I had the pleasure of trying out Marley’s Exodus wireless over-ear headphones last May. Despite not being the best-sounding cans I’ve ever used, they got plenty of use simply because of how stylish and comfortable they are.
The company has updated that model with active noise-canceling (ANC) chops, Bluetooth 5.0 for better wireless connectivity, a padded headband, and a sleek new black finish. It also costs $50 bucks more.
That pits the revamped Exodus headphones against some formidable contenders. I spent the last few weeks putting them through their paces to see how they held up. Here’s what you can expect for $250.
The Exodus ANC cans look practically the same as their predecessors, with FSC certified wood shaped into the ear cups, a metal headband, and adjustable metal batons supporting the ear pieces. Combining modern and old-school design elements, these are among the most distinctively designed headphones on the market today — but they’re also comfortable and practical to boot.
To that end, the ear cushions and headband feature memory foam padding, and the entire package is light enough — 280g — to wear for hours at a time. The buttons on both ear cups are easy to reach and get used to in just a couple of days. The padded headband, a welcome upgrade from the previous model, helps achieve a better fit around the top of your head.
It’s hard to say which of the two Exodus models look better. The sleek black finish hides the wood grain a bit, while it shines through the natural finish on the old non-ANC Exodus. If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional as far as audio gear goes, you’ll want the newer of the two.
While these headphones fold inward and flat — allowing them to be packed in a couple of different ways — they’re still a bit unwieldy to fit into their cloth carrying case, just like the previous model. I wish Marley had sorted this out on its second attempt.
The Exodus ANC offers plenty of bang for your buck. There’s Bluetooth 5.0 for quick pairing and reliable connectivity, quick-charging over USB-C that allows for six hours of playtime with just 15 minutes of charge, the aforementioned ANC with a transparency mode, a soft case, and braided USB-C and 3.5mm cables.
As with many other models I’ve tried under $250, the ANC is pretty efficient at blocking out low-frequency ambient noise, and the seal of the ear cushions help a fair bit in this regard. It isn’t quite up there with the Bose QC 35 II or the beloved Sony WH-1000XM3, but the difference in performance isn’t much. It’s only really noticeable when you use the ANC on its own without any other audio playing through the headphones.
The Mixed Monitor mode dials down the ANC and engages an exterior mic so you can hear what’s being said around you without having to take your headphones off. This works really well, and it’s nice to see it included at this price.
Battery life is great too. With a full charge in three hours, it’s possible to get close to 30 hours of play time with ANC on, and a whopping 80 hours without ANC. You do, however, need to remember to turn ANC off in order to conserve power — there aren’t any sensors to detect whether you’ve got your headphones on or not.
These cans sound practically the same as the original Exodus. They sound good when playing a variety of music genres, as well as movies and games. Rock, pop, and hip-hop tracks are all enjoyable enough for casual listening, with good bass reproduction. The overall delivery is powerful and punchy, rather than nuanced and delicate.
That said, I didn’t find myself reaching for these headphones when I wanted to listen closely to orchestral performances or revisit my favorite metal albums. There’s not enough detail across the spectrum, the soundstage is rather small, and the highs can distort a bit when you turn up the volume. There’s also a bit more sibilance than I’d like, particularly when it comes to heavy rock and metal.
Oddly, I noticed that when you switch on ANC, the headphones also activate a volume boost, which I’m not a fan of. It’s a tad jarring, and in some instances pushed the high frequencies past their comfort zone.
Should you buy the Exodus ANC?
I believe that ANC is a must-have in headphones these days — unless you’re buying audiophile-grade equipment to enjoy at home with a dedicated amplifier. These updated cans tick all the boxes for casual listeners, and look fantastic while doing it.
There are also several thoughtful features and excellent battery life. And while they don’t top the charts when it comes to sound quality, most folks will feel right at home listening to mainstream music with them.
There are other options in this price range from Sony, Sennheiser, and Audio-Technica with similar features. I haven’t tried them all, so I can’t say exactly how closely they compete on audio performance. But I can tell you that the Exodus ANC is far and away the best looking of the lot in the sub-$500 category.
If you’re in the market for headphones with a distinctive look, these are a great way to go.
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Published January 17, 2020 — 14:10 UTC