For audiophiles who demand the very best, there will always be high-end Bose and Sony headphones with studio-grade sound and every feature under the sun. But in recent years, affordable noise-canceling over-ears have gotten good enough to satisfy most of us, and Anker’s new Soundcore Life Q20s are the best I’ve tried.
Priced at $60 (or $50 this week for launch), they’re firmly in impulse buy territory, and certainly cost less than you’d spend on an inferior pair at the airport before hopping on a flight. Onboard, four noise canceling microphones (two more than the company’s previous model) do an impressive job of muffling ambient sounds, particularly low, consistent ones like airplane noise. They won’t totally mute the world around you, but I found the ANC to be slightly better than other similarly priced headphones I’ve tried, which is to say, it’s good enough.
But it’s sound quality is where the Q20s really shine compared to the sub-$100 competition. The 40mm drivers are Hi-Res Audio Certified, which depending on who you ask, may or may not mean all that much in practice. What it does mean that the drivers can hit frequencies as high as 40 kHz, and not many Bluetooth headphones in this price range can make that claim. There’s also a “Bass Up” mode which, you guessed it, boosts the bass on demand like you’re wearing Beats circa 2014. I admit that I like it. Again, they don’t sound as good as a $300 pair of headphones from the big guys, but they’re the best sounding ANC over-ears I’ve tried in this price range, by a decent margin.
Also new in this model is the inclusion of Bluetooth 5.0, which ensures a stable connection even if you walk far away from your phone, or are walking down a street with a lot of radio interference. But of course, you can also plug in an AUX cable (included) to use them in situations where Bluetooth isn’t available.
If you ever fly, take public transit, or exist day-to-day in a noisy, open office, you should own a pair of noise canceling headphones. You might like the Life Q20s so much that you want to upgrade to a top-of-the-line model, but for most people, this is the pair I’d recommend.