Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 are an upgrade to their hugely popular Life Q20. They have multi-mode active noise cancellation, a very welcome transparency mode, up to 60 hours of battery life, NFC pairing, a compact foldable design and are configurable via an accompanying app.
I’ll briefly run through their features before discussing how they sound and just how effective their various noise cancellation modes are. And in the accompanying video you’ll be able to hear for yourselves how they in the sound tests I’ve recorded using binaural microphones.
They cost less than a third of the price of headphones with similar features from Bose and Sony, but let’s find out if they’re any good.
Inside the box you get a stylish hard case, the headphones themselves, a 3.5mm audio cable for a wired connection, a USB-C charging cable and an instruction manual. There’s no included airline adapter.
Their foldable design makes them quite compact, measuring 170mm x 150mm x 80mm when folded, with their length increasing to 200mm when unfolded. There’re a little larger folded than the Tribit QuietPlus I reviewed recently. They weigh about the same at 265g, a little lighter than the non-foldable Taotronics BH046s I reviewed a while back.
First impressions of the headphones are good. They have an elegant design with rounded ear cups both with Anker’s Soundcore logo in reflective gold. They’re mostly plastic with a metal headband. Unfortunately the smooth plastic finish does attract fingerprints.
They do creak a little as you adjust them, but they feel fairly sturdy. They don’t have any IPX weather-proof rating.
The headband expands with positive clicks, and only needed expanding slightly for my head. The inside of each cup is clearly labelled L and R which is helpful. The ear cups completely surround my ears and aren’t too tight.
They have a soft synthetic material for the ear cup pads and underneath the headband, which feels very comfortable but I did find them too warm for exercising.
The ear cups have over 90 degrees of rotation which helps to provide their comfortable fit, and they can lay flat on the table like the Taotronics which makes their storage case slimmer than the Tribit’s, although it takes a few attempts to get them oriented back in their case correctly.
They do feel a little top heavy if you’re moving around. I found I had to tighten the headband a little more than I usually would on the cycling turbo trainer.
The headphones have an uncovered USB-C charging port and will charge with both the supplied USB-A to USB-C cable as well as a dual ended USB-C cable which isn’t always the case.
The status LED lights red while charging and turns off when fully charged. A full charge of its 720mAh battery takes around 2 hours, charging at just under 0.6A.
The left ear cup has the USB-C charging port, power button, status LED and noise cancellation button. There’s also the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) mic.
The right ear cup has a 3.5mm audio-in jack port for a wired connection with the supplied cable, the multifunction playback button and the volume controls. And there’s the second ANC mic plus the phone call mic at the bottom.
Unlike the Tribit and Taotronics, there’s no separate switch to turn ANC on. But you can still use ANC with a wired connection. After you plug in the 3.5mm cable, Bluetooth is switched off and the headphones appear to power off if they were on. But ANC can still be used and you can cycle through the various modes as I’ll come back to. If they were off before you plugged in the audio cable, a brief press of the power button or ANC button turns ANC on.
You can use them wired while charging, but ANC and Bluetooth won’t function.
When you turn the headphones on for the first time with a 3 second press of the power button, the status LED flashes blue and you can tap on Soundcore Life Q30 in your Bluetooth settings. You can also enter pairing mode with a 5 second press of the power button with the headphones off.
To pair to a second device, press the power button twice to re-enter pairing mode.
In this Dual Pairing mode, you can now switch between your two paired devices by pausing playback on one device, and starting playback on the other.
They also support NFC pairing with a supported Android phone. Just tap the phone on the right ear cup and accept the prompt. It’s a great feature that I wish Apple would also support.
To reset the headphones and forget all pairing records, press the power button and volume up button together for 5 seconds, with the headphones turned on. The status LED flashes purple.
The control buttons on the right ear-cup are well placed, easily accessible with your right thumb. The play pause button also handles phone calls.
And a one second press activates your voice assistant. A one second press of the volume up and down buttons skip tracks.
All three buttons do feel the same so you have to remember which button does what. I have already managed to end a phone call whilst trying to adjust the volume.
The ANC button on the left earcup cycles between noise cancellation, normal mode and transparency mode.
Covering the right earcup switches to transparency mode and back to either noise cancellation or normal mode depending on what was set previously. This is a welcome, intuitive feature.
You have more control in the accompanying Soundcore app, where you can also choose from three noise cancellation modes. The default is Indoor mode, but there’s also a Transport and Outdoor mode. And you can configure a widget, on iOS at least, to quickly change between different modes.
