Noise-Canceling Headphones Are Fancier Than They Look

Beauty isn’t everything

Key Takeaways

  • Unimpressive exterior masks a great sound.
  • Shortcuts in both noise-cancelation and NFC syncing are fantastic.
  • App provides plenty of options and settings to play with.
Black Soundcore Life Q30 headphones standing up

Evan Killham / Lifewire

The Soundcore Life Q30 is a set of headphone-looking headphones. Admittedly, designers don’t have a lot to work with; they have two ear cups and a strap that goes over your head, and I’ve yet to see a pair of them that stops me in my tracks with their amazing design. But when I unzipped the plain black case to reveal plain black headphones with some shiny, gold highlights, I went, "Alright."

They aren’t ugly. They look completely fine. And maybe people don’t want their sound gear to draw a lot of attention when they’re just trying to ride the bus in peace. But I will admit that my expectations were a bit low from the first impression.

Behind the vanilla exterior, however, lie some salted-caramel features. Don’t think too hard about this metaphor.

Don’t Hit Yourself in the Head With Your Phone

The first thing you should do with any set of Bluetooth headphones is charge it completely. That part isn’t interesting, ever. But the second thing you should do with any set of Bluetooth headphones is sync it with your phone, and that’s when the Q30 gets with the times.

Its features, usability, and sound quality make it well worth trying.

You can do the usual method of putting the headphones into sync mode, then choosing them from a list in your phone’s Bluetooth menu, but if you have an even halfway fancy phone, you can do it even more quickly.

Android owners (sorry, Apple fans) who can sync via NFC can hold their phone up to the right cup, and the two will start communicating immediately. Or, you can do what I did and accidentally slam a Google Pixel 3 XL into the headphones’ hard plastic while you’re wearing them, which is beyond even the Q30’s noise-cancellation abilities. Whichever way you want to go will work fine, but my eardrum and I can’t recommend that last one.

Control the Cancel

NFC syncing is a neat and handy feature, but not everyone can use it. But the Q30’s ability to shut out noise from the outside of your head is for everyone, and it has plenty of ways to do it.

Again, you have multiple ways to manage this feature. You can use the NC button on the left cup to switch between "noise-cancelling" and "transparency" modes, the latter of which uses the on-board mics to let you hear what’s going on outside the headphones. It’s a good feature that should stop you from awkwardly yelling at people who only want to know when the bus is arriving.

The Soundcore Life Q30 headphones laying down and showing their various buttons

Evan Killham / Lifewire

But if you’re like me, it’s impossible to keep track of buttons on headphones, especially when you can’t see them on account of them being on your head. With time, I can get used to any layout by feel or, barring that, get the button I need in three, maybe four tries, tops. But the Q30 has a cool way around that.

By touching the right cup for a few seconds, you can switch between the two modes. It’s way easier, more convenient, and straight-up cooler than using the button, even if you can find that button on the first try.

App-y to See You

Because Life Q30 is a piece of technology that’s come out in the past 20 years, it has a companion app for both iOS and Android. The app covers most of Soundcore’s offerings, so if you already own one of the company’s devices, you might already be familiar with it. If you’re not, however, it does plenty to justify its existence.

The two main things you’ll use the app for are setting the noise-cancellation type and adjusting the sound levels. Life Q30 has three modes to block out the outside world, and each of them targets a specific type of noise pollution. Transport mode focuses on low-end interference like engine and road sounds; Indoor mode works to eliminate mid-level stuff like voices; Outdoor mode "reduces ambient sound on-the-go for quieter city spaces," which sounds good but is pretty non-specific.

Soundcore Life Q30 headphones on their side, showing "active noise cancelling" text

Evan Killham / Lifewire

Because we’re living in a socially distanced world, I didn’t get many opportunities to test these modes in their intended environments. However, I did do a bunch of basic tests like turning my tower fan to its highest setting, running my microwave, and putting the 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys on my TV both for fun and science. All three modes reduced the various noises dramatically and to varying levels, but I didn’t see much difference between them. Basically, they all worked, and whichever one you end up using will be fine.

The equalizer lets you adjust eight sliders representing low, middle, and high-frequency tones. If you aren’t familiar with the values, it may take some experimentation to understand exactly what you’re doing, but you can make adjustments while a song is playing and hear the difference immediately. It’s a simple system, and it works well.

How Does That Sound?

Ultimately, we judge headphones based on how much we like what comes out of them, and Life Q30 has a great sound, especially after I made some slight adjustments using the in-app equalizer. The default wasn’t bad, but about 10 seconds of fiddling with the sliders made it a really good experience.

If you’re looking to make a statement or grab a piece of "sexy" audio equipment, the Life Q30 won’t impress you. But its features, usability, and sound quality make it well worth trying, especially at its $80 price point.

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