After a year of lockdowns, restrictions and fighting over toilet rolls, we're desperate to start going to gigs again. We miss the buzz, the camaraderie... hell, we even miss being showered by a musty pint of urine. It might be a little while before things get properly back to normal, though, so in the meantime we'll have to make do with listening to our favourite bands in the comfort of our own cesspit.
Don't want to upset the neighbours? That's where the best over-ear headphones come in handy – and our guide to the best budget wireless headphones will also help you to find some that won't make too much of a dent in your concert-going fund.
Speaking of budget headphones, in this review we're going to focus on the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 (opens in new tab) ($60/£52), which place top in the aforementioned buyer’s guide. The Q20s are wireless over-ear cans that come with active noise cancelling and support for hi-res audio.
Anker describes itself as “the global leader in charging technology” and a quick look at the Chinese firm's website reveals that its “other products” – including headphones, in-ears and Bluetooth speakers – are featured almost as an after-thought. So, can these cans ably recreate the festival experience at home, or should you save your money (and your ears) and look elsewhere?
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Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones review: Design
In this job, we've been lucky enough to try out some of the most luxurious headphones around, so we've probably become a bit snobby in our old age. When we first clapped eyes on the Anker Soundcore Life Q20s, it was a bit of a 'meh' moment. There's no premium sheepskin leather or sculpted aluminium here – instead, these monochrome (black, blue or silver) cans combine a plasticky-looking adjustable headband with a pair of faux leather ear pads. They didn't exactly make us run off and wretch into a bin, but they're unlikely to turn many heads on the train either.
Placing them on our ears, though, we were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable they were. The Soundcore Life Q20s feature swivel joints that enable the headphones to adjust to the shape of your head, while the memory foam ear pads are sympathetic to your lugholes. Often when we wear headphones, we start to suffer from fatigue after about half an hour, but these didn't give us any grief in the initial 90 minutes we were wearing them. It helped that the inside of each ear pad is fitted with a breathable mesh that stops your ears from sweating during longer listening sessions.
Each of the ear cups features controls for the headphones. The left cup is where you'll find the buttons for powering up and pairing the cans with your phone, as well as the button for switching the active noise cancelling on or off. On the right, you have your media playback controls, which are also used to take calls, engage the BassUp function (more about that in a moment) and speak to Siri or Google Assistant, along with a 3.5mm jack for wired listening and a micro-USB socket for charging the battery.
When you've finished with the headphones, you can easily stow them away, thanks to the foldable design and included pouch. The lack of a hard case would seriously irritate us if these were a 300-dollar set of cans, but seeing as they're cheap as chips, we'll cope.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones review: Features
We may not have been blown away by the look of these headphones, but they boast an impressive set of features for the price. The Anker Soundcore Life Q20s contain four high-sensitivity active noise cancelling microphones that, according to Anker, reduce up to 90% of external din. We're usually suspicious when we see claims of ANC in a budget pair of headphones, but it works quite well here, with low-frequency rumbles such as the tumble dryer and housemates' farts becoming non-existent. Chatter and bursts of laughter remained audible, but that might not be such a bad thing if you need to listen out for important information (i.e. if you're at the airport).
Alongside the ANC, there are a range of other features designed to enhance your listening experience. With their custom 40mm dynamic drivers and ability to cover frequencies up to 40Hz, the Soundcore Life Q20s are built to handle hi-res audio. Anker has also included its exclusive BassUp technology, which – if you select it – analyses the profile of your music in real time and then automatically increases the low-end frequencies by up to 43%. As for their wireless capabilities, Anker's cans pair with your device via Bluetooth 5. In our test, we found that they maintained an uninterrupted signal for around 15 metres, which should cover pretty much every area of your home.
With Anker being an expert in charging, it was inevitable that these cans would offer excellent battery life. The Soundcore Life Q20s will give you around 30 hours of wireless listening in active noise cancelling mode, and a whopping 60 hours in standard mode. That should comfortably see you through the Rolling Stones' entire back catalogue, or a single Dream Theater track (we jest, of course). And with five minutes of charging getting you an amazing four hours of listening, you should never be without your favourite music.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones review: Sound
To put these cans through their paces, we called upon Alice Cooper's exultant rock thumper, Elected. In the mid-range, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20s sounded great, Cooper's rebel yell colliding with Michael Bruce's power chords to thrilling effect.
However, we were a little dissatisfied by the bottom end, which sounded over-pronounced to our ears - and even more so once the much-lauded BassUp feature was activated. Hip-hop fans might welcome the extra thud, but it left this dirty rock classic sounding somewhat muddier than it needed to be.
The overall experience is far from bad - in fact, it's very decent considering the price - but if your listening enjoyment relies on hearing every little nuance of the music, then you'd be better off investing in a more premium set of cans. We’d advise heading for our guides exploring the best headphones for music or best audiophile headphones for that.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones review: The competition
If wireless listening isn't important to you, then check out the active noise cancelling Lindy NC-60 (opens in new tab) headphones ($78/£55). While the ANC obviously isn't best in class, it's perfectly adequate, and these comfy, closed-back cans will also give you 72 hours of listening off a couple of AAA batteries.
Alternatively, if you want to hear your music untethered, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus (opens in new tab) (£120/$140) true wireless in-ear headphones are an outstanding budget choice, combining fantastic sound and nine-hour battery life.