We’re always looking for affordable noise-canceling over-ear headphones to compete with the big boys and their $300+ headphones. Soundcore is now contending to be the affordable alternative with their $79 Life Q30s. The Soundcore Life Q30s feature active noise canceling, a 40-hour battery, USB-C quick charge, an app that lets you customize the EQ, and more.
The Life Q30s is a nice looking pair of headphones, but objectively, not all that unique….except for maybe the couple reflective Soundcore emblems. The ear cups are oval-shaped with good memory foam padding. The headband has a bit of cushioning on the underside and is reinforced by a thin piece of brushed aluminum. The build is otherwise pretty plasticky, but also lightweight. They’re comfortable, but don’t feel especially durable. The earcups swivel 90 degrees and fold into the band, making them pretty portable. Thankfully they come with a nice hard carrying case, otherwise, we’d say be careful when traveling with these.
There are a few hard buttons along the undersides of the earcups. On one side is volume up, volume down, and play/pause/voice assistant. On the other side is power/pairing and the noise cancellation button. One frustrating feature is that shutting the headphones off takes a solid 4 to 5 seconds of pressing, resulting in us leaving them on accidentally. The NC button toggles between active noise canceling, “normal” ANC-off, and transparency, so you can hear your surroundings. Transparency mode is not configurable, but noise canceling is. You can target different frequencies for cancellation by choosing Transport, Indoor, or Outdoor. Unfortunately, in quarantine mode we weren’t able to tell a big difference between these, but it’s cool that the options exist.
The noise-canceling is nice and clean, which is what we care most about. It sounds natural and there’s no hiss or sound associated to it. In other words, you can’t tell if ANC is on (in a good way). It’s definitely not as strong as Sony’s WH-1000XM3s, but if you’re not commuting in public transit or trying to drown out very loud ambient noise then you’ll probably be quite happy with this level of noise cancellation.
These headphones pack a very long 40-hour battery, and that’s with ANC turned on. It’s rated for 60 hours with ANC off (at 60% volume). You shouldn’t have to charge them more than once every week or two (or three). It charges with USB-C and comes with a USB-C to standard USB-A cable. There’s a quick charge feature that gets you an impressive 4-hour playtime with just 5 minutes of charging.
I wasn’t thrilled with the audio quality at first, but then I discovered the equalizer in the Soundcore App. The default “Soundcore Signature” suppresses the mids and voices. It’s not balanced and sounds muddy. The bass is good, but overwhelms. There’s over 20 presets, and while I liked my custom preset best, I found “Acoustic” to sound the most balanced and natural for most genres. My custom tuning leaves the lower frequencies flat and bumps the higher frequencies, with 3.2kHz set to +4dB. There’s still a drop of muddiness, but you can hear more clarity in the vocals with the custom tuning. Without the custom tuner I’d be displeased, but with the tuner, I find the audio quality to be pretty decent for the price.
The microphone on the Life Q30s is unfortunately very poor. My callers could barely hear me. Voices are muffled, low, and also a little robotic sounding. It’s possible we have a defective unit or it’s a kink in our early testing version, but it doesn’t seem like it should have passed quality control with this microphone. I wouldn’t recommend a phone call on it.
For $79.99, there’s a lot that the Soundcore Life Q30s have to offer, but there are also some big tradeoffs. Despite a poor default audio tuning, they sound great for the money after messing with the EQ. The battery life and charging is great. The bluetooth range and streaming quality is also great. The comfort and portability is also a plus. Noise cancellation is good and clean, albeit lighter than the competition. The misses are the plasticky build, the nearly-unusable microphones, and poor default tuning. If phone calls are not a priority, then we think they are absolutely worth the money, and there’s a lot of potential with the app to continue improving its capabilities. The Soundcore Life Q30 headphones are currently available in black from Amazon for $79.99.