The popular names in the noise canceling headphone space have been Bose and Sony for a while with Apple throwing their (very expensive) hat in the ring recently. While there are others, these are certainly the most well-known and popular. But, their retail prices are over $300. How good can $50 noise canceling headphones be?
Review of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Link: Anker Soundcore Life Q20 – $50 (this and the links below are affiliate links that support the site – thanks for the support!)
How Good Can $50 Noise Canceling Headphones Be?
I was drawn to these particular headphones (there are many budget noise canceling headphones) due to the name – Anker. I have so many Anker products all around my house/car/office/etc because they do a great job of keeping all my electronics powered on the go. Not only that, but their projector is the best micro one I know of and is actually fun to use (who ever uses the word “fun” about a video projector?!).
While it may sound unfair, I did review them to compare them against the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM4. I had both of these going and personally own the Sony headphones so I already know what I like. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 – while keeping in mind how they may match up to the Bose and Sony offerings.
The Good and Bad About the Anker Soundcore Life Q20
First up on this list is – the price. While $49 is the regular price ($59 being the list price), it is not hard at all to find sales that bring it lower than that. Right now, they are available with a 10% off coupon to bring them down to $44.
What is Active Noise Cancellation and Are the Anker Soundcore Headphones Good with This?
I mean – $50 for a pair of headphones that offer active noise cancellation? That is a great starting point for sure! I will take a quick side trip to explain the “active noise cancellation” part.
It is not hard to find headphones and earbuds that claim “noise cancellation” but to find out what kind of noise canceling is going on, you need to look for one of two words – passive or active.
Active noise cancellation means that the headphones/earbuds are utilizing microphones to introduce a sound that is 180 degrees out of phase from the sound it is trying to cancel. Basically, it would “hear” a sound like engine noise and then introduce its own sound at that frequency that is exactly opposite from the original sound. When this is done, it “cancels” out the offending noise.
Passive noise cancellation is done by using physical parts to block out the sound. This can be ear pads that fit securely around your ear to block out noise and earbuds that fit snugly within the ear to effect the same result.
Just because a pair of headphones advertises active noise cancellation does not mean that they are going to be great, however! As you can probably tell from the explanation, it is a technical process and this means that it is more parts and more money to produce a desired result. Instead, you may be better off going with headphones that provide for passive noise cancellation through a tight/secure (and comfortable) fit if you are looking for headphones to block out noise at budge prices – normally.
Active noise cancellation works great on low frequency sounds like engine noise – this is why they are popular onboard airplanes. Combining active and passive noise cancellation can also help to eliminate other noises around you as well but do not expect to never hear anything at all, though the high-end headphones have gotten very good at this!
So, how do the Anker Soundcore noise canceling headphones do in this regard? They actually handle low frequency noise (like engine noise) pretty well. I was pleasantly surprised with what they were able to eliminate in that lower band of noises.
They worked moderately well at keeping outside conversation audio levels muted as well. I was in a somewhat noisy environment of people talking and the Anker Soundcore headphones made all that heavy sound drop to a more muted murmur.
I say that the Anker Soundcore headphones do a pretty good job at noise cancellation. They do not do as good of a job as the Bose or my Sony headphones but I would have been extremely shocked if that had been the case and was not expecting that to be that way anyway!
Build Quality of Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Another area that premium headphones really shine is in their build quality. For the traveler on the go, those headphones are getting used quite a bit. This means stretching them over the head, standing up to possible drops, leaning on them with a slanted head, being carried around places all over the world – people expect the Bose and Sony to hold up, and they do.
The Anker Soundcore Q20 headphones definitely show their budget pricing with the build quality. The plastic used is cheaper feeling, which helps them to feel lighter but also feel not as durable. This can be felt in the ear cups as well as the headband. It isn’t to say that it is bad but does leave you wondering how well they will hold up with constant use on the go.
Another area where the cheaper quality shines through is with the buttons. They are very “clicky” in a cheap-feeling way. Again, not a big deal but do keep this in mind because I do not know how well they would stand up with time.
But, these are $50 headphones! I did not expect them to have a premium feel – and don’t want you to expect that premium feel either! They will survive some drops but do feel like they could crack if it is too much.
Comfort of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20
This is something that is a bit more subjective since everyone has different kinds of ears, headshape, and even expectation of comfort. While the new Apple AirPods Max have gotten high praise for comfort, there are still others that returned them due to not feeling as comfortable as they wanted.
Bose has done a great job of keeping their headphones comfortable for a wide range of people and the recent Sony WH-1000XM4 did improve in the comfort area over the XM3 (at least in my perception and some other reviewers).
The Anker Soundcore Q20 felt comfortable for my wearing them for around 1-2 hours. Over the 2 hour mark, they felt hot/sweat-inducing and a bit more uncomfortable. The hot part was not due to the electronics but instead to the ear cups as the material used really did not breathe well. Anker says these are memory foam but I just didn’t care for the breathability factor of them for long-term use.
For shorter spans, they absolutely worked well enough. Again, for someone else, the comfort level may be much greater.
Battery Life and Features of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Anker says that these get 40 hours of battery life with the noise cancellation turned on and 60 hours with them off. This would match and even exceed some of the Bose and Sony headphones – and my results were pretty close to this time. Even if they are running low, they feature the quick charge function that give you another 4 hours for a 5 minute charge. I love this feature on headphones since it lets you plug them in while you head for the airplane lavatory and extend the playing time another few hours.
They do only have connectivity with one device at a time (something that only the latest headphones from Bose and Sony improved on, the earlier versions match the Anker). But, Anker does have a version that does give 2 device connectivity – the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 which price out at $80.
I found the sound quality to be definitely better than I would have thought for headphones under $100. They have a bass boost function which kicks the bass up quite a bit and the audio drivers they use provide a decent recreation of the music you are listening to. I do most of my noise cancellation headphone use for either speaking videos, audiobooks, or a movie so am not a huge music listener for the most part with these headphones.
The “Bad” About the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Headphones
It feels really weird to talk about “bad” with headphones that are under $50. I mean, I know I am looking at them from the premium noise canceling headphone experience so it seems to put them at an unfair advantage. However, this just shows how good I think these are to even be brought up against the premium headphones.
First, they use the micro-USB connector. I know the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II also do that and it may not be a big deal but I have moved away completely from that kind of cable. Almost every type of electronics I own now use USB C. I prefer that over the micro-USB by a lot but that can be very much a personal take – just throwing that out there.
Second, these do not come with a travel case. If you want them with a travel case, that will cost you $60 for that bundle. Given the cheaper building quality, I would definitely suggest getting that version if you plan on traveling with them. Although, once you get to $60, now you are just $20 less than the newer and upgraded Q30 headphones! 🙂
Lastly, it would be the things already mentioned like comfort and build quality. But, again, these are not $200+ headphones – if so, I would definitely ding them quite a bit for this. But, these are just $50 headphones so in that arena, they do a great job.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 noise canceling headphones do a great job. They cost less than $50 and can be very helpful at muting the sounds like engine noise when traveling on a plane or in a car.
So, who are the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones for? I would say that if you travel by plane 2-4 times per year, these would be great for that. But, if you normally fly international at least a couple of times a year or more than 6 times per year domestically, I would consider a more premium pair. I would also suggest something more premium if you plan on using them all day in a work-from-home office.
But, for anyone that just wants to kill the noise for a couple of hours on and off or to get some decent headphones at a great price, you cannot really go wrong with the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 for under $50!