The app lets you choose from a wealth of EQ modes or configure a custom EQ profile. And there’s a great Sleep Mode feature which lets you configure continuous ambient sounds to help you get to sleep. This is very well implemented with a huge choice of sound effects which you can mix to your tastes. This could be a useful feature for travel.
The app also lets you update to the latest firmware. You can’t currently configure audio prompts or adjust when the headphones automatically turn off.
Audio quality & performance
The 40mm drivers deliver excellent sound that is well balanced with deep bass while still maintaining good clarity. These are some of the best sounding headphones I’ve tried under £100 so far. For some tracks I listened to the bass can be a little overpowering, but this is adjustable via the app. But unlike the Taotronics BH-046, they still maintain detail in the mids. The Tribit QuietPlus still probably have the best clarity, but sound a little hollow in direct comparison to the Q30s.
They do sound subtly different with ANC on and off. Like the Tribits I tested recently, the bass is more controlled and they have slightly improved clarity with ANC on. But you do lose a little of their range. It’s barely noticeable for most tracks I listened to.
At very low volumes or using them without playing back music to drown out background noise, you do hear them creak a bit as you move around.
Their maximum volume is more than acceptable and there’s little distortion. Depending on what time of music you’re playing, there is some sound leakage at volumes above around 75%.
The headphones are Hi-Res audio certified, and have support for the higher quality AAC codec, but not aptX or aptX HD.
I mostly used the default Soundcore Signature EQ profile, but the various included profiles are worth experimenting with and sound noticeably different. A nice touch is you can see the graphic EQ for each preset to see exactly what it does, and when you tap on Custom from one of these presets, you can start tweaking that specific profile. You can also create custom profiles from scratch.
The sound test was recorded with binaural microphones that capture stereo sound, to try and provide the closest representation of what I was hearing. Please listen with headphones for the best experience.
The headphones have pretty decent passive noise cancellation, but their Active Noise Cancellation is as good as I’ve tried for headphones in this price range. They don’t get close to providing the eerie silence of something like the Sony 1000 XM3s or XM4s, but together with their passive noise reduction, they’re close to the AirPods Pros and do a good job quieting constant background noises like you get on a plane or train, or the noise of an air conditioning unit or dehumidifier.
Even in a noisier environment, you don’t need to have them at maximum volume to still hear your music or spoken audio.
You can also choose from 3 noise cancelling modes: the default indoor mode, an outdoor mode and a transport mode, all supposedly focusing on different frequencies. I tried them all in various environments and they do all sound very slightly different, but I still left them in their default indoor mode most of the time.
Their new transparency mode is a very welcome addition. It uses the ANC microphones to play back ambient sounds and it sounds very natural. It’s often preferable to be able to hear your surroundings and it also makes them more practical for voice calls where it’s difficult to hold a conversation without clearly hearing your own voice.
The video has a recorded demonstration of their noise cancelling and transparency mode. Again listen with headphones for the best experience.
Anker claims enhanced call quality from their 2 microphones and they did do a decent job for phone calls, even in a noisy environment.
Audio sync playing back YouTube videos even on iOS which is often a challenge, was good with only a tiny delay.
Anker quotes up to 60 hours of battery life with ANC off and 40 hours with it on. And a 5 minute charge from flat should give you 4 hours of playback. I did find battery life very good. Using them mainly with ANC on and at over 75% playback volume, I’ve had multiple days of fairly heavy use without having to top them up. A big advantage of these headphones is they don’t have an ANC switch like the Taotronics and Tribits, which is all too easy to leave turned on. And since they automatically power off when not in use, they generally have battery left when I go to use them.
They have the latest Bluetooth 5.0 and the connection was reliable and the range was good, easily making it to the next room of my house around 10 metres away.
The Soundcore Life Q30s have most of the features you’d want in a set of over ear headphones and they sound good with a well balanced, rich sound. Their ANC does a decent job considering how much they cost, and their transparency mode works well with an intuitive implementation. The accompanying Soundcore app is slick and provides plenty of scope to tweak the headphone’s sound to your tastes.
Even though it’s not something I’ll probably use much, I like the well thought out Sleep feature too.
There are cheaper headphones with similar features like the Taotronics, which I actually feel have a slightly more robust build quality. The Soundcores do feel a little more plasticky than I’d like. But the Taotronics don’t have the clarity of the Life Q30s and their ANC isn’t quite as effective. And they don’t have a transparency mode or accompanying app. The Tribits are currently a little more expensive and don’t have a transparency mode or accompanying app either, but do have excellent clarity.
Overall, these are some of my favourite headphones for under $100 and are definitely worth a look.
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