Anker is best known for its well-received power banks and mobile charging accessories, but the Chinese company has also been busy building its subsidiary Soundcore brand, under which it offers home audio products like smart Bluetooth speakers and wireless earphones.
Anker says its ethos of making quality electronic devices at an affordable price also extends to its audio accessory lineup, so I gave the company’s new Soundcore Life 2 noise-canceling headphones a spin to test out this claim.
The latest addition to Anker’s headset range costs $80 and replaces the company’s first attempt at over-ear active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones, last year’s Space NC cans. As with that pair, Anker is aiming to corner the sub-$100 noise-canceling market, so direct comparisons with premium ANC headphones offered by the likes of Bose and Sony wouldn’t be fair. So how do they stack up on their own?
The foldable Life 2’s come in a sturdy compact travel case that has a pouch for the included 3.5mm gold-plated stereo auxiliary cable and a black USB-A to micro-USB charging cable. There’s no classic airline adapter with these cans though, in case that makes a difference to you.
Weighing 263 grams, the Life 2’s feel slightly lighter than more expensive headphones of similar size, but the steel headband and polycarbonate hinges feel robust enough to take a decent amount of strain, and maybe even a drop or two. That’s all the more impressive when you consider the chassis houses a battery that can power up to 30 hours of wireless use with ANC on.
The inset Anker Soundcore branding appears on the headband and ear cup, but it avoids being lurid by taking the same color tone as the rest of the headset. The adjustable headband also affords plenty of margin for ampler heads, and combined with the memory foam protein leather earcups, the fit is plush and the cushioning sits just right, even after a couple of hours’ wear.
On the left earcup rim you’ll find a power button and separate noise-canceling activation switch, so unlike some headphones you don’t have to have the ANC on for the cans to process an audio signal. Over on the right earcup meanwhile are the play/pause and volume controls.
Performance and Features
There’s an encouraging sense of familiarity as you begin to use the tactile buttons to pair the cans to your Bluetooth device of choice, adjust output volume and play/pause tracks. Anker has chosen to do away with the gestural controls of its earlier Soundcore Space NC’s, and the decision to do so feels reassuring from the off.
Apart from the fact that gestural interfaces seem to divide headphone users, the touch/swipe setup for controlling volume and skipping tracks on the Space NC’s just wasn’t as responsive as can be found on more expensive cans like the Sony MDR-1000X, and it’s the kind of feature that isn’t worth the hassle unless you can get it spot on.
Sound-wise, the Life 2’s aren’t going to set your ears alight, and the output from the 40mm drivers certainly won’t satisfy hardened audiophiles, but it does a creditable job of separating out most instruments as they hover around the mid- to high-range, and both indie and electronic music enjoy a wide soundstage with a good amount of detail.
There’s an impressive bass response in general that remains crisp at higher volumes, but if you just want to enjoy heavy unapologetic beats then a quick double-click of the play button enables “BassUp” mode, although distortion soon makes its entrance here as you ramp up the decibels.
As for the active noise-canceling feature, the Life 2’s happily reduce the sort of low-level ambient drone you’d expect from a jet engine or nearby traffic, but they’re not so hot at attenuating the sound of office chatter or heavy-handed key tapping. There’s no adaptive filtering either, so the cans don’t correct for changes in ambient levels as you move around.
On the plus side, the low hiss characteristic of noise-canceling systems is extremely non-intrusive on the Life 2’s and is unlikely to impede enjoyment of even quiet music. In addition, you can continue to benefit from the comforts of moderate ANC for up to 60 hours by plugging in the auxiliary cable, and when the battery does finally run out, you can continue to listen comfortably in wired mode as the passive noise-canceling still provides a semblance of insularity.
On a related note, the Life 2’s built-in microphone makes use of Qualcomm’s clear Voice capture (cVc) noise reduction algorithms, which meant that when I took a call through the headphones the sound of the voice on the line wasn’t so jarring.
They may not reach the performance heights of Sony’s MDR-XXXX range or Bose QuietComfort 3’s, but neither do Anker’s Bluetooth headphones ask as much of your wallet. The Soundcore Life 2’s are a solid option for music listeners looking for a first step into the world of active noise-cancellation – they also sound good, sit comfortably, and offer smashing battery life for such a lightweight headset.
- Comfortable to wear for long periods
- Excellent battery life
- Decent sound output
- Solid construction and controls
- Middle-of-the-road ANC
- Non-replaceable battery
- No companion app
How to Buy
Note: Anker supplied the Soundcore Life 2 headphones to MacRumors for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.