TaoTronics SoundSurge 46 | $70 | Amazon | Clip coupon on page
Frugality isn’t my strong suit. For someone who typically pays top dollar for proven results—especially for electronics—buying a pair of TaoTronics SoundSurge 46 was frightening. They cost me $50 (normally $80, yay sales!), but no matter the amount, I’m less inclined to purchase something from a brand I’m not overly familiar with. I’d much rather splurge on top-dollar products from those I know first-hand will always deliver on quality, reliability, and consistency.
TaoTronics has earned the right to claim those traits, but there are levels to this audio game. They’re not Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, or a dozen other mainstay audio brands that have yet to let me down. But this time, I needed a quick fix in a pinch to help drown the product of my nephew’s daily sugar rush, and I wanted to see how far $50 could take me.
Opening the included carrying case for the first time reveals an attractive set of sleek closed-back cans, and I was immediately thankful to notice the sufficient padding surrounding the mostly plastic chassis. Comfort is one area budget brands skimp (especially the headband), but TaoTronics gets it. The soft foam surrounding the rotating drivers cups my slightly larger-than-average ears with room to spare, and they don’t cause a sweaty mess in my canals at normal resting temperatures. The headband also had just the right amount of padding: not so little that it’s eating my scalp for breakfast, but not so much that I’m standing around like a retired DJ refusing to relinquish the glory days.
So, I can wear them all day if I want to, and that’s dope, but it’s the audio performance that ultimately dictates my willingness to do so. I’m glad to report that the 40mm drivers in the headphones are plenty powerful, but not explosively so, and I can always appreciate that. The sound signature offers a tight, confident bass response with a chippy upper register. Unfortunately, TaoTronics doesn’t quite nail the mid-range, which loses considerable detail in heavily layered tracks.
One of my favorite songs to test headphones for this is Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, featuring one of the most spirited guitar solos in the history of rock. Your ears will reach for those distinct instrumentals once the slow rocking lyrical intro crescendos into a self-speaking extended solo, stemming from two different electric guitars (three in this live rendition!!) each strumming slightly different riffs, a meandering bass groove to match, a piano driving the melody, and percussion to tie it all together. That’s a lot to keep track of, and the SoundSurge 46 can’t separate them as much as I’d like.
And this might just be a personal taste thing, but I like my stereophonic spectrum balanced across the board. The mids take a clear backseat here, and that was consistent for many songs across several genres. It’s not terrible, though, and I brought a good bit of it back with EQ adjustments in my music app. Might I also add that these are great for spoken word content like podcasts? My ASMR tingle engine didn’t mind them, either.
Where I take issue is active noise cancellation (ANC) performance, and that’s where I might as well just reach for my AudioTechnica M50X. There are two ugly sides to this, but the most important is that its cancellation isn’t effective enough. Even halfway across the room, the quiet whir of my fan on its low setting leaks into my ears, and that’s with music going at medium volume. I can hear the conference calls from the three people working from home down our long second-floor hallway. My nephew’s excited rampages and door-busting announcements are just as alarming.
Sure, I could turn the music up past my comfort point, but then I lose my comfort. Many ANC headphones allow you to adjust the intensity of the effect, but there’s just one level on these, and I feel like it’s set to “as low as humanly possible” by default.
Another ANC-related niggle has to do with the putrid audio quality while disengaged. It’s normal to have degradation on any ANC headphones with the feature turned off, as the manufacturer tunes them expecting you’ll use it more often than not. But the SoundSurge 46 suffer from unforgivable flatness that’s not at all worth the slight battery gain.
Speaking of which, I don’t have any problems with longevity off the charger. I haven’t been able to hit the advertised 30-hour mark with ANC on, but I can tell you I’ve been able to swing a few 8-hour work shifts before the kind lady in my ear yells at me, and I can go from dead to 100% in under an hour, and that’s good enough for me.
If I’m nitpicky, the only other thing on my wishlist is a more expansive control scheme. As it stands, you have a quick tap of the volume buttons to adjust levels and a long-press for skipping tracks. The power button acts as pause/play on a single tap, while a double tap rings your last caller. (Its hold gesture is reserved for power on/off.) I’d have appreciated a double-tap gesture for voice assistants at the very least.
Everything else is fine. I don’t feel constrained by the Bluetooth range, which allows me to move almost anywhere inside my 2,500 square-foot home without losing signal, so long as the transmitting device is on the same floor. There weren’t any weird pairing or connectivity issues, nor were there glaring call quality issues, even with fans, Twitch streams, and other fun ambient sounds.
Would I buy these again? Not for ANC alone. To be fair, they do say these are “hybrid” ANC headphones, and I haven’t been able to finagle a clear answer on what exactly that means. If I’m just looking for cheap, quality, no-fuss Bluetooth headphones with respectable audio performance and a low-profile aesthetic, the SoundSurge 46 get me most of the way.