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House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC
June 4, 2021
Original: $149 USD
44.5 x 22mm (inner ear pad)
The House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC seeks to fill in the gaps of the common consumer’s headphone selection with a set of active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones that can go wireless or wired. With a metal build, you wouldn’t know it sells for less than a lot of the competition. How does it stack up?
Who should get the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC?
- Environmentally conscious consumers can allay some of their concerns due to House of Marley’s green initiatives.
- Commuters will find some relief with the active noise cancelling and long battery life.
- Remote workers can use these cans for music, blocking out their home office noise, and taking calls.
- Bassheads will like that low end takes the spotlight in both the wired and Bluetooth frequency responses.
What’s it like to use the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC?
What strikes me about unboxing the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC is the absence of plastic in the packaging (for the most part). Pretty much everything, from the box and interior package down to the cable ties, consists of paper-based or fiber-based materials. Only small components along the interior of the headband, the actual cables (optional headphone jack cable and USB-C cable), and the ear cup coverings use plastic. Most everything else on the Positive Vibration XL ANC headset consists of aluminum or fabric.
While aluminum is lightweight for metal, the headphones weigh in at 254g, which isn’t featherweight. Even so, the clamping force does a reasonably good job distributing the weight. People with glasses might find the pressure of the memory foam uncomfortable. In addition, folks with larger ears could find the over-ear headphones cramped—the space between the inside edges of the ear cups measures 44.5mm by 22mm. That’s not an issue for me, but after about 90 minutes I definitely start feeling discomfort around my ears and near my jaw. Chewing food while wearing the headset also seems to trigger some nerve pain around my jaw as well.
On each ear cup, you’ll find dedicated rubberized buttons. The right has a “-” and “+,” with an oblong button in between. The symbols control volume and feel intuitive, while the middle multi-function button works for pause/play as well as Bluetooth pairing, answering/rejecting calls, and powering on/off.
On the left headphone, there are two buttons, one labeled ANC for controlling active noise cancelling one labeled MM for transparency mode, which the company calls Monitor Mode—they both toggle their respective features on and off. You’ll need to memorize which is which because they feel basically the same when you’re wearing the headphones.
|SINGLE TAP||DOUBLE TAP||TRIPLE TAP||TAP AND HOLD|
MULTI FUNCTION BUTTON
|DOUBLE TAP||TRIPLE TAP||TAP AND HOLD|
2 seconds to reject call
4 seconds to power on/off
8 seconds to clear pairing
+ AND - BUTTONS
|DOUBLE TAP||TRIPLE TAP||TAP AND HOLD|
2 seconds to skip track forward (+) or back (-)
8 seconds hold both simultaneously to add new Bluetooth device
Skip track forward
Skip track back
|TAP AND HOLD|
2 seconds to reject call
3 seconds for voice assistant
Regardless of whether there’s juice in the battery you can use the Positive Vibration XL ANC passively with the optional headphone jack cable, complete with an in-line mic and play/pause control. Using a USB-C to headphone jack dongle, the button functions on the cable do not work. With power on, the ANC can work with the headset plugged in—something not all wireless ANC-capable headphones can do. This also turns on the active frequency response, which is a bit different from the passive, wired one (more on that later.)
No, there is no app for this headset, so what you see is what you get!
Is the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC eco friendly?
The House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC is more eco friendly than your run-of-the-mill headphones, but it’s not perfect. One of the House of Marley selling points is its commitment to making “a meaningful contribution” to the One Tree Planted initiative each year. While it’s unclear how much of your purchase translates as a donation, One Tree Planted with House of Marley has planted 286,000 trees (as of March 2022) since 2017. The goal is to work on reforestation globally, which means better air quality, more diverse ecosystems, cleaner water, prevention of land erosion, and a suite of other net positives.
Read more: Can headphones be sustainable?
In addition, the materials on the Positive Vibration XL ANC use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, recycled plastics, recyclable aluminum, and upcycled fabrics. To be fair, aluminum is pretty much always recyclable, but it’s a nice choice here.
The elephant in the room is the presence of batteries, which are a big part of the environmental impact of headphones. Batteries tend to die before headphones otherwise might and most wireless headphones are not easy to repair. On the bright side, the optional headphone jack will partially extend the lifespan of the Positive Vibration XL ANC past the expiration date of its batteries.
Does the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC stay connected?
You have three options for connecting the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC. You can use the good old fashion headphone jack, or connect via Bluetooth 5.0 over the AAC or SBC codecs. While many Android devices handle AAC well enough, some hardware really struggles and you may want to dive into the developer settings to switch codecs. Meanwhile, Apple users will gain the optimal connection over AAC.
