For a while now, when folks ask me about my favorite true wireless earphone, I’ve been singing the praises of the Strauss and Wagner SW-TW401. But today I’m checking out their latest headphone, the over-ear SW-ANCBT501. Retailing for a solid $129, this model offers wireless connectivity and active noise cancellation. But is it worth the cheddar?
Reviewing Strauss & Wagner Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
The ANCBT501 comes with a carrying case, a USB-C charging cable, and a USB-C to aux cable for wired listening.
Featuring an over-ear fit, the cups are large and use leatherette material for an isolating and comfortable fit. Once placed on my head, they fully cover my giant elephant ears. But they still don’t appear all that bulky – at least not compared to some other headphones out there.
Controls on the right earcup allow users to control playback and volume, or accept or reject calls on the go. An ANC button on the left earcup will turn the ANC function on or off. The ANC works fairly well, but only when used wirelessly; ANC mode cannot be used when using the headphones with the included aux cable. The controls are physical buttons as opposed to a touch sensor, so there’s less likelihood of accidentally adjusting playback or volume when adjusting the headphones.
The 501 uses Bluetooth 5.0, but there’s no mention of which codecs are supported in the product user manual. However, if it’s anything like other Strauss and Wagner models, it should support A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, and HSP codecs.
That being said, connection strength feels solid with no drop outs, and sound quality seems fairly decent when playing from my iPhone. Call quality also comes across as being on-par for the price point; I can be heard without much issue, and voices coming through the headphones seem crisp and detailed.
Charging relies on the included USB-C cable, and battery life comes in at an impressive 40 hours.
While I was kind of bummed out that the ANC function doesn’t work with the wired connection, I enjoyed the option to connect to a standard 3.5 mm output, like that of my old iPod.
For the bulk of my listening sessions, I used the ANCBT501 paired to my iPhone 8. I also used the headphones (briefly) with a wired connection into a modified iPod.
This headphone feels fairly heavy in the lows, with okay detail but some hefty bass, to boot. Not a sloppy, sloshy mess of thump, beats and drums feel emphasized, but realistic. This lends emphasis to certain kinds of music – particularly rock, pop, hip hop, and some electronica. But it’s not terribly out of place with other genres either (except maybe classical music, where this low end may be a little overboard).
I was expecting a more recessed or compressed midrange, but the 501 doesn’t let me down here. Instead, the mids sound fairly decent – at least for a budget-minded wireless headphone. Vocals sound intimate, but they also remain distinct and not gobbled up by that powerful low end. Instrumentation features decent contrast, so you can still pick apart small details in the sound. This characteristic, juxtaposed with the smooth, emotive vocals, leads to a fairly fun and engaging sound, and handles everything from pop to jazz with equal aplomb.
Fans of treble or a brighter sound may initially balk at the SW-ANCBT501’s high end. To be honest, it sounds like this high end has been tuned to compensate for the lows, leading to a warm, pleasantly rolled-off sound signature. Female vocals and higher-pitched instruments sound buttery and smooth. This leads to the impression of just a tiny, tiny amount of detail missing from the very high-high notes. However, it also leads to a more rounded sound that will appeal to a wide array of listening tastes. To be sure, these highs sound good with pop and classical, but they also work well with other genres where smoother highs are more welcome (like rock, hip hop, and jazz).
There’s some sense of depth here, and a small impression of space, too. Listening to the 501, music gives the impression of being somewhat around you with instruments arranged in different places. However, the sound still feels very left-or-right, leading to the impression of a somewhat stunted soundstage. However, this is still decent for a wireless ANC headphone, and still manages to lend a touch of space to most of my test tracks.
Pros and Cons
Pros: The SW-ANCBT501 sounds fun and detailed with most genres of music, and I have a hard time putting them down. Comfort ranks pretty high thanks to the large earcups, and the battery life comes in at a staggering 40 hours.
Cons: Soundstage feels a little lacking. I also wish the ANC function worked when using the cable, but I suppose this is a trade-off for the ANCBT501 being so affordable.
At $129, I can’t think of any over-ear wireless, noise-cancelling model that beats out the Strauss and Wagner SW-ANCBT501. For the price, this headphone offers plenty of sound quality, comfort, and battery life. While it could be technically better, those improvements would probably rob this headphone of it’s biggest selling point: a price that won’t break your bank. Our take? Saving money never sounded so sweet.
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