Here’s the first thing to understand about noise-cancelling earphones and headphones in general: you’re not going to put them on and suddenly feel like you’ve been sealed in a sound-proof room. Active noise cancellation can, to varying degrees, handle regular ambient noise pretty well; it quickly analyzes the incoming sounds and produces inverse sound waves that actually dampen or cancel out what’s outside. But irregular, random noise, it just can’t handle. So if, for example, you’re wearing them at work, it’ll dampen the hum of the AC, but not the sound of your annoying co-workers speaking on the phone in the cell… CUBICLE next to you.
Understanding this, I went into my evaluation of these budget Bluetooth earbuds from Aukey with some skepticism. First, they’re earbuds, and simply can’t do as effective a join at passive noise isolation as a good pair of over-the-ear headphones. Second, at a $60 price point, how effective could the active noise-cancelling tech be?
I’ll admit, they performed better than I expected.
These are the neck-resting style of wireless earphones, meaning there’s a collar-like base unit that rests on your neck, and then earbuds on wires connecting to bring the sound to your ears. The downside is that it’s not the most elegant arrangement. The upside it that it means they can be heavier than just a cord between two earbuds would be, allowing for a decent rechargeable battery (they’ll run for 20 hours on a charge), and of course for the active noise-cancelling tech, which requires a couple of microphones.
As for that key feature, the first time you hear (or don’t hear) it work, it’s like a little bit of magic. Of course, the earbuds do a bit of noise dampening, reducing the outside noise by about 20% just wearing them stuck in your years. But then, if you are sitting in a room with consistent ambient noise, you flip the switch to turn on the noise cancellation, and it’s like you pulled a band or two on your graphic equalizer down to zero: suddenly there’s a hole in the upper mid-range, where there was sound before. Again, not everything is gone, but a very noticeable chunk of sound has been taken out of the background.
Otherwise, these are decent budget Bluetooth headphones. They have the latest BT spec, so they’re delivering pretty decent sound. The build quality is average for this price point. They’re not delicate, but I wouldn’t drop them into the bottom of a backpack and expect them to last very long, either. I do worry that the switch for turning the noise-cancelling on and off is a bit stiff, and I feel like I’m going to snap it off at some point. YMMV.
I think the buying decision for these is the following: if you work in a location with a consistent background hum, and you can’t afford or it’s not appropriate to wear larger over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones, which can run around $200, then these are a decent solution and a step up from just wearing earbuds to block out some sound. They could be good for commutes on public transit as well, where you want to tone down the exterior hum, but not be totally isolated.
[Disclaimer: Aukey sent me a pair of these to evaluate; opinions are my own.]