ANC works whether you listen wirelessly or wired.
You may experience some latency when watching videos over Bluetooth. This concerns Android users more, due to AAC and SBC behaving less consistently. Otherwise, you shouldn’t run into any significant issues with connection strength, but if you want to bypass that annoyance, use a wired connection.
Learn more: What makes a good set of wireless headphones?
To pair the Positive vibration XL ANC to your smartphone do the following:
- Press and hold the multi-function button on the right ear cup for 4 seconds to turn the headphones on.
- On the left ear cup the LED indicator will turn blue and blink quickly to demonstrate it’s not paired.
- Press and hold the “-” and “+” buttons simultaneously for 2 seconds to pair a new device. If you have already paired the headphones before you can press the multi-function button to suggest it try pairing to your device, but it ought to automatically pair in the future.
- The LED should begin blinking red and blue to signal pairing mode activated.
- Select the Positive Vibration XL ANC on your device.
- When paired the LED turns a slow blinking blue, and the voice will announce you’ve successfully paired through the headphones.
How long does the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC battery last?
You get 25 hours, 12 minutes of battery life with ANC activated based on our standardized testing. Expect more, around 32 hours (according to House of Marley), if you turn off ANC.
To preserve the battery the headset will automatically shut off if you don’t use it for a while. You can manually shut off the headphones by holding the multi-function button for 4 seconds too.
Related: How long do AirPods last?
How well does the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC cancel noise?
Pretty much across the sound spectrum, the Positive Vibration XL ANC extinguishes some of the volume of environmental noise. While it doesn’t reach AirPods Max levels of ANC, it also costs much less. With that in mind, the headphones do a respectable job, reducing noise by nearly 30dB at 150Hz. Low frequencies tend to fall into active noise cancelling’s wheelhouse, while isolation is responsible for the 45dB of noise blocking between 7kHz and 8kHz. Remember: this is based on an ideal fit, so make sure the headphones don’t create any gaps between the padding and your skull.
I find this does a decent job of filtering low hums—some incidental sounds (like chatter) can reach my ears, but only barely. This makes focusing on the task at hand without distraction much easier. Having a designated button for transparency mode means if someone speaks you can quickly switch from noise cancelling to transparency without cycling through modes.
Transparency mode just amplifies background noise through the headset. You can have music playing while this happens or pause your music to just hear your environment. This is useful if you need to hear train station alerts, or something of that nature.
How does the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC sound?
You get two different sound profiles with the Positive Vibration XL ANC. The headphones get much closer to our target curve while using Bluetooth than when switched off and using a wired connection in our testing. Fans of bass, however, may rejoice with the frequency response of the hard-wired connection. Most listeners will prefer the Bluetooth sound, which is no slouch on the low end either.
Related: How we score
Over Bluetooth, the headset most strongly deviates from our ideal curve below 300Hz, boosting bass over 5dB, with a 10dB drop in the mids at about 500Hz. In the treble frequencies, the headset approximates our curve a little better, though still exaggerating between 3kHz and 6kHz. The curve looks like an exaggerated V-shape chart, which commonly finds its way into consumer gear.
The wired audio output of Positive Vibration XL ANC when it’s not powered on will leave you wondering if the adults left the kids alone in the office for this one.
At 100Hz the headset deviates over 10dB from our target—that’s about two times louder than our ideal. Something similar happens around 3-6kHz. Meanwhile, you’re likely to notice how frequencies between 1,000-2,500Hz sound just about one-third as loud as the bass and treble. This will make it hard for you to higher pitched instrumental detail but fortunately, if you turn on the headset while the 3.5mm cable is plugged in, the headphones will sound like the Bluetooth frequency response.
Lows, mids, and highs
Using the wired passive connection, the trebly vocals and arpeggiated guitar of the alternative rock song Formulae by JJ72 come through okay, until the bass guitar and distorted guitar playing power chords kick in. At which point an overwhelming bass output makes it very hard to hear the guitar riffs. Mark Greaney’s high countertenor voice is still audible, it’s just much too quiet. The same goes for all the cymbals that the low-end and sub-1000Hz sounds bury. However, it’s not altogether unpleasant, as the headphones reveal the bass line, and the kick drum and toms sound good. Ultimately, the issue is that certain parts of the frequency response are far too loud compared to others.
