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Anker Soundcore Life Q20
March 21, 2019
14 x 14.2 x 7.6 cm
The world of budget active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones is sparse with good options, but in recent years Anker has been targeting the segment with several entries in the Soundcore Life line of cans. The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 is one of the most affordable ANC wireless headphones we’ve looked at, but is it any good?
We spent a week with the Life Q20 and found out everything you need to know.
Editor’s note: this Anker Soundcore Life Q20 review was published on October 18, 2022, and is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.
The Soundcore Life Q20 is for those who want effective ANC headphones for less than $100 USD.
What’s it like to use Anker Soundcore Life Q20?
If one word best describes the Life Q20, it’s “utilitarian.” Given that this is an affordable set of ANC headphones, you won’t have your socks knocked off with high-tech features or bleeding-edge software. Instead, the headphones do exactly what they advertise. No apps are necessary to control the basic functions of the Soundcore Life Q20: just the buttons on the bottom. You get nothing more than you paid for, but also nothing less.
Though their slight profile makes it seem like these cans may have difficulty accommodating your ears, the soft padding doesn’t put too much pressure on your pinna or generate too much friction. In short, the Life Q20 is comfortable to wear for hours at a time. It does generate a fair bit of heat if the weather is miserable outside, so we recommend taking them off every so often to air things out. Otherwise, you’re looking at some fun sweat buildup and grody pads.
While the Life Q20 doesn’t support multipoint, it isn’t too difficult to switch from device to device. However, you do have to unpair the headphones from one device before pairing them with something new. It’s not exactly a dealbreaker at this price point, but there are enough Bluetooth multipoint headphones available if that’s a must-have feature for you.
Included in the packaging is a USB-A to microUSB cable, a carrying pouch, and a TRS cable for wired listening. While a charging brick would have been welcome, I don’t think anyone is alive in 2022 without a drawer full of old phone chargers that will do the trick. You can also use your computer to charge the headphones, though the charge rate may vary depending on how your device allocates its resources.
How do you control Anker Soundcore Life Q20?
Using the Soundcore Life Q20 is pretty easy once paired to your phone or computer, as the control scheme is very plain. There are no gesture controls or apps to worry about, just labeled physical buttons on the bottoms of the ear cups. Of course, you can’t see the labeling while you’re using the headphones, but they’re easy enough to figure out by feel.
Volume up button
Answer / end call
Reject call / voice assistant
Volume down button
By using the ANC button on the bottom of the right ear cup, you can either have the noise cancelling turned off or enabled at full. Turning ANC off is a feature missing from even the most premium headsets from Bose, like the QuietComfort Earbuds II and QuietComfort 45, so it’s not necessarily a given. Additionally, the volume rocker offers the expected result, with the caveat that you need to tap the button multiple times to adjust levels instead of holding the button down. Holding the volume rocker down will move the track forward (volume up) or backward (volume down) instead.
How does the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 connect?
Like most modern Bluetooth headphones, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 connects to your source device via Bluetooth 5 either via SBC or AAC. Additionally, you can also use a 3.5mm male-to-male TRS or TRRS cable to your device to use with a headphone jack.
Bafflingly, the Soundcore Life Q20 uses a microUSB port to charge the battery. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can be a little challenging to find a compatible charging cable these days. This is usually the point where I tell people about using a magnetic cable with a port insert, but there isn’t enough space in the recess of the ear cup—so that’s not an option with these headphones.
- When the headphones are off, hold down the power button of the Life Q20 until the blue light appears
- Enable Bluetooth on your source device
- Locate the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 in the list of available devices, and pair
How long does the Anker Soundcore Life Q20’s battery last?
The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 lasted 51 hours, 50 minutes in our standardized battery test—an excellent result. This means that among all headphones out there, this will have one of the best battery life performances you could hope for. As always, how you use your headphones will affect your battery life too. If you crank up your tunes or use more features, that may reduce your battery life. If you use wired listening at times, or keep your tunes quiet, that should increase your headphones’ runtime.
Over-ear headphones pretty much always post better results than wireless earphones do because they can carry much larger batteries than tiny earbuds. Still, having batteries at all puts a clock on how long your product lasts. Luckily, with the Life Q20 you can listen with a fairly common 3.5mm TRS cable if you run out of power, or the battery simply goes kaput.
The Soundcore Life Q20 does support fast charging, and 5 minutes plugged in will net you up to 4 hours of playback time, according to Anker.
How well does the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 cancel noise?
