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You want new wireless headphones, and you know you want active noise cancelling (ANC). The problem is that you only have $50 to spend and frankly, ANC costs money. The AUKEY EP-N12 solves your problem, goes for not much scratch, and looks pretty decent. Has AUKEY cracked the code for cheap noise cancelling headsets, and what do you have to skimp on to get budget ANC inexpensive headphones?
Who should get the AUKEY EP-N12?
- People who want the flexibility of Bluetooth and a headphone jack for convenience and lossless audio, respectively
- Podcast and audiobook fans can appreciate the otherwise strange frequency response
- Commuters and folks on long flights benefit from good noise cancellation, closed-back ear cups, and long battery
What’s it like to use the AUKEY EP-N12?
Lightweight and mostly plastic, save for the metal-reinforced headband the AUKEY EP-N12 feels pretty comfortable out of the box. Soft faux leather and memory foam comprise the ear pads, and the headband doesn’t clamp too hard, making these headphones wearable with glasses. Meanwhile, the same synthetic leather covers the top of the headband, which can press a little hard on the crown, but feels acceptable. Directional 90-degree turning and foldable ear cups mean you can make incremental adjustments to combat any pain points. This flexibility also gives you the option to pack EP-N12 up, making its large footprint a little smaller.
Start here: What makes a good pair of headphones?
To use, press the multi-function button (on/off/pairing mode/pause/play) on the right side to power the headphones on and then hold until a light blinks. Pairing happens easily the first time, and during subsequent uses, the headset reconnects quickly. Also found on the right side are the volume buttons.
A simple ANC button sits on the left ear cup, which offers on or off, and there’s no transparency mode on the AUKEY headset. All buttons work purposefully and easily, and the click of the plastic leaves no doubt as to whether the headset received your command. The question might be, which command? Most buttons have multiple purposes, which requires memorization. My least favorite of which is holding volume up to skip a track. Nothing quite feels as stressful as potentially blasting your ears, if you mistake a function.
|Power Button||Volume Up||Volume Down||ANC|
Pause/Play or, accept call/hang up
Volume turns up
Volume turns down
Turns ANC on/off
Press and hold
Power on/power off/manual Bluetooth pairing
|Volume Up||Volume Down||ANC|
As a package, the AUKEY EP-N12 does not feel premium, but rather utilitarian and “good enough.” That also goes for the vinyl carrying pouch, which shields only from surface scratches. AUKEY does not supply any luxury features like app support, though one might suggest that ANC is the upgraded luxury feature. Fingerprints will find their way onto the matte plastic housing, but otherwise, one can appreciate the straightforward and understated design of the EP-N12 noise cancelling headphones.
Does the AUKEY EP-N12 have good noise cancelling?
Interestingly, the ANC affects frequencies between 100Hz-1kHz, which is also where the frequency response drops by about 20dB. The AUKEY EP-N12 noise cancellation only reduces sub-bass frequencies by about 5dB. It will attenuate noises like airplane hum and air conditioners pretty effectively, though you may occasionally hear the lowest frequencies a little.
This attenuation spike from 100-400Hz makes those frequencies sound about one-half to almost one-eighth as loud as they’d otherwise sound. It’s impressive but may make the noises that fall beyond that range sound unnatural, or even distracting.
Strangely, ANC exclusively works when the EP-N12 runs over Bluetooth. A wired connection automatically shuts off the headphones, leaving you with just passive isolation. While this is an odd feature, the EP-N12’s over-ear design sufficiently isolates the listener from sounds, particularly above 1kHz. Isolation tends to work best at deterring high-pitched sounds, and AUKEY does an okay job at it, reducing over 40dB for most sounds above 2kHz.
Anecdotally, I’m often startled as someone walks up behind me because I can’t hear much of the environment with these headphones. On the whole, ANC and isolation on the AUKEY headphones effectively reduce noise.
What Bluetooth codecs does AUKEY EP-N12 support?
Like many budget headphones these days, you only get AAC and SBC codecs on the AUKEY EP-N12. Apple users can use the AAC, and for consistent results, Android users should use SBC. If audio quality is really your priority, just take advantage of the included headphone jack. By the way, if you do need to switch from AAC to SBC on Android, you may need to access Developer Mode in your device’s Settings app.
Over Bluetooth 5.0, the connection remains stable. Impressively, the AUKEY EP-N12 does not drop connection with my Android device, nor does it ever glitch (at least over the course of a couple weeks use). It also stays connected to my phone while I walk throughout my apartment.
How long does the AUKEY EP-N12 battery last?
Two hours gives the headset a full charge. If you find yourself in a rush, 10 minutes of charging yields a few hours of audio. With ANC on the EP-N12 lasts an impressive 28 hours, 15 minutes. This of course varies on conditions like at what volume you listen to, but this is how we test. In any case, that’s plenty of time to take a few silenced airplane flights.
