High-end tech is trickling down to more affordable products these days at a breathtaking speed. What was once the preserve of rich enthusiasts with deep pockets just a few years ago, is now available to the rest of us at prices many of us can afford. For example, I was reviewing the latest ANC (active noise-canceling) headphones Bose and Sony a few years back and these best-in-class headphones were on sale at nearly $400. They provided great noise canceling but not many people wanted to spend that kind of money on a pair of headphones.
Fast forward three years and now we’re positively spoilt for choice with ANC headphones and earphones priced within reach of almost everyone. While Bose and Sony still make some best ANC headphones on the market, cheaper brands are catching up with new developments like digital hybrid ANC technology.
Hybrid ANC samples and filters unwanted sounds in two stages; the first stage measures sound outside of the headphones and then filters out unwanted sound. Microphones inside the headphone earcups resampled the sound for a second time and filters again. Other manufacturers have also learned a few things from Bose and Sony when it comes to comfort levels, battery life and audio quality.
The latest pair of ANC headphones with hybrid technology is being launched today by Soundcore, a sub-brand of computer accessory company Anker. Soundcore strikes me as one of the best affordable headphone brands on the market offering great value and advanced technology at lower prices than Bose or Sony.
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I’ve managed to get my hands on a pair of the new Soundcore Life Q35. These are beautifully designed, over-the-ear wireless headphones. They look and feel both expensive and luxurious thanks to their robust built quality and finish. The Life Q35 support SBC, AAC and LDAC audio codecs as well as NFC Bluetooth pairing with Android devices. Additionally, the Life Q35 are certified for Hi-Res music and have a battery that can deliver 60 hours of palytime on a single charge with ANC turned off. With ANC turned on, they can play for up to 40 hours between charges.
Like most headphones that are built for traveling, the Soundcore Life Q35 fold up into a compact size and stow away in their zippered hard case, covered in something that feels a little like suede. The headband is fully extendable to fit all head sizes and has a well-padded cushion to reduce pressure on the wearer’s head.
The ear pads of the Life Q35 are luxuriously plump and beautifully soft, enclosing the wearer’s ears entirely. Even without the headphones turned on, the Life Q35 manage to passively block a lot of external sounds. In some situations, the ANC function may not even need to be turned on to cut unwanted noises.
Comfort and fit are one of the most important aspects in headphone design, especially if they are likely to be worn for many hours at a time, such as on a long-haul flight or during an extended road or rail journey. The Life Q35 certainly pass the comfort test and can be worn for long periods without feeling heavy or making ears feel hot or sweaty. These are some of the most comfortable and affordable headphones on the market right now.
Each of the Life Q35’s ear cups have controls on them. The left side has a power switch and an ANC button, plus a USB-C port for recharging the built-in lithium battery. The USB port doesn’t offer a digital connection to a computer and is used solely for charging the battery. The right ear cup has a cluster of three buttons that are used to control the audio with a play/pause button plus two other buttons for skipping or repeating tracks, adjusting volume levels and accepting, ending or rejecting phone calls. The Q35 also include a smart-wear function that automatically pauses the music as soon as the wearer takes the headphones off their head.
There’s a 3.5mm stereo jack included for connecting the Life Q35 to an audio player or a smartphone with a traditional headphone socket. An audio cable is supplied with the Life Q35 with a basic inline remote control. Soundcore also includes a USB-C cable for recharging the battery and an airline adapter. The headphones are available in Obsidian Blue finish and later this year there will be a Frosted Pearl version on sale. The Life Q35 look great and fold up easily so they can be stowed away in the hard zippered case which protects them when they are not being used.
Pairing up the Life Q35 with a smartphone or computer is easy thanks to a choice of NFC or manual pairing with most Bluetooth-enabled devices. A second Bluetooth device can also be connected for multipoint use, enabling the listener to have the headphones connected to a smartphone and a TV or audio player at the same time. This means a phone call can be accepted from a smartphone while the user is listening to music being streamed from a digital audio player. The headphones automatically reconnect each time they are powered up and Soundcore has included support for both SBC and AAC, plus Sony’s high-quality LDAC codec has been included for the first time on Soundcore’s headphone range.
