These days headphones are a necessity. I don’t know if it’s because there are too many distractions today or if we lost our ability to block out the noise. Whatever the case, a good pair of headphones will help keep the clangour out.
Now these headphones have been getting better and now come with features that were science fiction only a decade ago at price points that are a little more attainable to regular people like us.
However the fancy new features still come at a princely cost. If you want a good pair of noise cancelling headphones you will have to part with hundreds of dollars.
Apple Airpods pro
Sony has been churning out some of the best headphones out there. The Sony XM5s cost about $400 and the last generation XM4s cost about $350. That’s the price range you are looking at for quality headphones, no matter the brand you go with.
But not if that brand is Anker. We know them mostly for their chargers and power banks but they have been quietly building out their audio business. A value audio business.
Their Soundcore brand is solid although for the life of me I can’t figure out why they went with a logo that resembles the Beats one. They didn’t need this. The Beats brand is not that great anyway.
I mean, it’s even forced, you just cannot explain why they settled on the ‘d’ in Soundcore to be their logo. I showed a friend these and he went, ‘oh, you got them Beats.’ This is not good in my book.
Logo aside, the Soundcore brand is good value for money. I have been using the Soundcore Life Q30 headphones for about a month now and can tell you right now, these are a major go.
Review of Soundcore Life Q30 headphones
These over-the-ear headphones with active noise cancelling and some of the features you would expect to see have won me over.
To note is that these cost $80 brand new. A far cry from the $400 of the Sony XM5s. I think you already suspect that there is no way the Sonys are 5 times as good. And you’re right. These Soundcores are priced to undercut, they are worth more than they retail for.
The above average sound quality
First things first, headphones have to sound good. Their job is to deliver the beats straight to our eardrums and if they can’t do that right then they are not worth their salt.
I’m happy to report the Life Q30 headphones are good in this regard. They have solid 40mm drivers that use some fancy silk that allows for decent flexibility, resulting in good deep bass and high treble in the 40kHz range. That 40kHz there means they support Hi-Res audio.
Don’t get too excited about the Hi-Res audio though. Glaringly missing is support for nearly lossless codecs like the ever popular aptx-HD. To be fair, how much media do you consume using those lossless formats? And besides, only trained ears can really appreciate those formats.
About the 40mm drivers. Headphones’ sound quality depends a lot on diaphragm size and over-ear and on-ear headphones have drivers in the 30-53mm range. So, the 40mm is good but that’s only part of the story.
Just like it is with photography and mega pixel counts, a higher number does not equal better performance. I have been putting the Q30s through the paces and here’s what I found.
Out of the box you get good separation, you can clearly distinguish instruments from each other. The mids can feel a bit muddy but you can still tell a pad from a string well enough.
The Soundcore Signature sound that these headphones ship out with does not do them any favours though. When I first had a listen I was a bit disappointed. It’s so bassy that it encroaches on the mids, hence the muddy sound.
The saving grace is…
The Soundcore companion app
You can tweak the sound to your liking via the app. You don’t even have to know your way around an EQ. There are 22 EQ presets and you can cycle through them until you find the one that’s just right for you.
Want even more bass than the default sound signature? There are presets that get you that. There’s everything from R&B, Rock and Hip Hop to Acoustic presets. If none of those do it for you you can always create a custom preset.
You have an eight band graphic EQ to work with and you can increase or decrease each band by 6dB. My custom preset increases every band but the lowest ones, the 100 and 200Hz, by 2dB.
This way my mids are freed and it’s an overall better sound experience.
I asked my colleague who has been rocking the Sony XM4s for a while to evaluate the sound of the Soundcore Life Q30s and with the EQ presets he said they pretty much sounded the same.
Don’t get me wrong, the XM4s are still a better product but if you think you can easily tell which are which you are mistaken. That’s not bad for headphones that cost $270 less.
The good Active noise cancelling (ANC)
You may have doubts about the quality of the ANC on $80 headphones but again, the Life Q30s will surprise you.
The ANC is good. They say it can filter up to 95% of low frequency sounds and while I wouldn’t say 95, it’s definitely in the 90s. The world around you disappears the moment you turn ANC on.
Also, you know the distortion that happens when you turn ANC on, well it’s minimal here. You can sort of tell that the bass softens a bit but it’s not by much. You’ll still enjoy your tunes with ANC on, even in a quiet environment.
It gets better. There are three levels of ANC – transport, indoor and outdoor.
Transport targets low-end frequencies like engine and road noise. I’ve used this in a car and I was blown away. It even handles loud music well. You can still hear the thumping music but it is muffled with this mode on.
