The Soundcore Life Q20 headphones are genuinely great value, and it comes from their heritage. Anker is a relatively new company, set up by an alumnus of Google and initially selling only through Amazon Marketplace. Now, it has spread its wings and, while it still operates heavily through Amazon, you can buy its products direct or from a growing number of resellers. The Soundcore brand was spun off from the main Anker name to encompass its audio products, and it has been producing headphones, earbuds, Bluetooth speakers and the like ever since.
The Soundcore Life Q20s are a fine pair of wireless, noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones with support for HD music and a long battery life. They’re also reasonably priced, which is why we’ named them our budget pick, in our round-up of the best headphones for 2020.
And budget is what they are - there’s no touch-sensitive panels or interesting materials here. They’re straightforward, hiding nothing yet not surprising either. They’re outclassed by headphones costing several times as much, but then they should be. What you get for your money at this price point is something that’s decent and that works. The Soundcore Life Q20s go beyond this, providing features that rival the top brands for less, making them excellent value for money.
Soundcore Life Q20 review: Design
Fans of plastic - black or silver, but still plastic - will be right at home here. There’s some metal in the construction, and the earpads and other padded areas are soft enough, but the plasticky feel of the headphones’ shell is undeniable. They’re comfortable to wear though, slightly smaller and lighter than their predecessors the Soundcore 2 Life Wireless, but not suffering as a result and with a fairly long headband to accommodate larger heads. They come with a carrying pouch rather than a hard case, and the earcups swivel flat but don’t fold down particularly small. They’re also lightweight, and the amount of movement each earcup is permitted allows for a particularly flexible fit even if the hinges that allow this feel like a weak point.
There are controls on the left earcup to handle power/pairing and noise cancellation, while play/pause and volume/bass boost/assistant are on the right. These are old-fashioned buttons rather than touch-sensitive areas, but this actually makes locating them easier while wearing the headphones. There’s a 3.5mm jack that converts the headphones into a wired pair with the aid of a suitable cable (one is supplied), and the controls are generally intuitive once you’ve got your head around where everything is, and what long- and double-presses do. The ability to skip tracks back and forward is unfortunately missing, instead relying on your music app.
Soundcore Life Q20 review: Performance
Regular price: $60
Type: Over-ear headphones
Weight: 0.58 lbs
As budget headphones, we should expect them not to sound quite so fine as pairs costing three or four times as much. And while they certainly take a no-frills approach, the 40mm drivers at work here are the same size as those in our overall favorite headphones, the B&W PXs. That’s not to say the two are directly comparable in terms of sound quality - the B&Ws are the best for a reason - but the Soundcores offer a highly acceptable listening experience.
The overall sound is warm, with emphasis on the lower notes but also a slight lack of definition down there too. Mids can be a bit quiet in comparison, and it’s here the entry-level ‘phones lose out to the more expensive models. Despite this, and some distortion in the higher end, it’s a good general-purpose arrangement that suits a lot of modern music. If they’re not bassy enough for you, there’s a bass boost function accessed by double-tapping one of the earcup buttons, but we found this tended to dominate too much, swamping the sound with muddy lows. There’s high-res audio support covering frequencies up to 40kHz, adding a degree of future-proofing as that format becomes more established.
Noise-cancelling is extremely good for the price: they’re not in the same category as the Bose 700s, which could probably drown out a space shuttle launch, but the Soundcores are more than a match for general traffic and other continuous droning like office chatter. If someone directly and loudly talks to you, however, the four-mic system has a harder time filtering it out. There are no clever ambient modes here,
Battery life is exceptional, with up to 65 hours possible if you turn noise-cancelling off, but 40 more usual. Five minutes of charging gives a handy four hours of use. The Bluetooth 5 connection with your playback device also seems exceedingly strong, with the signal holding up anything up to 100 feet away. And if the battery does run out, you can still use them in wired mode, but you can’t charge and listen at the same time.
Soundcore Life Q20 review: Value
These are probably the best entry-level headphones you can buy today, and represent exceptional value. For your money, you get good noise-cancelling, sound quality that’s nothing to moan about, long battery life and a comfortable pair of cans. That they don’t sound as good as a pair that cost three or four or even eight times as much, and come from a company that’s been making audio products since the 1970s, should come as no surprise, but for an upstart company to be making headphones at this level, and selling them for a bargain price, means there’s only one winner here: the listener.
You do, of course, miss out on things. There’s some thin leather on the earcups, and a metal reinforcing plate underneath the headband, but otherwise they are of thin plastic construction. This keeps them light, and there’s no problem with the build quality, but does make us wonder how well they’ll stand up to being dropped, or what they’ll look like after a few years of use. This is a minor concern, however, as you’ll be able to pick up an upgraded pair by then.
Should you buy the Soundcore Life Q20s?
Over-ear headphones are a very personal choice. What’s comfortable for one head may sit on another like a clamp. What sounds great to your ears may as well be the screaming of tormented souls to a different pair. It’s definitely worth giving these a chance, however, as you may be surprised by exactly how good they are for the price. They come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and an 18-month warranty, and should be on the list of anyone thinking seriously about headphones.