TCL ELIT400NC review: The best sounding on-ear headphones under $100

Despite their low price tag, these headphones sound nearly as good as Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM3 headphones

TCL ELIT400NC headphones review

Bottom line

TCL’s ELIT400NC headphones resemble Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones, and they even boast a lot of the same features, all for a fraction of the price. And while their noise-canceling, build quality, and smart features can’t quite compete, their fantastic audio quality, comfort, and portability make these the best on-ear headphones under $100.

Overall
4.4

Pros

  • Amazing audio quality
  • Long 22-hour battery with fast charge
  • Very comfortable
  • Good usability/buttons
  • High-res audio support
  • Budget-friendly

Cons

  • Noise-canceling is very light
  • No USB-C charging
  • Pairing can take over 10 seconds sometimes
  • Long press required to shut them down
  • Microphone volume is low
  • Long term durability seems unlikely
  • No app

Our favorite noise-canceling headphones have been Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones, which are also extremely popular right now. The only problem is they retail for over $300. In walks TCL with their ELIT400NC noise-canceling on-ear headphones with a similar design and specs for nearly a fourth of the price. TCL has a good reputation for surprising quality and affordability, and while we wouldn’t say they’re better than Sony’s, they do sound amazing and pack serious bang for your buck.

Design and comfort

The design of the ELIT400NC isn’t a complete replica of the Sony’s but it’s certainly familiar. That said, there are even a couple of things we like better. They’re sized similarly with large oval over-ear cups that are well cushioned and pretty low profile. There’s a tri-folding design where the earcups fold into the headband and they also swivel 90 degrees for great portability. The (faux) leather is really soft and premium-looking around the earcups and headband, but the rest of the headphones are pretty plasticky and less premium feeling. They don’t feel especially durable but should survive at least a year of normal use.

TCL ELIT400NC review90 1024x683 - TCL ELIT400NC review: The best sounding on-ear headphones under $100
Sony WH-1000XM3 (left) vs TCL ELIT400NC headphones (right)

The ELIT400NC are very comfortable headphones thanks to their memory foam ear cups, but they do create a little more pressure than Sony. Even still, we could wear the TCLs for hours on end without any long-term discomfort. The features we actually like better than Sony are the built-in controls. Sony has touch operations (swipes) while TCL has dedicated buttons for multi-function, volume up, volume down, and power/pair. There’s even a hard switch for turning noise cancellation on and off. The buttons take some getting used to control while you’re wearing the headphones, but you’ll never accidentally mess with the controls. We weren’t a fan of how long you have to press and hold the power button to turn them on and shut them off.

Battery life

These ELIT400NCs pack an impressive 22-hour battery with fast charging that will get you 4 hours of playback from a 15-minute charge. TCL opted for a micro-USB charger instead of USB-C.

ANC

These are noise-canceling headphones, but we wouldn’t write home about the noise cancellation. The ANC is pretty lightweight and maybe cancels 20% of what Sony cancels. Our preference was to always keep noise-canceling enabled as it’s easy on the ears and doesn’t have a hiss or hum associated to it.

Call quality

There’s a built-in microphone that’s usable enough for phone calls, but not especially great. The audio/voice quality is good, and the noise isolation is okay, but the volume of our voice was low so occasionally we’d have to speak up.

Audio quality

The audio quality is amazing and astounding at its price point! While audio quality can always be subjective, we found that they’re almost on par with Sony’s, out of the box. The catch is that Sony has a headphone app that allows you to personalize them and adjust the tuning presets. In any case, the ELIT300NCs offer an amazing amount of detail. They’re very well balanced with a very warm with natural bass. Music shines and vocals are front and center. They’re a very fun pair of headphones to listen to and are kind to most any genre. Even audio snobs should find that they sound incredible for their price.

Bottom line

Pricing in $99.99 (or as low as $80 depending on where you buy them), we’re extremely impressed with the TCL ELIT400NCs headphones. The only gotcha is we wouldn’t recommend them if you’re looking for serious noise cancellation as the ANC on these are pretty light. That said, they sound incredible, offer great battery life, long-lasting comfort, and good controls. We do wish they were a little more durable and solid feeling and some smart features and an app could be nice too. With that said, it’s hard not to love these headphones after wearing them and using them, especially for their low price tag. The TCL ELIT400NCs are currently available in cement gray and midnight blue.

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