Pushing Above Their Weight
These Are My Favorite Noise-Canceling Headphones Under $100
Anker remains an industry leader in portable batteries, wall chargers and other smartphone accessories, but the company has branched out in the last year; it now makes for some of our favorite portable projectors, Bluetooth speakers and true wireless earbuds. The common theme that runs throughout all their products, no matter what is it, is good quality at a really good price. Take the Anker Soundcore Space NC ($99), the company’s first ever pair of wireless active noise-canceling headphones, for example. A pair of these over-ear headphones costs just under $100.
In the past, most of Anker’s other affordable audio products have been well reviewed, but the Soundcore Space NC feels different. Anker has done Bluetooth headphones before, but never over-ear models. Not only that, but the Soundcore Space NC marks the first time that the company has dabbled in active noise-canceling, a territory that has been dominated by Bose and, more recently, Sony. But at just $99, Anker’s Soundcore Space NCs aren’t really competing with wireless ANC headphones that cost between $300-$400. Instead, they’re in a category all their own.
The Good: The Soundcore Space NC headphones are extremely affordable and deliver better-than-average sound quality. They’re very comfortable, too, and have a collapsible design making them easy to travel with. The battery life, even in wireless and ANC modes, is exceptional. The natural, passive noise isolating ability of the headphones is pretty good. The headphones are backed by a “worry-free” 18-month warranty.
Who They’re For: Anybody who wants comfortable wireless over-ear headphones, and who doesn’t want to spend big. They’re some of the cheapest active noise-canceling headphones you’re likely to find, although their ANC ability doesn’t stack up to much more expensive models.
Watch Out For: You won’t be blown away by their active noise-canceling ability; it handles low-frequency noises decently and actually does an admirable job of attenuating background music, but you can still hear conversations, especially in office settings, loud and clear. With the ANC turned on, it muddles the mid-range so most audio tracks don’t sound nearly as good. As far as looks go, the headphones are pretty generic looking. They also have pretty prominent branding on the earcups and headband. Charges via micro-USB, which feels dated.
Alternatives: If you’re looking for the best wireless active noise-canceling headphones, you’re going to have to spend 2x, 3x or 4x more than what these Ankers cost. You can find our favorite wireless ANC headphones here.
Review: These days, it’s difficult to not trust that Anker is going to deliver a quality product. Of its recent audio products, I’ve been thoroghly impressed with its wireless running headphones, the SoundBuds Slim ($26), its true wireless earbuds, the Zolo Liberty ($99), and its newest portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Soundcore Flare ($60). And to be honest, the Anker Soundcore Space NC were just as impressive.
The sound quality on these headphones is definitely decent. Over the last week, I’ve put the Soundcore Space NC through my usual tests, streaming mostly London Grammar, Grouplove and Led Zepplin, and all the tracks sounded good — on par with my Apple AirPods ($159), but with better passive noise-isolation. The midrange and treble are loud and clear. And while the bass isn’t as punchy as over-ear models by Beats and Bose, it’s definitely still there.
Now, while the audio quality is there, the active noise-canceling of these headphones leaves something to be desired. As I mentioned before, I mostly wore these headphones around the office. We usually have background music playing, mostly jazz, and the headphones were are able to noticeably attenuate that music. The ANC also worked well while I was walking home from the office, on things like passing cars. However, conversations of any kind were still loud and clear. I could hear my colleagues talking, 10 feet away, as if the ANC wasn’t even turned on.
There were a few features with the Soundcore Space NCs that weren’t great, however. I’m not the biggest fan of swipe gestures in general — I’m more of a “button guy” — but the swipe gestures on these headphones, which are located on the right earcup and can be used to play/pause, adjust volume and skip tracks, aren’t nearly as intuitive or responsive as on other wireless ANC headphones, such as the Sony WH-1000XM2. I had to swipe and hold to do any of those things, and they didn’t always work (especially play/pause). That said, there were times where weirdly responsive; when adjusting the headphones off, I’d graze the right earcup with my hand and the track would pause or skip. It was just a little frustrating. Another little thing that I learned pretty quickly was that you have to hold the power button, for a second or more, to pair the headphones to my iPhone each time. You can’t just tab and go. The same is true with the “phone” button when answering and hanging up phone calls.
As they’re just $99, they don’t have a lot of the other features found in higher-end models. There’s no companion app, which is both good and bad in my opinion, so you can’t adjust EQ settings. There’s no ambient noise mode to better year your surroundings. There aren’t any optical sensors to detect when you put on and take off the headphones. And there’s no integrated virtual assistant, like Alexa or Google Assistant, which seems the in vogue thing to do for other headphone manufacturers.
Verdict: I can’t overstate this: the Anker Soundcore Space NCs are some of the most comfortable over-ear headphones that I’ve ever worn. They have a killer battery life. If you can get over the generic aesthetic and sometimes frustrating swipe gestures, these are a real no-brainer buy. They’re good wireless over-ear headphones, with decent noise-canceling abilities, at a ridiculously affordable price.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Anker makes a lot of promises about the Soundcore Space NC, most of which it lives up to. I was extremely impressed with the battery life, for example. Anker promises 20 hours of wireless playback with ANC enabled, and 50 hours of wired ANC-enabled playback. In my experience, this is about right. It’s nice not having to worry about your headphones dying on you mid-week, especially if you’re as bad as I am at remembering to charge things. Over the testing period, I think I’ve only had to fully recharge the cans once..” — Matthew Hughes, The Next Web
• “There are few headphones that are universally loved. But at $99, the Anker Soundcore Space NC might just be the final word in noise-canceling and wireless sound. Add to this a fantastic sound quality and you have one sure-fire headphone, folks.” — Carroll Moore, Major Hi-Fi
• “I listened to the Space NC through numerous apps and phones and found they took some getting used to. Straight out of the box, the Space NC are tuned a bit too much toward the bass end of the spectrum. While bass was tight and punchy, mids and highs fell a bit flat. R&B and electronic music shined via the Space NC, but I was not impressed with the sound of rock or metal. Acoustic and vocal performances had a warm sound that at times came across as overly compressed.” — Eric M. Zeman , Phone Scoop
Type: Over-Ear, wireless active noise-canceling headphones
Drivers: 40mm dynamic
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1
Battery: 20 hours in wireless NC mode, 50 hours in wired NC mode
Companion app: None
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