Once the preserve of premium headphones, active noise-cancelling technology is fast becoming a staple inclusion in devices designed for those on limited budgets. Just a couple of years ago you’d have struggled to pick up a pair of over-ear ANC headphones for under £200 but Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 show how far the industry has come in a short space of time.
At £80, they’re among the cheapest options on the market. In fact, of the numerous pairs we’ve reviewed over the past year or so, only the OneOdio A10 cost less. That’s all well and good but there’s no sense in buying budget headphones if they’re not fit for purpose. Fortunately, the Life Q30 more than justify their meagre price tag by delivering three levels of effective noise cancellation, highly customisable audio and a decent selection of accessories.
So, if you’re not ready to empty your bank account to buy the Apple AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM4 but want to reduce the impact of external sound on your listening experience, the Life Q30 may be just the headphones you’re after.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review: What do you get for the money?
The Soundcore Life Q30 are over-ear headphones capable of connecting to two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth 5.0 and support the two most widely used audio codecs, AAC and SBC. In addition to regular Bluetooth pairing, they offer NFC pairing by tapping your smartphone on the right earcup.
Included with the headphones are a carrying case, which isn’t of the highest quality but fulfils its function perfectly well, a USB-A to USB-C charging cable and a 3.5mm audio cable that can be plugged into the right earcup for wired listening.
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You might expect Anker to have cut some corners to keep the price of the Soundcore Life Q30 down and, when it comes to their appearance, you’d be right. The Life Q30 aren’t poorly put together but are primarily made of plastic – in black, blue or pink – and this immediately gives them a budget look and feel. They’re not a complete eyesore by any means but aren’t a patch on the (admittedly more expensive) Urbanista Miami and Lindy BNX-100XT when it comes to aesthetic appeal.
Their appearance isn’t helped by the fact that the words “active noise cancelling” are emblazoned onto both sides of the headband. It’s a bizarre design decision that frankly makes them look a bit silly.
Luckily, you’re likely to forget about how they look when they’re on your head and once there, the Life Q30 are very comfortable. They’re lightweight at 265g and the oval earcups fitted perfectly over my ears, leaving enough room for them to breathe. Anker might have been more generous with the amount of padding – they feel rather airy – but this doesn’t impinge on the over-ear seal or comfort.
For controls, the Life Q30 primarily rely on physical buttons located on the outer sections of both earcups. On the left cup you’ll find the power button along with the “NC” button, which cycles through the three sound modes on offer: normal, transparency and noise-cancelling.
The right earcup houses three discrete buttons that handle playing and pausing audio, accepting, ending and rejecting phone calls, volume adjustment, track skipping and voice assistant activation. As with most headphones’ control schemes they take a little getting used to but locating the various buttons was never an issue.
In addition to the control buttons, Anker has also included a quick way to activate transparency mode. By holding your hand over the right earcup you can shift from normal or noise-cancelling mode to transparency mode, which boosts the level of external sound mixed in with the audio you’re listening to. Though not strictly necessary given you can switch modes using the NC button, this feels a touch more intuitive.
The Life Q30 are charged via USB-C and have a stated battery life of up to 60 hours when ANC is turned off and 40 hours when it’s on. That 60-hour figure puts the Life Q30 top of the pile of any over-ear ANC headphones I’ve tested, while the 40 hours when ANC is active is only matched by the Urbanista Miami. I spent a fortnight using the Life Q30 as my primary headphones and impressively, they still had some juice left in them by the end of testing.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review: Is the ANC effective?
For a pair of budget headphones, the Life Q30 handle active noise-cancellation extremely well. There are three separate levels of ANC available and you can switch between them via the Anker Soundcore app. Transport mode focuses on cutting down low-end frequencies and is on par with, if not better than, some more expensive alternatives. Washing machine rumbling was reduced more effectively than the Urbanista Miami (£129) and nearly as well as the Lindy BNX-100XT (£100).
The Indoors and Outdoors modes both work well, too. Indoors mode seeks to dampen voices and mid-range frequencies, while Outdoors mode decreases ambient sounds and proved particularly effective at reducing wind noise. Decent ANC on budget headphones is a rarity, so having three modes tailored for different situations that all successfully put a dent in external noise is highly impressive.
The noise reduction can’t match that of the industry’s big hitters like the Apple AirPods Max, the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose’s NC700 but it’s a mighty fine attempt from a pair of headphones costing a fraction of the price. My one minor grumble is that you can only switch between the three modes via the app, but having to do so is certainly not a dealbreaker.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review: How do they sound?
The Life Q30’s default sound profile is referred to as “Soundcore Signature” and is V-shaped with bass frequencies particularly prominent. Too prominent, in fact, and that’s coming from someone with a penchant for low-end punch.
Bass dominated proceedings on pretty much everything I listened to and certain tracks, such as Floating Points’ sub-bass heavy “Karakul”, caused the earcups to vibrate noticeably around my ears. I don’t think Anker intended for the Life Q30 to generate a haptic feedback kind of experience but that’s exactly how it feels when the bass really gets big. Mid-range vocals and treble are actually delivered with decent clarity but it’s tricky to truly appreciate them when the bass is so overwhelming.
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This is where Anker’s comprehensive Soundcore companion app comes into play. Within the app you’ll find no fewer than 22 different EQ presets to select from. I won’t list them all, but they cover pretty much every genre of music, including pop, rock, R&B and classical, along with presets that boost or reduce bass and treble.
Should you wish to create your own preset, you can do so via an eight-band graphic equaliser. The equaliser ranges from 100Hz to 12.8kHz and lets you increase or decrease each band by up to 6dB. To counteract the over-egged bass I dropped down the 100 and 200Hz bands down a few decibels and the resulting audio experience was far more palatable. The bass still packed a satisfying oomph but didn’t tread on the toes of the mids and treble, making for a far better audio balance.
The app offers a couple of other neat features, too. You can discover new music and stream it in the app via Soundcore’s streaming partner LÜM. This is a platform developed for independent artists and is well worth exploring if you fancy broadening your musical horizons. There’s also a Sleep Mode option, which provides you with a selection of ambient sounds that can be blended together to create a soundscape to drift off to. The tech is fun to play around with but the Life Q30 aren’t headphones you’re going to want to fall asleep wearing so it’s unlikely to see much use.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review: What could be improved?
Given you can tweak the audio to your liking, it’s easy enough to let the exaggerated bass reproduction of the default sound profile slide. But there are a couple of simple ways the Life Q30 could be improved.
First and foremost I’d remove the words active noise cancellation from the headband – they’re garish and totally unnecessary. I’d also like to see the headband streamlined a little, as the side sections protrude out rather a long way, which does how they look on your head no favours.
Wear detection would be a welcome addition, too, as would the ability to switch ANC profiles without having to access the app but that’s probably asking a bit much of a pair of budget-friendly headphones.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30 review: Should you buy them?
The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 are fantastic value for money, delivering effective ANC that belies their price tag, class-leading battery life and extensive audio customisation options via an excellent companion app.
Sure, they’re a long way from being the best looking headphones available, but sacrifices have to be made somewhere and the substance is very much there, even if the style is a little lacking.
If you want noise-cancelling headphones and are on a strict budget, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 are a superb choice.