Life A2 NC
My ears are not suited to earbuds. The internal shape of them causes earbuds to slowly slide out. So I look for models with earwings to fit behind my ears' antitargus, which keeps earbuds in place. But this style of headphone is rare.
I don't like Bluetooth headphones. The BT spec requires added compression to the music being wirelessly transmitted over the relatively slow data link. And it's always more annoying to connect a Bluetooth headphone than just plugging in a wired one, whether to the audio or USB-C connectors. Nevertheless, going wireless is convenient in some cases.
One of the very few companies making Bluetooth headphones with earwings is Soundcore, a division of Anker. On a whim I tried the Life A1 NC model, which goes for US$60, and I was impressed. You can see the earwings at the top; the sides (with the logo) are touch sensitive: tap them to pause/play, change the volume, and so on. The touch controls can be annoying, because when I press an earphone more firmly into my ear, it activates a command. (I bought a newer release of these earbuds, Liberty 2 Pro+, which I don't like as much, but they use a physical button on each earbud to control things.)
Included with the box are three sizes of earwings and five sizes of ear canal plugs.
These earbuds are strong on bass, so it's good that the Soundcore app lets you adjust equalization of the earbuds, as well as noise reduction and touch controls. The app handles all Soundcore products you might own.
Because the equalization is set in the earbud, every sound source -- streaming radio, MP3 playback, and so on -- uses a single equalization, which I like, because it saves twiddling. Once I got the equalization right (I like less treble), the sound was fab. The app includes 22 preset equalizations (I use "Deep") and I could create lots of custom ones, should I be bothered to do so.
The app gives you five kinds of noise reduction:
- Noise cancellation: transport (cancels low frequencies), indoor (less voice), and outdoor (less ambient noise)
- Transparency mode: fully transparent, and vocal mode (lets voices through)
- Normal (no noise reduction)
I found Transport mode useful for reducing the droning when working in a school gym with a noisy fan heating system. The app includes a widget so that I can switch noise reduction directly from the Android phone's home screen.
For the touch button, I can set it for
- volume up-down
- next-previous track
- toggle voice assistance, or
- change ambient noise reduction mode
I could assign four of these -- to double-tap, hold for two seconds, and separately for left and right sides -- but that's too much to remember. If I need to "pause" the music, I just pull the earbud out of my ear. The music actually doesn't pause (unlike another set of earbuds, which did, and which I found annoying).
These earbuds worked well for taking phone calls: after two rings, the phone is answered automatically. When the other person hangs up, the music resume automatically.
Carrying Case Charger
The carrying case is a charger and has a rounded shape that fits nicely into my hand. The three white LEDs show the amount of charge remaining in the charger; it contains its own battery that allows me to recharge the headphones on the go.
Soundcore claims the batteries in the earbuds run for 7 hours, and that the carrying case can recharge the earbuds enough times for total listening time of 35 hours. I have worn them for 5 hours without the batteries running out. If you need the earbuds to really last a long time, use only one at a time; they automatically go into mono mode when only one earbud is removed from the case.
The carrying case is charged with a USB-C connector, and Soundcore claims that 10 minutes recharges it to run another 1.5 hours. I didn't test this, but given that all three components have small batteries, recharging would be quick.
I have a couple of complaints about these. The earbuds are not clearly marked Left and Right, and putting them back into the case is always a confusing process, I find.
Nevertheless, the technology in this kind of earbud is remarkable: packed inside each earbud is
- Bluetooth receiver (from phone)
- Bluetooth transmitter (back to phone, such as reporting the battery level)
- Battery that lasts up to seven hours
- Touch sensitive panel
- LED for reporting Bluetooth connection status
- Multiple microphones to hear outside sound and your voice for phone calls
- Noise reduction circuitry
- Charging connectors
- DAC chip to covert digital signal to analog sound
- Flash RAM to remember the settings
- Oh, and the earphone part -- that's all important!
I have found that I do not need to spend Apple level of $$$ or have little dangly things on earbuds. Great-sounding headphones and earbuds these days tend to cost about $40-$80.