I’m a huge fan of active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones – between long commutes and my boisterous co-working space, they’re a great way to drown out the cacophony around me. Naturally, I was only too happy to try the latest pair of cans from TaoTronics, the SoundSurge 46, which work wirelessly and are fairly affordable at $90.
Like others in this category, these over-ears support fast charging, accept a 3.5mm input cable, and include a mic so you can take calls. But they’re a bit pricier than comparable options. Let’s take a look at what you get for your money.
Design and features
The SoundSurge 46 is designed for comfort, with plush earpads, a padded headband wrapped in faux leather, and an easily adjustable headband. Although they’re listed on Amazon as weighing 217g, my scale told me they’re closer to 290g, which is a bit more than Sony’s popular WH-1000XM3 at 254g.
Still, I had no issues wearing these for hours on end at work: they fit snugly around my head, my ears weren’t strained or weighed down, and the cups didn’t squeeze the temples of my glasses.
These cans are mostly made of plastic, but the overall design is pretty sharp, and the surfaces and soft materials all have nice finishes. They also seem fairly durable and well constructed, with no discernible weak spots across the headband.
Pairing with other devices is a snap, and these connect nearly instantly with known devices. The Soundsurge 46 also comes with a rather nice case that houses an included microUSB charging cable, a 3.5mm AUX cable, and an airplane jack adapter, so these are easy to travel with.
The cup-mounted controls are a cinch to reach and get used to, but they only allow you to toggle ANC on or off, and control volume – you’ll miss audio playback and call buttons on these.
The SoundSurge 46 is rather low on my leaderboard for audio quality. It’s awfully heavy on bass, and sacrifices plenty of detail in the highs. Things didn’t get unpleasant when I went through my test playlist spanning several genres of music, but it was hard to follow delicate cymbal work in progressive metal tracks, and follow individual instruments in classical compositions. Using an equalizer didn’t help a whole lot either.
That said, if you listen to a lot of pop and hip-hop and aren’t looking for the pinnacle of audio fidelity, you should be okay. These headphones don’t distort much at their highest volume and they mostly color inside the lines. They’re also fine for watching movies or playing games on your phone.
Now, about that noise cancellation. Between the over-ear seal and the hybird ANC (which uses mics inside and outside the earcup to detect noise that needs to be suppressed), the SoundSurge 46 does a pretty good job of quietening your surroundings. I find them better at ANC than the last ones I reviewed from TaoTronics’ sister brand iTeknic (they’re both run by a firm called Sunvalleytek). They’re not as adept at this as more expensive options from Bose and Sony, but they’re pretty close. The difference in performance has more to do with audio quality than ANC.
These headphones also get a lot of points for battery life. As it says on the box, they do charge quickly, and you can get a couple of hours’ use with just five minutes of charging. With a full charge, I was able to use them for several hours a day at the office, and didn’t have to recharge until the end of the work week.
I wish the inbuilt mic was better though. While the stable Bluetooth connection prevents your call from dropping even at a long distance, voice audio from your end is poor, and the person on the on the other end of the line isn’t going to want to chat with you for very long as a result.
Who are these headphones for?
If you’re often in noisy environments or travel a lot, and need some peace and quiet, TaoTronics’ SoundSurge 46 do a pretty good job of suppressing noise for under a hundred bucks. They’re well designed, comfortable enough to fall asleep on the plane with, and the included accessories sweeten the deal a fair bit.
Too bad they don’t sound as good as they look and feel. There aren’t many ANC headphones that sound exceptional in this price range – but you can find options that deliver better audio, or cost a bit less. Anker’s $99 option impressed my colleague Matthew Hughes, and iTeknic’s BH002 sound similar to the SoundSurge 46, for about $34 less. And if you want a more portable on-ear alternative, this $40 set from Jam Audio is worth a look.
Find the TaoTronics SoundSurge 46 on Amazon US for $89.99.
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Published July 15, 2019 — 14:00 UTC