Indoor eliminates voices and mid-frequency noise. The voices really do get teeny with the mode on such that even with no music playing you can’t tell what people are saying around you, even though you can tell they are speaking.
Outdoor is supposed to reduce ambient noises on the go for quieter city spaces but I don’t really get this mode. I use the transport instead, even when out and about, I find it works better for me.
Is this ANC the best there is. Heck no. But it is good enough. And keeping with the XM4 comparison, it’s way more than a fifth as good. The XM4s have better ANC but not by much.
For $80, you won’t find anything better.
The ‘at least it’s there’ transparency mode
New headphones have to have a transparency mode which allows ambient noise in. The Q30s have one and it isn’t much to write home about. Does it somewhat work? Sure.
Having a conversation with these headphones on and with transparency mode turned on is not that great. They don’t amplify the ambient noises well enough and you are a bit isolated and although you can hear yourself speak, you are still aware that you have headphones on.
I’ve found that I release one ear if I want to have conversations. It’s a shame because just holding a hand over the right ear cup turns transparency mode on. If it was good enough I would use it so much.
The transparency mode is good though when using the headphones to take calls. You don’t end up shouting.
The okay mics
The microphones are good enough. Not world changing but you won’t get any complaints from your callers. In my case, none of the people I talked to had any idea I was using headphones.
You have no idea how that’s a big deal to me. Having to disconnect from headphones to take calls sucks. Especially when you get a call every other hour.
The ridiculously good battery life
The Soundcore Life Q30s have otherworldly good battery life. With ANC on you can expect around 40 hours of continuous playback. That is ridiculous.
It gets better, with ANC off you are looking at 60 hours of continuous playback.
I overuse headphones and regularly have them on for at least 12 hours a day. Even with that kind of punishment, I tell you, I’m only charging these bad boys once every 5 days. When at home I don’t use ANC.
If you use them for 8 hours a day you will go over a week on one charge and if that’s not impressive to you, I don’t know what is.
They are so good you will forget that they need to be charged. So, you may find yourself having to step out and without battery. Worry not, only a 5 minute charge can give you 4 hours of listening.
I haven’t tried the 5 minute thing, I always forget and the shortest time I charged them after depleting the battery was around 15 minutes and I went for days with that charge. So, I imagine the 5 minutes = 4 hours claim is true.
Oh, and that charge is delivered via USB-C. Always a good touch. I know most of us’ laptops and phones use that port already. One charger to rule them all.
And if ZESA says ‘you shall not charge’ you can always revert to an aux cable and use the headphones with wires. They don’t have to have power to be used in this way. So, armed with an aux cable you have unlimited battery life.
Do note though you won’t have the fancy features when using aux.
Connecting to 2 devices at the same time
My favourite feature. I keep the headphones connected to my phone and laptop at the same time.
One second I’m playing something from my laptop, I pause the audio, and click play on the phone and I’m playing audio from the phone.
You do have to pause the media player on one device to switch to the other one. The headphones won’t magically pause the other device for you.
The annoying bit is that sometimes you will have to close the app on the computer side for audio input to switch to the phone (It’s not so the other way round). However, when you receive a call on your phone that takes over the audio input every time and that’s brilliant.
Using the headphones
The buttons are a little too slim but they are long enough for it not to be a problem. Plus they have a good satisfying click, you won’t have any complaints.
On the right ear cup are volume and playback controls. There are two large volume buttons, you long press on them to seek tracks. Then the play/pause button stands on its own, smaller in stature. Remember that holding your hand over this cup triggers transparency mode.
On the left cup is the power button and the mode selector. You can toggle between ANC, transparency and normal mode using this button. Unfortunately you can’t change the ANC levels without the app. They just use the last one you selected. That could be why I only ever use the Transport one.
One minor annoyance for me is how long you have to long press buttons for some features like skipping tracks. You have to hold for what feels like a minute for the input to be registered. When I timed it, it looked like you needed to hold for like 1.7 seconds. It’s annoying when you are trying to skip to previous tracks.
The no-brainer choice
Not all is perfect with the Soundcore Life Q30 headphones but for the price, you get an excellent pair of headphones. They punch far above their weight and are not too far off the big boys that cost 5 times as much.
Sure you won’t get on-ear detection, the feature where headphones auto-pause music when they detect they are not on your ears. It’s a neat feature and I would have appreciated it. However, it’s not the end of the world, I’ll just hit the pause button manually, like a caveman.
If you can live with that I reckon you will not regret getting the Soundcore Life Q30 headphones. They tick all the important boxes.
Remember though it’s $80 online. You may have to deal with duties and such when importing them into Zim, you know the deal. Locally you’ll find some sellers offering them for $100. If you have your ways, do what you must, but those are the prices for these good headphones.