Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds review: Serious sound value

Denon noise-cancelling headphones review:
Though it’s late to the true wireless headphone party, legendary Japanese audio brand Denon has stepped up with two new competitively priced models: the $159 AH-C830NCW with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and the $99 AH-C630W. . We take a look at the noise-canceling model to see how Denon’s first attempt at true wireless compares to similarly priced in-ears from the leaders in this space.

MSRP $159.00

“Denon nails the basics with great sound and excellent noise cancellation.”

advantages

  • comfortable fit
  • excellent sound quality
  • Very good noise cancellation
  • very good transparency
  • Good call quality
  • IPX4 water resistance

Cons

  • no wireless charging
  • No equalization or control customization
  • No Bluetooth multipoint
  • Requires frequent tuning adjustment

family design

denon noise-cancelling headphones review
Denon noise-cancelling headphones (left) and Apple AirPods Pro. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

It’s pretty clear from the start that Denon is making a play for people who like Apple’s AirPods Pro. Placed side by side, the noise-cancelling headphones and the AirPods Pro look very similar, especially since the Denons come in white (you can also go for black).

There are some subtle differences: Denon’s stems are slightly thicker and topped off in a sleek chrome-finished tip. And instead of Apple’s pinch controls on the stems, Denon uses the more common touch-style Apple uses on its first- and second-generation AirPods.

Google Fast Pair makes Android connection easy: open the cover of the case and touch the connection button on the screen of your phone.

In the box, Denon includes three sizes of silicone tips to help you get a good seal, and a short USB-C charging cable.

The relatively large charging case has a flat bottom so it can stand on its own, and features a sleek angled lid that’s easy to open and close. Unfortunately, getting the headphones out of the case can be tricky. The super-smooth plastic used in the outer casing makes it difficult to get a good grip, so you have to master the technique of using your thumb as a lever to push each earbud out of its socket high enough for you to grab them with your index finger. Unlike the AirPods Pro, the case doesn’t support wireless charging.

connections

Denon says noise-cancelling headphones are class 1 Bluetooth devices, which generally means they should have better range than non-class 1 devices. But I found the range to be about average: 30 to 40 feet indoors and 50 to 60 feet outdoors. Within these distances, the connection was very stable and latency was never an issue when watching video.

Android users get Google Fast Pair, which makes the initial connection as easy as opening the case cover and tapping the connect button on your phone’s screen.

slippery fit

man wearing denon noise canceling ah-c830ncw headphones.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

When inserted, Denon noise canceling headphones are really comfortable. They’re small enough to avoid that feeling of having something wedged deep in your ears, but they also provide a good amount of surface contact with the outer ear to keep the buttons from moving.

Sound quality is where noise-cancelling headphones show their greatest strength: they sound fantastic.

But the fit isn’t secure enough to reliably wear them during high-impact activities like running, though, with an IPX4 rating, they can certainly withstand sweat and rain. They also tend to loosen up when you talk, which could prevent them from being ideal companions on long Zoom calls. During a recent video call, I found myself needing to readjust them several times.

Simplicity without applications?

the denon ah-c830ncw noise canceling headphones come with a charging case, ear tips and adapter.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

In another Apple-esque move, Denon keeps things simple with noise-canceling headphones: all functions are controlled from the headphones themselves, and there’s no companion Denon app for iOS or Android. For one, there is not much to learn. A single tap on the right earbud starts and stops music, a double tap skips forward, and a triple tap skips back. When a call comes in, a double tap on the right earbud answers the call and a second double tap ends it. Meanwhile, single taps on the left earcup toggle the ANC mode from on to ambient to off.

But on the other hand, the lack of an app means no firmware updates, no equalizer or control customizations, no advanced features like fit tests or find my headphones.

Responsive Controls

the denon ah-c830ncw noise canceling headphones come with a charging case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The touch controls work very well, but it’s very easy to accidentally activate them when inserting the earphones or adjusting them in the ear. You get a quick feedback tone to let you know a touch has been detected, eliminating guesswork and blazing-fast reaction times. Noise-cancelling headphones are also equipped with wear sensors that can quickly and reliably pause and play your audio when you take them off or put them back on.

For information on the full set of controls, you need to download the user manual from the Denon website. For some reason, the included quick start guide doesn’t mention the ability to reject calls or mute the microphone during a call, both of which can be done.