Given that the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 does a decent job of creating a seal to your head, it’s no surprise that it can block out a fair amount of din, even without turning on the active noise cancelling (ANC). Once you do, however, the headphones will hush surrounding noise between 20-1,000Hz by a combined total of about 75%. With noise higher-pitched than that, the passive isolation will physically block out a very high level from even reaching your ear canal. While this isn’t quite enough to compete with the latest generation of top-flight noise cancellers, this is a decent enough result for anyone looking to get their feet wet with ANC.
For a set of more affordable headphones, this is a respectable level of ANC, but you will notice a small amount of outside noise making it through. Specifically, airplanes and trains will be difficult for this headset to cancel out to the degree you’d probably hope. Still, it’s better than the alternative, and a decent step up from passive headphones. If you find that this performance isn’t enough for you, be sure you have a proper fit—this can sometimes harm the performance of ANC headphones.
I find my glasses tend to make the ANC a fair bit weaker than it “should” be on the train, simply because they break the seal against my head just a tiny bit. Losing the specs fixes this, but it’s not exactly a fix that is ideal for me. Like any other headphones, fit matters a lot, so you should try these on before you buy if given the opportunity.
How does the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 sound?
Though the Soundcore Life Q20’s sound isn’t exactly my cup of tea, a few features make it a little more commuter-friendly. For example, it’s really hard to attenuate sub-bass noise from your surroundings, so many headphones will sometimes over-emphasize this range so you can hear it more easily on a bus or train. Similarly, the sounds we’re most sensitive to live in the range between 2-5kHz, so it’s not surprising to see a little extra bump here to give the impression of clarity to music. It’s an illusion, of course, but this emphasis does bring out some of the little sounds we’re accustomed to hearing in good mixes, like a guitar pick hitting strings, or a drumstick hitting a snare. It’s not surprising that these headphones don’t match our target response.
Probably the biggest shortcoming to the sound quality of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 is the decision to under-emphasize the range from 150-600Hz in relation to the rest. While it will not stick out like a sore thumb, you will notice tracks with super loud sub-bass elements like 808s or movies with rumbles in the back. For example, this will make “Marvel movie mixing” sound a lot more extreme when explosions are going off. It’s most noticeable with 2000s-2020s rap, where many tracks have low synth sounds and 808s, you will find that it’s sometimes difficult to hear the lyrics in any genre. To wit: the reasonably loud kick drums and following drum hits in Left and Right by Charlie Puth and Jung Kook are distracting over the guitar and vocals.
You may also notice some reverb or “air” effects to be a little more pronounced than they typically are on other headphones, owing largely to the over-emphasis in the highs. For example, the added effects on Post Malone tracks like Circles will be a bit easier to hear.
Can you use the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 for phone calls?
If you’re hoping to use the Life Q20 for phone calls, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it does in a quiet area. However, like most headphones, this set isn’t so great at rejecting wind noise or incidental sounds like you’d hear in an office. So, you really just have to be aware that audio quality will suffer if you’re in a loud area.
You can check this out for yourself with the standardized samples below. If you don’t find yourself taking calls in loud or windy areas this should be fine, but be honest with yourself before taking the plunge.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Anker Soundcore Life Q20?
As far as headphones that cost under $100 go, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 is a really solid option. Like any good tool, it does the job well without much guff, and it’s affordable to boot. Sure: it’s not going toe to toe with any of the higher-end models of ANC headphones out there—but the headphones do well enough for commuters that it’s a good stand-in if you were never planning on spending a bunch of money anyway.
For commuters who need ANC and very good battery life, the Soundcore Life Q20 is a no-brainer at $59.99 USD. However, if you want better sound, microphones, or ANC: be prepared to shell out for it. Even the higher-end options in Anker’s lineup of Soundcore products don’t offer massive upgrades to the performance of the Life Q20 on paper, so you’d be looking to other options from Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser for a credible step up.
What should you get instead of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20?
If you’re sold on the Anker headphones but aren’t wild about some of the form factor tradeoffs that they make, you might want to check out the Monoprice BT-600ANC. Though the sound is a bit of a step down in quality, this product solves one of the biggest headaches with the Life Q20: the USB connector. As the Monoprice headphones don’t use the outdated microUSB—and instead uses the much-more ubiquitous USB-C port—you won’t be hunting for charging cables that may or may not fit on the first try.
You could also save your money a little bit longer and spring for a Sennheiser HD 450BT instead, as it offers much better sound quality for about $50 USD more (less if renewed). However, this model also applies a lot of force to any listener’s head, so be sure you’re okay with a little pressure before buying.