Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones are often expensive, costing in the hundreds of dollars. TaoTronics claims it can deliver good noise-canceling headphones with excellent sound for less than $100. Does it succeed? Surprisingly, yes!
If you aren’t familiar with Active Noise Canceling, the basic premise is simple. ANC headphones use microphones to listen for noise around you. When that nose is detected, the headphones emit an “opposite noise” to cancel it out. If you imagine the sound as being +1, the opposite noise is -1.
The most expensive and accurate way of achieving the effect is to use Hybrid ANC, which employs microphones inside and outside the headphones. Usually, you’ll find Hybrid ANC on expensive headphones, like Sony’s ANC headphones that often go for $300.
Taotronics is offering the same technology for less than $90, and overall it delivers.
A Boring if Serviceable Look
Let’s be honest; if you’re buying your headphones as a status symbol, you’ll never consider TaoTronics. Beyond the fact that it’s not a well-known high-end brand, the look of these ANC headphones is, at best, boring.
The headphones are black, with some silver and chrome accents, and a smattering of buttons. You won’t find fancy LEDs, tap controls, or anything else that screams expensive headphones. Frankly, that’s okay. Not everything needs bling.
On the right ear cup, you’ll find all the controls you need. At first, the placement of the buttons annoyed me. The switch to turn off noise-canceling is pretty far away from the power and volume buttons.
But after wearing the headphones for a while, the placement clicked. When I lift my hand to my right ear, my thumb naturally rests on the power and volume buttons. And my ring finger hits the noise-canceling switch. Now I have no issues.
My main complaint with the physical aspect of the headphones is the fit. The earcups are nice and have plenty of cushions, but the band was a problem at first. It doesn’t hug my head like most my headphones do, and instead the very top of the band pushes against the top of my head.
At first, that pressure caused discomfort, but eventually, I grew used to it. It doesn’t bother me anymore while I’m wearing the headphones, but when I take them off, I’m suddenly aware of the pain I’ve been ignoring. I have a smallish head; you might find them more comfortable than I do.
Noise Canceling That Works, and You Get Good Sound Quality, Too
By now you’re probably wondering if the noise canceling actually works. I’m happy to say, yes it does. I don’t have a pair of $200 to $400 ANC headphones to compare to, but I’m happy with what these headphones accomplish.
When on the road, or even sitting alongside the road, simply turning the ANC switch on cuts out about 90% of the noise I heard from cars. In my office, the headphones nearly completely silenced my running fan. And though I haven’t been on any planes recently, when I loaded up a YouTube video on my surround system and blasted jet engine noises, I was surprised at how little I could hear. I turned the ANC switch off just to double-check that my speakers weren’t the problem and immediately regretted it.
Those successful results were improved when I turned on music. These headphones are Bluetooth (4.2) capable and compatible with a standard headphone jack, so you can listen to music any way you want on nearly any device.
I liked that I didn’t need to blast music to drown out the world around me. Just keep in mind that ANC blocks only certain kinds of sound. I could still understand people talking, and you’ll always hear a crying baby on a plane.
So how do the Taotronics headphones sound? Like a decent set of $90 headphones. I was happy with the bass and the mix; it’s a pretty neutral sound. Unfortunately, they don’t have equalizer options to adjust yourself, so what you hear is what you get. Still, for spending $90 on a set of cans that include ANC, there’s nothing to be disappointed in here.
The Battery Life and Extras Round It Out
The real stars of these headphones are its battery life and charging times. The company claims that a full charge will give you 30 hours of run time, and that seems about right in my testing—provided ANC is off. When I turned ANC on, I got something closer to 15 hours of use out of them.
If you need more time, you can get it quickly. Just five minutes of charging gives you 2 hours of playtime. You’ll fully recharge in 45 minutes. Just don’t forget to turn the ANC switch off, or it will drain the battery.
Taotronics included a case, and just like the headphones, it’s boring, yet serviceable. It’s a plain black plastic with hints of texture, and a thin black cloth lines the inside. Since the headphones don’t fold the case is relatively large: my kindle fits inside the case with plenty of room to spare .
In addition to the Bluetooth capability, you also get a headphone cord and an airplane adapter. The cord is short for my tastes and never fully straightened out. But if you have a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable (that’s a headphone jack on both ends), you can always use your own.
If you’re in the market for a set of ANC headphones, and the offerings of Sony and Bose are too rich for your blood, you should check out TaoTronics’ ANC headphones. You get a lot for a lot less, and that sounds good to me.
Here’s What We Like
- Does a good job of noise canceling
- Music sounds good
- Very inexpensive
- Great battery life
And What We Don't
- Mildly uncomfortable
- Easy to leave ANC on and kill the battery
- Headphones don't fold