to roll off some low-end. The midrange is where most earbuds live and die, and the Cetra SuperNova has that aspect nailed with Dirac Opteo. It’s silky, without the harsh upper midrange or boxy lower midrange you hear on some cheaper earbuds.

Unsurprisingly, that bump in bass does a lot of work in games, but you can EQ the earbuds for music, too. That again comes down to the midrange, where you aren’t fighting specific areas of the frequency spectrum that cloud the rest of the sound.

Some issues

Asus nails the sound and ANC with the Centra SuperNovas, at least after a few critical tweaks in Armoury Crate. There are a handful of minor areas where the earbuds fall short, however, and they add up quickly.

The adapter for the Cetra Supernova earbuds.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Let’s start with the dongle. As mentioned, you get support for both the 2.4GHz wireless SpeedNova dongle and Bluetooth with these earbuds, but unlike Sony’s InZone Buds, there’s nowhere to put the dongle in the carrying case. It’s a tiny USB-C adapter that’s just begging to get lost, and Asus doesn’t offer a way to purchase a replacement if you do. Be wary if you plan on traveling with these earbuds.

The microphone isn’t great, either, despite Asus’ marketing about “AI bone conduction microphones.” There’s a strange filter effect that cuts in and out, almost like an aggressive noise gate. The actual noise gate, available through Armoury Crate, seems to block out your voice more than it does background noise, while the “Perfect Voice” option sounds harsh, thin, and tinny. You can make a phone call with these earbuds without issue, but don’t expect to hop in a Discord call without a few mentions of your mic quality.

Both of those issues, although annoying, are easy to overlook. Elsewhere, the problems are more severe.

For starters, the battery life isn’t great. I’ve been using the earbuds for about three hours at the time of writing, and they’re down to 30%. The ANC and included RGB lighting are a huge drain on battery life, so you’ll need the case around if you plan to use the earbuds all day. Asus’ claims of 46 hours of battery life holds up, but only under specific conditions.

Asus Armoury Crate showing the battery life of the Cetra Speednova earbuds.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

With ANC, the 2.4GHz adapter, and RGB, you’re looking at just 20 hours of battery life, and that’s utilizing all of the extra battery life stored in the charging case. Be prepared to top off the battery often when taking advantage of all of the features the Cetra SpeedNovas have to offer.

I can forgive a subpar battery life, but the gestures were a constant annoyance. You can tap and hold both earbuds to perform various functions, but they aren’t consistent at all. There’s a very small space to tap, and simply brushing the edge of the earbuds is enough to trigger a gesture. Within the first few hours of using the earbuds, I had paused a video or song accidentally just by adjusting the earbuds no less than half a dozen times.

What’s worse is that you can’t change the gestures through Armoury Crate. That means if you want access to some settings, such as turning the volume up, but not others, such as launching the voice assistant on your phone, you’ll have to tap dance with your fingers across the earbuds to get what you need. The poor gesture implementation, combined with a lack of customization options, is a big stain on what is otherwise a fantastic set of earbuds.

Great with caveats

One of the earbuds propped out of the Asus Cetra Speednova case.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I want to love the Cetra True Wireless SuperNovas, and part of me does. The earbuds are comfortable, they sound great with Dirac Opteo, and the ANC works well once configured properly in Armoury Crate. Platform support is excellent, too, as is multipoint support, which allows you to use the earbuds in just about any situation.

There are some issues here, however. Gestures definitely take center stage as the main problem, and battery life follows close behind. I’m also worried most users won’t dig into Armoury Crate, instead settling for a much worse pair of earbuds without the proper configuration. These issues are easier to forgive on the original Cetras at their affordable price. For the $200 Asus is asking here, it’s worth demanding more.

The good news is that Asus can fix a lot of the problems with the Cetra SpeedNovas without a new revision. Updates to customize gestures — or turn them off — would go a long way, and it’s hard to imagine Asus isn’t able to enable Dirac Opteo and adaptive ANC by default. With those changes, the Cetra Speednovas would be the earbuds I know they’re capable of being.

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