Consistent sounds like fans or other machine hums are reduced to just a whisper.

The only thing missing is a volume adjustment, and there’s no way to switch between ANC and ambient mode without going through power off mode.

But you have access to your phone assistant and can choose to use each earbud independently for calls and music. When you do, playback controls normally found on the right earbud transfer to the left earbud when using only that side.

Excelent sound

the denon ah-c830ncw noise canceling headphones come with a charging case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

At the end of the day, most of us want our headphones to provide excellent sound quality above all else. And this is where noise-cancelling headphones show their greatest strength. Denon says that it has employed its Sound Master Tuning on these headphones. I can’t tell you exactly what that means, but I will say this: They sound fantastic. Crystal clear throughout the frequency range and with a wonderfully wide and accurate soundstage, they offer the same level of performance you’ll find in true wireless earphones costing much more, like the excellent $230 Technics EAH-AZ60.

While it’s true that there’s no way to tweak the equalizer settings with the buttons or through an app, I wouldn’t change a thing. The low-end bass is punchy, yet warmly resonant, giving Hans Zimmer-like cues. Get all the depth they deserve, and there’s enough midrange detail that you can dive into the jazz standards of Miles Davis or The Dave Brubeck Quartet and discover (or rediscover) elements that inferior earbuds would obscure.

silent whisper

As the name suggests, the Denon noise canceling headphones have a hybrid ANC system and it is very impressive. Variable sounds like traffic and background conversations are almost completely eliminated, and constant hums like fans or other machine hums are reduced to just a whisper.

I compared Denon’s ANC to the best: Apple AirPods Pro, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and Sony WF-1000XM4, and it was almost impossible to tell the difference. The Denons produce a very slight hiss when you’re not listening to music, and there’s not much in the way of external sounds to cancel out, but otherwise they do an excellent job of keeping things nice and quiet.

Transparency mode is almost as good: It lets in a lot of ambient noise, but it doesn’t quite erase the feeling of wearing headphones the way the AirPods Pro do. My only complaint, as I mentioned earlier, is the inability to toggle between ANC and transparency directly.

Call Quality

the denon ah-c830ncw noise canceling headphones come with a charging case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Overall, calling Denon noise canceling headphones is very good. External sounds are largely cancelled, and your voice will sound full, not thin and tinny, as it can with some headphones. There was occasional oscillation, as can happen with any headset, but I don’t think callers would mind.

You can also activate transparency mode during a call, which allows you to hear more of everything, including your own voice, and really reduces call fatigue. If only the earbuds didn’t have a habit of coming loose while you talk, they’d be ideal.

Battery duration

Denon claims up to 4.8 hours per charge and 19 hours total when you include the charging case and have ANC turned on. When ANC is off, it increases to six and 24 hours respectively. That’s about the same as the AirPods Pro, which is to say not bad, enough for a full day, but nothing impressive by today’s standards. I couldn’t fully test these claims because the wear sensors can’t be overridden, but based on the remaining battery life visible in my Google Pixel 5’s control center, it seems pretty accurate. You get an audible low-battery warning from the headphones, but there’s no fast-charging option to recharge a near-dead battery.

Our take

Although not as feature-rich as some true wireless earphones, Denon’s Noise Canceling Headphones (AH-C830NCW) absolutely kills it when it comes to sound quality, noise cancellation, and value for money.

denon noise cancelling earbuds
denon noise cancelling earbuds

Is there a better alternative?

Close to this price, your best alternative are:

  • $130 Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro : Better battery life, wireless charging, and customizations, but sound quality and ANC aren’t as good.
  • $170 Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro : Better battery life, wireless charging, customizations, and Hi-Res Audio on Android devices, but ANC isn’t as good.
  • $180 Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless : A more secure fit, tons of app-based customizations, volume control, plus Denon-matching sound quality and ANC.

How long will they last?

It’s always hard to tell with true wireless earbuds as battery capacity can decrease over time, but the case and earbuds look well built and the IPX4 rating of the earbuds will prevent them from taking any ill effects from mild exposure to Water. Denon backs noise-canceling headphones with a one-year limited warranty.

Should you buy them?

Yes. As long as you don’t mind the lack of an app for equalizer and control customization, and don’t plan on using them for workouts or sports, the Denon Noise Canceling Headphones (AH-C830NCW) are excellent value for money based on its sound and ANC.

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