Offering a fantastic price to performance ratio for wireless headphones, the SoundCore Life Q20 is a great choice for those shopping on a budget. While no aspect of these headphones is field-leading, the sound quality, active noise cancellation and comfort are all well above average, and you get it all for a below-average price. The only caveat in our recommendation of these headphones is the headband, which is quite large, even when adjusting to its smallest size. This means people with smaller heads may have trouble getting a secure and comfy fit. Earbuds or another type of headphone might also be considered if your head or ears are outside the norm.Editor's Note: This Q20 review was updated on January 18, 2022, to include more details on why we like it and what other headphones we think you might want to consider.
Soundcore Life Q20 Review
Pros: Inexpensive, powerful bass, effective active noise cancellation, comfortable
Cons: Lacks some brightness in mid and vocal ranges, headband may be to large for smaller heads
Manufacturer: Anker Soundcore
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|Pros||Inexpensive, powerful bass, effective active noise cancellation, comfortable||Excellent sound quality, field-leading noise cancellation, comfortable||Superb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most people||Great sound quality, great noise cancellation, comfortable, user friendly features||In inexpensive, reasonably good sound quality, portable|
|Cons||Lacks some brightness in mid and vocal ranges, headband may be to large for smaller heads||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive, both sound quality and noise cancellation fall just short of being the best in the field||Poor noise isolation, not comfortable for large ears/heads|
|Bottom Line||Impressively inexpensive given the sound quality, active noise-canceling performance, and comfort||Pillowy comfort and one of the best personal listening experiences we've enjoyed from any device||Top-notch in terms of both noise cancellation and sound quality, it's hard to find a better listening experience||Premium cans that offer unique features on top of great sound quality and noise cancellation||Offers a decent listening experience for a relatively low price, but certainly doesn't stand out in any aspect|
|Rating Categories||Soundcore Life Q20||Bose Noise Cancelli...||Sony WH-1000XM4||Jabra Elite 85h||Tribit XFree Tune|
|Sound Quality (30%)|
|Noise Isolation (25%)|
|User Friendliness (10%)|
|Specs||Soundcore Life Q20||Bose Noise Cancelli...||Sony WH-1000XM4||Jabra Elite 85h||Tribit XFree Tune|
|Manufacturer reported battery life (hours)||40||20||30||36||40|
|Measured weight (ounces)||9.3||9.2||8.8||10.5||10.3|
|Included case||Lined drawstring pouch||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case|
|Earcup padding cover material||Leatherette||Leather||Foamed urethane/leatherette||Leatherette||Leatherette|
|Charging cable length (inches)||40"||42"||7.9"||12"||N/A|
|Microphone for voice?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Onboard buttons||Volume, multifunction, power, NC||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls||Volume, change track, take/make calls||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls, toggle between sound modes||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Based on their value, the Life Q20 headphones largely differentiate themselves from the rest of the wireless headphone field. Everything about these headphones could be classified as good but not great, yet we would generally expect that level of goodness to cost substantially more.
The Soundcore Life Q20 produces a warm sound overall, with the low end getting the clearest articulation. While the low end gets highlighted, vocals still tend to sound smooth and pleasant, if slightly on the quiet side. This arrangement works well with pretty much any musical genre, and we generally found ourselves bopping our heads when listening to music with these headphones.
So how do these headphones compare to premium, higher-priced models? Quite well, actually. While most of the premium models we've listened to sound noticeably better, the Life Q20 hold their own. The biggest difference is in the vocal frequency range. Premium models tend to imbue vocals with a bit more clarity and brightness, whereas the Life Q20 can make them sound a bit more recessed and hollow. Additionally, songs with overpowering bass can make the Life Q20's low end start to feel a bit muddled and messy. In contrast, premium models tend to keep things more buttoned-up in those situations. However, these are fairly minor critiques and ones that certainly did not ruin the listening experience we enjoyed with the Life Q20.
These headphones also offer a bass-boost feature, accessed by a quick double click of the play button. We honestly think you could do without this feature. While it certainly emphasizes the bass, it actively pushes everything into the background, creating a booming but hollow sound.
Overall, we think these headphones sound good, and their weak points are benign enough that most listeners will be more than pleased, especially considering the low price.
Here again, the Life Q20 punches well above its price class, providing nice cushy padding that creates a solid seal against the head to passively block out noise, as well as effective active noise-canceling technology.
The Soundcore Life Q20 passes the basic noise-canceling tests --blocking out the hum of airplane engines or whirring fans-- with aplomb. These sorts of predictable, lower-pitched noise are almost unnoticeable when using noise cancellation without music playing, and once the music is turned on, they become completely imperceptible.
The main weakness of the Life Q20's noise cancellation is speech. People talking around you are more noticeable with these headphones than with the leaders in the noise-canceling field. The voices of those people do take on an ethereal, thin, almost ghostly quality that makes them easier to ignore, but they are noticeable nonetheless.
Overall we found the noise-canceling of these headphones to be far from perfect, but plenty effective enough to allow us to concentrate in noisy environments and cut out the sounds that would most degrade our music listening experience.
This is possibly the most differentiating feature of the Life Q20. Where most budget models skimp on earcup size and padding, yielding comfortable fits only to those with smaller noggins and ears, the Life Q20 instead offers fluffy cushioning and plenty of ear space.
The ample, spongy padding and the faux leather upholstery mimics the feel of what many of the premium models offer. The earcups themselves are also on the larger side, providing much better accommodation for larger ears than most competing models in the same price range. Though people with larger ears may still get some contact between their ears and the padding, that padding is so soft it generally won't create any hotspots, even after hours of wear.
The only gripe we have with the Life Q20 comfort-wise is its headband. While it feels perfectly fine against the head, even in its most retracted state, it is fairly long. If your head is on the smaller side, there's a decent chance you won't be able to adjust the headphones small enough that the earcups are correctly positioned while the headband fits snugly over the top of your head.
The Life Q20's controls are generally quite intuitive. On the left earcup, one button turns the power on and off, while another turns the active noise cancellation on and off. The headphones audibly confirm when you adjust the noise cancellation and let you know how much battery is left when you turn them on.
On the right earcup, a simple play/pause button is flanked by two volume adjustment buttons. Double tapping the play button enters bass boost mode (which we don't care for), and holding it down summons your phone's virtual assistant.
One feature oddly absent is the ability to skip tracks from the on-headphone controls. Most models utilize some sort of double-tap or long-press on the volume buttons to accomplish this, but the Life Q20 leaves this out. Also, to enter pairing mode, you must start with the headphones off and then continue to press down the power button down once they've turned on. This is slightly quirky but not altogether annoying.
The Life Q20 weighs a relatively benign 9.3 ounces and packs up quite small. It also boasts a battery life of up to 40 hours. However, these headphones come with only a drawstring pouch as a case, which offers little protection if they happen to get smushed in your carry-on bag.
Should You Buy the Life Q20?
If you're looking to stretch your wireless headphone money as far as possible, it's hard to beat the Q20. These provide a great overall experience for an impressively, almost unbelievably low price. One of the best bargain options we've found, the Soundcore Life Q20 is both easy on the wallet and easy on the ears. Sure, it falls a bit short of achieving premium sound, but it gets reasonably close for a mere fraction of the price of most premium models.
What Other Wireless Headphones Should You Consider?
If you have a budget that doesn't allow for the premium headphones, there is no better match or pair than the Q20. For the price, the performance is something you can't ignore. However, if you want the absolute best and price is no concern, then the Sony WH-1000XM4 are the ones to beat, and the Soundcore can't.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell
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