Trying the same song over Bluetooth, the cymbals sound more pleasent, but they could be a bit louder at the chorus. The arpeggiated guitar sounds more like it would if you were sitting in the recording room, even when the loudly mixed distorted guitar arrives for the chorus. Greaney’s voice still sits too quietly at the chorus.
Listening on Bluetooth to Free Your Mind by Cut Copy, which has a lot of bass emphasis, there are similar issues. The drums and bass parts sound great, if kind of bonkers in volume, and the early 1990s acid house-inspired piano remains audible, but certain chords stand out more than others.
House of Marley has definitely produced a bass-oriented headset.
At times it sounds like the track consists solely of bass and vocals due to the frequency response. During the bridge, some synths are barely audible. Other fundamentals like synth pads and male vocals, while loud enough to hear, don’t sound representative of the actual mix on the Positive Vibration XL ANC.
Can you use the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC for phone calls?
The headset has two options for mics. You can use the integrated array in the ear cups, or if you plug the 3.5mm cable in you can use the mic on the in-line cable. Both give a solid effort. The in-line cable mic has good off-axis noise rejection, but if it is facing the wrong way your voice may sound quiet, same with if you have a high voice.
In wireless mode the mic captures voices reasonably well with significant under-emphasis in the highs. While in an office setting it picks up keyboards, the clack sound is much quieter, meaning it should do well for most Zoom meetings. With street noise, it filters most of it out, but sometimes a little of your voice too, though not so much as to impede comprehension. On the whole, the House of Marley mics here, rank as decent.
Listen to the demos below and let us know what you think!
House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC microphone demo (Office):
House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC microphone demo (Street):
House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC in-line cable microphone demo (Office):
House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC in-line cable microphone demo (Street):
How does this microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC?
The Positive Vibration XL ANC has its flaws, but it also represents an attractive product for the right person. Anyone looking for an alternative to Beats will like the bass-heavy frequency response. With a portable (for over-ears) shape you can fold it up and take it with you. Meanwhile, the ANC performs admirably for the price point, offering some flexibility whether you go wirelessly or not.
A pleasant surprise is the good microphone performance, which is great for anyone doing work or school from home. All buttons work effortlessly, and one can appreciate the straightforward and intuitive nature of the Positive Vibration XL ANC.
Considerations for you when deciding if it’s the right pair include the small space for ears. On some people, this set of over-ears will fit more like on-ear headphones, similar to the Sennheiser HD 450BT. Also, the clamping force might feel too tight for a lot of people: those with glasses and some folks with bigger noggins. You can’t adjust the EQ easily, which means unless you’re using the bass to motivate your home dance party, it’s not the best frequency response either.
What should you get instead of the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC?
The House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC sits at an intersection of wireless headphones, noise cancelling, eco conscious, and bass oriented. So your main priority will influence what makes any alternatives appealing. For the bassheads among us check out Beats Studio3 Wireless. It’s bassy, but not ridiculously so, and for iPhone users, the W1 chip ensures a seamless connection. While the ANC is not as good as the Positive Vibration XL ANC, maybe you just want that Beats sound.
Do you want to get silly with bass, while getting a set of headphones for basically any task you’re up to? Try the Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL. It has a long battery life (41 hours 13 minutes), it’s pretty comfortable, and it has wired or wireless capabilities. For the folks who want some flexibility, you can use the included app to equalize down the bass too, or take it to the gym with a IPX4 rating. It comes with some ANC, but nothing to write home about.
Individuals who don’t care about Bluetooth, but do care about the environment and good sound should check out Thinksound ov21. It uses plastic derived from cellulose and sustainable wood. (Click image to expand.)
Finally, if your priorities are inexpensive, excellent noise cancelling, and bass emphasis, grab the Monoprice BT-600ANC. The ANC rivals Apple AirPods Max at less than 20% the price. The frequency response is certainly not accurate, but it supplies the oomph.
Frequently asked questions about the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC
In terms of resolution, a wired connection (when paired with a lossless sound source) will potentially get the most information to your ears. With that said, the passive frequency response of the Positive Vibration XL ANC is not very pleasing, or accurate, compared to that headset’s active voicing. Ideally, you’d turn on the headset while plugging it in for the best sound.
It’s a bit complicated because there is no consistent rate at which all devices transfer information over Bluetooth even with the same codec. The vast majority of people will listen over Bluetooth and then declare that the Positive Vibration XL ANC sounds better that way than passively plugged in. This is because of that active frequency response, which you can access with the 3.5mm when it’s on too. Most listeners won’t notice a difference in resolution either way.