How does the AUKEY EP-N12 sound?
The EP-N12 sounds different depending on how you connect it to your device. In other words, your hardwired audio connection and wireless connection have different frequency responses. When running wirelessly over Bluetooth our testing reveals a significant, nearly 20dB volume drop at 200Hz and a steady decline on either side between 80Hz and 1kHz.
While the highs experience a definite boost, AUKEY generally follows the bend of our house curve there. In the lowest frequencies, it runs just about 5dB louder than our house curve. Higher bass frequencies and mids are significantly under-emphasized, and further masked by the loud treble response over Bluetooth. This works for some audio sources, but it can sound uneven or wonky with others.
Does the Aukey EP-N12 sound different when wired?
Swapping in the included headphone jack cable lends a completely different frequency response to the EP-N12. Gone is the strange 20dB drop in volume around 200Hz. Besides the early rolloff around 200Hz translating to the EP-N12 sounding very light on bass, it kind of resembles a neutral frequency response. Through the highs and mids, the curve follows our house curve pretty closely. If it weren’t for the bafflingly weak bass in wired mode, the frequency response would bear some rough resemblance to the rather excellent, Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX.
Lows, mids, and highs
Over Bluetooth, Ladytron by Roxy Music finds Bryan Ferry’s voice notably quiet compared to other instruments. Rhythm guitars and midrange keys play at a lower volume than trebly lead guitar. Similarly, high-pitched parts, the bass guitar, and low toms disproportionately mask mids.
Overall, the AUKEY EP-N12 over Bluetooth produces an inconsistent output across the frequency range. At different points in the track, I alternate between turning the volume up and down to compensate. Meanwhile, hard-panned instruments are reasonably well reproduced. While you won’t get an open-back-grade soundstage, it’s acceptable here.
With some audio sources, the AUKEY EP-N12 over Bluetooth sounds okay. Borderline (Remix) by Madonna plays mostly as expected. Bass and kick give a good amount of oomph, while Madonna’s vocals (and the backing singers) cut through clearly without masking. The under-emphasized keys and synth are a little hard to hear with vocals. With that said, you can hear all the parts of the track just fine, even if the synths get reproduced too quietly. Most likely, this is due to the song having a distinct emphasis on vocal hooks.
Try AUKEY for podcasts
While the EP-N12 does not accurately reproduce sound sources, particularly in the lower range of the human speaking voice, it generally doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of podcasts. In podcasts or other spoken voice media, other sounds do not occur simultaneously to compete with the voice (like in music), so it works perfectly well. The tone of an individual’s voice may come across differently than normal, but it’s not extreme enough to be distracting.
Can you use the AUKEY EP-N12 for phone calls?
You can hear an unusual activation noise when initially using the mic. Like many headset mics, the AUKEY EP-N12 attenuates treble and bass. It rejects noise well, but sometimes too effectively. This noise filter can lead to speech cutting out. Audio resolution leaves something to be desired, but it’s useable. As long as you don’t take your Zoom calls in a crowded room, it should work just fine.
AUKEY EP-N12 microphone demo:
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy AUKEY EP-N12?
The AUKEY EP-N12 might be worth purchasing, but most consumers will find music does not sound ideal with this headset. Because you don’t get any app to compensate via EQ, you’ll have to accept the odd frequency response. It works well enough for audio sources like voices, though so podcast addicts may enjoy it.
Isolation and ANC works, and on the whole, the AUKEY experience feels seamless. Impressively, the headset pairs with lightning speed once you set it up. For the person who hates messing with apps, and just wants some basic button functionality, this headset is straightforward.
The unfortunate reality is that a headphone jack doesn’t automatically equate to good sound quality. In addition, the ANC and headphone jack function is an either/or situation: you can only use one at a time. Those who hoped to use the AUKEY EP-N12 for hardwired ANC will feel shortchanged.
Still, for the person who likes to ignore their environment by turning on ANC and listening to a good book on a long flight, this is a great buy for $50 USD. Folks interested in hearing audio with excellent accuracy ought to look elsewhere, but the casual listener may find something to like.
What should you get instead of the AUKEY EP-N12?
You’d be hard-pressed to find something with ANC that works as well as the AUKEY Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones for the same money. For even better ANC and isolation, and approximately twice the price (which is still only $100), try the Monoprice BT-600ANC. It comes with aptX codec support, which means higher quality audio and lower latency video streaming.
While the frequency response sounds wonky in a slightly different way, it’s still roughly consumer-friendly. Both headsets appear to ape the more premium Sony WH-1000XM4 in clean non-descript looks. At a glance, people would not detect that you paid $100 for what looks quite a lot like high-end Sony headphones.
Keep looking: The best noise cancelling earbuds