With Thursday’s release of the new Soundcore Space Q45 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones and sibling Space A40 earbuds, Soundcore began replacing its Life series of sound products. The company sent me both products to test. This review covers the Q45 cans (my A40 review will appear tomorrow).
I’ve spent a couple weeks with the Q45 over-ear, closed-back headphones. Soundcore pushes two main selling points: strong noise cancellation and long battery life. And with the Q45 headphones, the company has hit it out of the park on both counts.
And they sound good for the price, too.
Soundcore Space Q45 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones
Soundcore’s new Space Q45 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones check a lot of boxes for over-ear cans at their price point, $150 (much like the company’s recent sport earbuds and boombox did in their categories). The Q45 cans seem to punch above their weight in powerful noise cancellation, long playing time and good sound quality.
And the only reason I put the all-important sound quality third in that list is because the cans excel so much at the first two qualities.
The headphones and the new A40 earbuds came to me as a reviewer packaged together in a box introducing the Space series.
“Space brings you the ultimate noise-cancelling experience paired with ultra long battery life so you can enjoy some extra personal space, wherever you go,” Soundcore, part of Anker, prominently wrote in the packaging.
Turns out the company has reason to be confident. I’ve tested other ANC earphones, but I’ve rarely had an experience where the power of the cancellation was so obvious, yet had little or no effect on the sound of music. And at 50 hours of playing time, the battery life is so long it’s hard to test without taking weeks to exhaust it.
Powerful noise cancellation and control
The Q45 headphones feature adaptive ANC with four microphones. Soundcore said they’re proven through testing to reduce noise up to 98%. A customizable transparency mode lets more sound through when you want, however.
It doesn’t hurt that the headphones have a snug, comfortable fit that cuts down on ambient sound before you even turn them on, via a physical button on the left cup next to the USB-C port that also turns on Bluetooth pairing.
Soundcore said the strength of ANC comes from a three-stage noise-canceling system that targets and block out noise from low, mid and high frequencies. I can vouch for it. I live in a noisy house with family members, puppies and summer noise like lawn mowers and recycling trucks outside the window.
The Q45 headphones have strong enough ANC that it can nearly silence a TV, voices in the next room or a leaf blower down the block just by putting on the headphones and making sure ANC is on. No need to play music, although that makes it even better. And the ANC doesn’t seem to alter the sound of music, either (some ANC devices sound better or worse on different settings).
ANC, transparency and normal modes
You can switch between full ANC, transparency mode or normal mode via a button on the right cup — just tap it and a female voice tells you which mode you’re in, then tap to keep cycling through — or through the Soundcore app.
Sitting about 8 feet from a TV with a game on, I cycled through them. ANC nearly blots out the sound completely. Normal muffles it considerably. And most surprising, transparency lets most of it through.
The difference between ANC and transparency is remarkably stark. If you want to hear the bus bearing down on you outside or someone talking to you from the next room, just set the headphones to transparency mode.
In the Soundcore app, you can customize ANC. Under Custom Noise Cancelling, you can select either Adaptive Noise Cancelling or Custom Noise Cancelling. Adaptive automatically adjusts to surrounding noise levels. Custom lets you select from levels 1 (weak) to 5 (strong). The app notes a higher level results in more in-ear pressure, but it’s not uncomfortable.
Long battery life
The Q45 cans also excel at having a long play time. They’re rated for 50 hours with ANC on (65 with it off) in a world where many people are still happy with 20 hours for quality over-ear headphones.
I plugged them into Anker’s 150W GanPrime charger when I got them, via the cans’ USB-C to USB-A cable. Via the charger’s USB-A port, the headphones quickly juiced up at a rate of 22.5W. After a week and a half of frequent use, the voice in my ear upon turning them on was still saying “battery high.”
And 5 minutes of charging buys you up to 4 hours of play time, Soundcore said.
One minor deficiency is that the voice seems to be your only way of knowing about battery level. There is no indicator on the headphones or in the app. I use other headphones that have a battery indicator in the app, and it’s handy to have.
Good sound quality
To my ears, the Q45 headphones sound good. But it would be a lot to ask for them to sound world-class at this price point.
But if you’re not a total audiophile — in other words, someone who expects to pay a thousand bucks for reasonably good cans, and who might not settle for anything without a wire — you should absolutely consider a good value like the Q45s.
They use 40mm double-layer diaphragm drivers for certified high-res audio in both wired and wireless modes, covering a frequency range of 20Hz – 40KHz. They support LDAC, Sony’s proprietary codec for hi-res wireless that is becoming more common in Android devices. Other supported codecs are SBC and AAC. There is no support for aptX codecs, however.
I tried the cans both wired and wirelessly, of course. They come with a 3.5mm auxiliary cable for wired listening and Bluetooth for wireless pairing. They support Bluetooth 5.3 for a stout wireless connection.
They didn’t drop the wireless signal while I used them, that I can recall. I paired them with my iPhone 13 Pro, iPad Air (5th gen) and M1 Pro MacBook Pro. They paired readily, except for the computer (until I turned off Bluetooth in other devices to free up that pairing). You can pair two devices at once with the headphones.
Soundcore app gives you options
Via wire with my MacBook Pro and Apple Music, they came across as quietly refined. I kept wanting to turn up the volume. But the articulation was impressive.
Wirelessly, they come across with a little more overtone, a bit of a boomy quality that might distract a true audiophile from hearing the bass player’s fingernails almost inaudibly scraping wood. Then again, some audiophiles don’t even “do” Bluetooth.
For a comparison point, I have a pair of Sennheiser Momentum 3 ANC over-ear headphones (not the newest Momentum 4). I would say the Q45s can’t quite compare with the Sennheisers for depth of soundstage, but they muster pretty high-quality sound (and they’re almost, but not quite, as comfortable as the Momentum 3s). But the Q45s cost $100 to $150 less than the Sennheisers, too.
And you get some fun controls in the Soundcore app. Soundcore Signature gives you BassUp (or not), plus you can play with 20 other presets by genre (hip hop, jazz, Latin, etc.) or preference (bass reducer, treble boost or reducer). The signature sound with bass boosted suits a lot of tunes. But there’s also a custom EQ if you’re really hands-on about your sound.
The headphones features two microphones for “AI-enhanced” calls with clear sound. One note on call quality: No real complaints, but on one call I took via Bluetooth from my MacBook Pro on Slack, people on the call said I sounded clearer and more immediate just using the MacBook mic rather than the headphones.
They’re available in black, but should also launch in white and navy blue colors before the end of the year.
Where to buy: Soundcore or Amazon
Soundcore by Anker provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.