The battery life is good for up to 60 hours of continuous playtime without the ANC engaged. With ANC turned on you can expect up to 40 hours of playtime. The battery takes just two hours to completely charge and there’s a burst mode that provides up to four hours of playtime on a 15-minute charge. That’s handy for anyone who’s about to go out for a walk or to the gym and discovers there’s no charge left in the battery.
An ANC function is essential these days when headphones are often used in noisy environments. ANC technology has improved massively of late and has caught up with the performance of headphones made by Bose and Sony. The Soundcore Life Q35 also have an app that users can download, providing customized ANC settings, including a Transport Mode that can block out the sound of an aircraft’s engines, even when the user is not listening to music and simply wants to get some sleep. There’s also a Transparent Mode that allows a certain amount of noise from the outside world to be fed into the audio signal and is ideal for anyone Listening for a travel announcement or someone who needs to be aware of their surroundings. The Soundcore app can also be used to update the Life Q35’s firmware and has customizable EQ profiles so the sound can be tailored to the listener’s preferences.
The Soundcore app also includes a special sleep function that can play soothing sounds like a rainstorm, waves lapping on a sandy shore, a ticking clock and even birdsong. The app can even mix these sounds to provide a customized lullaby with a sleep function that turns the Life Q35s off after a certain amount of time. This is a great for anyone who suffers from insomnia or tinnitus. It’s ideal for playing on an airplane in conjunction with the ANC function.
The Soundcore Life Q35 use a hybrid digital ANC technique, a noise-canceling technology that samples sound in the environment around the listener, as well as any sounds reaching the interior of the ear cups. Hybrid ANC is a recent development that’s made ANC performance much more effective and more affordable. The quality noise canceling on the Life Q35 is exemplary and is able to cancel out external noises like aircraft engines, the hum of air-conditioning, keyboard sounds or the rhythmic rattle of a train running over railway tracks. The noise is canceled without negatively affecting the music and, to my ears, the music sounds even better with ANC turned on. I can’t fault the quality of Soundcore’s Hybrid ANC.
As for the music, the sound the Life Q35 creates is nothing short of stunning. There’s plenty of bass, a forward midrange, plus a deliciously smooth treble. The superb sound quality is down to Soundcore’s 40mm silk-diaphragm drivers. These drivers add depth and airiness to the music and creates a wider soundstage. The sound is fulsome although some people might find the Souncore EQ setting slightly boomy in the bass. I auditioned the Life Q35 by listening to some classic John Coltrane and Diana Krall tracks. Jazz music is often a great test for headphones as of the audio quality, even on tracks recorded back in the 1950s by the likes of Blue Note’s engineer Rudi van Gelder, is superb. Thanks to Hi-Res Music certification, the Soundcore Life Q35 also work well with most HD music streaming services such as TIDAL and Qobuz.
Verdict: Anker’s brand new Soundcore Life Q35 ANC headphones are one of the best-value wireless ANC headphones on the market right now. Everything about them feels well thought out. The build quality is excellent and the comfort levels are exemplary, thanks to a sensible weight, comfortable fit, soft ear cups and a plus headband. The wonderfully long battery life and effective Hybrid ANC are the icing on the cake. For anyone who doesn’t fancy blowing a lot of money on a pair of Bose or Sony ANC headphones, then I’d suggest getting a pair of Soundcore Life Q35. The only downsides I can see are the absence of support for Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive audio codec and an inability to drive the headphones directly from a computer’s USB port. Anyone who wants effective ANC, great sound, good build quality, plus support for LDAC, all at a sensible price, should look no further than the Soundcore’s Life Q35. Highly recommended.
Pricing: $129.99 / £129.99 / €129.99
More info: www.soundcore.com
- Model: Soundcore Life Q35
- Wireless transmission: Bluetooth 5
- Audio codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC
- ANC method: Digital Hybrid ANC Multi-Mode Noise Cancellation
- Drivers: 40mm Silk Diaphragm Drivers
- Hi-Res Certified Sound: Yes
- 40 Hours with ANC On / 60 Hours with ANC Off
- NFC: Yes
- Charging time: 2 hours
- Burst charge: 5-Min = 4-Hour Playtime
- Playing time: 60 Hours (ANC off)/ 40 Hours (ANC on)
- Microphones: 2
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Frequency Response: 16Hz – 40kHz
- Bluetooth Range: 15 m / 49.21 ft
- Battery capacity: 720mAh
- Input: 5 V ⎓ 0.65 A