Top positive review
The only way to know
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2019
I used to be really onboard with Anker when they were a small startup company, used to meet with their founders at trade shows and give them a lot of free tips and advice, some of which they used and some of which they ignored. These days I’ve been less than thrilled with a lot of stuff they’ve slapping their name on and seeing time after time when other companies are outdoing them in terms of quality and design. In fact the last thing I’ve bought from them has been several years ago and they’ve dropped me from their mailing list.
When I saw this headphone I turned up my nose. As an ex-radio person, producer and recording engineer I know headphones like the back of my hand, my knowledge of them is at the expert level. I own literally a closet shelf full of them at prices ranging into the thousands. The last thing I want or need is another pair. But I was drawn in by the apparent light weight of these and the fact that they use Bluetooth 5.0 for hopefully fewer dropouts and a less compressed sound. Some of the other claims seemed to be more marketing fluff than reality especially at the price.
LIGHT WEIGHT OR LIGHTWEIGHTS
Let’s face it; a good pair of headphones can get very heavy and tiresome to wear. At only 10 ounces (as measured by me) these promise to be more comfortable but that usually comes at the expense of being made of cheap plastic that falls apart after a few months.
REAL BASS OR A NICE EFFECT
Headphones are governed by the laws of science, the larger the transducer and the more powerful the driver the better it can reproduce ultra low frequencies. Anker touts a spinoff of what Bose and other companies have done for years, to fool the ears into thinking they are hearing certain frequencies for what I call the wow effect. And that’s what it is, for a few minutes you are blown away by the most awesome sound you’ve ever heard. Then it all starts to tire your ears and your brain and you find you are not really listening to music but rather a sound effect. I subjected these to the same standard test that I have used since the days I worked with Henry Kloss and the folks at Shure. My testing isn’t all that scientific, it’s just based on real life reproduction of sound and user listenability.
CONDITIONS OF COMPARISON
Evaluating headphones is not an easy task. There will be the inevitable reviews that go overboard gushing about how spectacular these are because they were given a sample to try. And at the opposite end those who set the bar too high by comparing them to audiophile models costing many times more. What we have here are neither, at under forty bucks they are an all plastic mass produced product that rises only slightly above the toy level. So let’s be fair and realistic, I’m going to stick to telling you what you get for forty bucks and steer far away from idealizing them or complaining that they aren’t as good as my studio reference quality cans.
I have nothing against plastic and let’s face it, even Ferraris are made with a lot of plastic these days. Some of the best headphones available are made with manmade synthetic materials. Unfortunately these are made from a relatively low grade of plastic that adversely affects the sound quality. In a way its like how certain plastics affect the taste of food and beverages. To use the comparison again it’s what I would call a toylike quality. On the plus side the hinges are made of metal.
For the most part Anker has done a good job designing the control panel on these phones. Everything is grouped at the bottom of the right earpiece and the buttons have a tactile touch to them plus the practice of having buttons perform multiple functions is kept to an absolute minimum. There is a power switch that also sets up the Bluetooth pairing. It also controls the use of these phones as a smartphone headset but I won’t talk about that usage, I think there are far better smartphone headsets to consider than this thing. The next button is a volume rocker that’s reasonably easy to operate and finally the bass boost button. Nearby are a USB-C charging port and a standard stereo mini audio port for wired operation. Next to those is a small LED status light.
The choice of a USB-C port is neither a major plus or a minus but its potential is minimized by the fact that they don’t include a power supply charger. They do include a short stereo audio cable and for the first time ever it prompts me to describe an item as vapid. The cable is flimsy, too short and doesn’t attach very securely. When you plug it in it disables all onboard electronics so the headphone drivers are being powered solely by your device’s amplifier, hence the maximum volume level is relatively weak. By disabling the electronics you lose one of the headphone’s major selling points, the bass boost system. You will also have to resort to only using the volume controls on your smartphone or other device.
BEST AND WORST
Most products have at least one feature to love but on the downside one you wish they had put more thought into. With this product the kudos go to printing the Left and Right designations boldly inside each earcup. So many others these days have a tiny molded in designator or even none at all. It’s so nice to be able to pick them up, even in near darkness, and know which ear is which. The negative side of the coin is the loud and somewhat grating voice that comes through the earpieces when you turn the bass boost on and off (it’s also there for a few other functions as well). The voice is so annoying that having it is almost a complete dealbreaker for me. Not counted against them but worth noting is that the instruction sheet defies any form of comprehension. Come on Anker, you’re a big company now, you can afford to have someone create a better user experience with your instruction manuals.
BASS BOOST AND OVERALL SOUND QUALITY
Here’s a reality check, these are pretty ordinary forty buck headphones. Their major marketing highlight is that bass boost button they call BassUp. I’m going to combine talking about that with my overall opinion of the sound quality of these phones because the two things are intertwined. Here are a few things you should know:
1. Unlike other attempts to wow the user with extended bass these don’t just attenuate the low frequencies but rather they work in real time at selective frequencies to kick up some of them without making everything sound deeper.
2. Yes it does make a difference, but not one that changes the timbre of everything you hear. You might actually go a few seconds or even minutes before you suddenly hear certain frequencies being boosted.
3. Like so many schemes to tweak our listening experience this one gets tiring over time and once the wow factor sizzle has settled down many people may find the effect overbearing.
4. Because of fairly large diaphragms and I assume larger drivers these headphones deliver better than average bass all by themselves without the artificial boost.
5. Unfortunately that plasticky sound I mentioned seems to be worse with the bass booster turned on.
Whether because of or in spite of being all plastic these are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn in a while. The cups fit well and totally encapsulate both ears but there is no excessive pressure. Outside sounds are effectively blocked out and the sweet spot is positioned right over the ear canal. The headband is soft and adjustable and there’s nothing to pinch or tangle with your hair. They fold and look like they can survive travel, but unfortunately no case or travel bag is included.
BLUETOOTH COMPRESSION AND CUTOUT
Using Bluetooth 5.0 technology these are an improvement over older technologies. They don’t sound as compressed but don’t expect that they will have the expansive sound stage of a good pair of wired cans, it’s simply not possible yet if you have your heart set on Bluetooth. They are listenable but if you are really into your music you will get frustrated by the occasional cutouts. That rules out stage and studio monitoring applications.
YES OR NO
If your headphone budget limits you to under fifty bucks I can’t think of too many better choices as long as you realize that you will get what you pay for. While Anker has outgrown their early days of legendary customer service I can still recommend that, given the choice when buying low end Chinese products it’s still better to go with a known established brand with a U.S. presence. These aren’t great headphones but neither are they priced like them. I would be wary of any gushing recommendations, everybody hears things differently and it’s hard to separate honest reviews from those with special interests. The only way you will know for sure is to try them on your own ears. Keep them if they sound good to you and if not move on to something else.
[NOTE] For some unexplained reason at the time I got these Anker says that they not currently compatible with the iPhone 11 series, but they advise this model is being upgraded at some point.