AKG N60 NC Wireless - winner under £250
If you recognise the N60 NC Wireless, it’s because these are – surprise, surprise - the wireless versions of the wired N60 NCs that came out in 2015. You’ll pay a premium of £45 to lose the wire, but we reckon the added convenience makes it absolutely worth it.
Other than the lack of a permanent physical connection, there’s very little to tell them apart in their design. With a lightweight, on-ear fit in a smart black finish and collapsible design, they feel solid and well built.
The earcups are nicely cushioned with memory foam for a comfy fit, and the band is not too tight that they squish your ears. This does mean you’ll need to be careful not to pick anything up with too much gusto lest they go flying, but for the most part, they stay put just fine.
Controls for power, volume and track selection sit on the right earcup, and are easy to use while you’re wearing them. On the left, you’ll find the 3.5mm input for listening with a wire, plus the microUSB charging port.
You’ll get 15 hours of Bluetooth playback and 30 hours wired – it’s worth noting that noise cancelling is always activated when the N60s are wireless, but you can choose to listen with ANC on or off if they’re wired.
Either way, they sound superb. With ANC activated, a large chunk of your surroundings are cut out. It’s hard for on-ears to compete with the dead silence offered by the like of the over-ear Bose QC35, but the N60 NC Wireless give it a good go.
The sound itself is a hugely likeable one too. The N60 Wireless manage to nail a balance that’s both full bodied and exciting. The bass is weighty, but not overpowering. In fact, bassheads might feel it lacking just a little, but the punch it produces is far from neutral.
What’s particularly striking about these headphones, though, is the clarity through the midrange and treble. The detail that comes from vocals and instruments is superb, and a particular effort is given to making sure the high end is clean without any harsh edges. This helps to give it an upfront and enthusiastic sound, that really get your toes tapping.
Dynamics are great too, and we’re impressed by the amount of space on offer as well – for a compact pair of closed back headphones, there is plenty of room that instruments and vocals don’t sound squeezed.
It’s hard to imagine any headphones at this price coming close to what the N60 NC Wireless offer. In fact, they hold their own against headphones £100 more expensive. A very tempting buy indeed.
Great noise-cancelling and even better sound, the AKG N60 NC Wireless give some pricier headphones a run for their money
Ten points for guessing what Lindy is doing here. Actually, make that 5 points as it is pretty obvious: the Lindy BNX-60s are a low-cost copycat of the pretty wonderful Bose Quietcomfort QC35s. But when they cost £89 rather than £329, we need to be careful just how much we compare them to one another.
The Lindy BNX-60s certainly pack a serious array of features for the price, including wireless, active noise cancellation and even aptX, the most common higher-quality streaming codec. With soft-touch plastic earcups, they aren’t out to look cool, but the earpads they cover are soft, comfy and easy to wear.
The pads are quite wide though, so they only sit partly on your ears rather than fully enclosing them. This means they may tire your ears a tad after a few hours, but they beat most - just not Bose.
Keep your expectations realistic and you’ll love these Lindys. To dredge up the obvious comparison again, the noise cancellation isn’t close to Bose levels: instead of obliterating outside noise, it just takes the edge off low frequencies so you’re less likely to have to crank up the volume while on the train. But in quirky retro fashion, there’s an actual volume wheel on one of the cups. Told you they’re not trying to be cool.
Sound quality is admirable, as long as you have the noise-cancelling engaged. Without it the Lindy BNX-60s sound a bit soft and woolly, but flick the switch and they come into their own, with dynamic and engaging sound that’s among the best at the price.
The bass is punchy rather than tastefully reserved, making these headphones sound less nerdy than they look, while battery life is rated at up to 15 hours with noise-cancelling and Bluetooth switched on. You’ll get closer to 30 if you don’t mind using an audio cable.
With Bose-style noise cancelling and way better sound than you'd expect at this price, the Lindy BNX-60 headphones are quite the bargain
For less than £100, the Philips SHB8850NCs give you a whole lot of tech for your money. They have wireless, active noise cancellation and even NFC, which lets you pair them with most phones just by waving the things close to one another.
So, how does Philips manage it? The obvious corners cutting can be spotted in the finer points of these headphones’ build. Rather than using high-quality fake leather, for example, the pads are coated in stuff that looks like it might be made of old bin liner. And the faux-metal on the cups is about as convincing as the acting in a primary school play.
So, you can get more expensive-feeling headphones for £90, but does it matter? The SHB8850NCs are very light, manage to steer clear of feeling flat-out flimsy and are pretty comfortable to wear, even for a few hours at a time. They also have controls on the cups, including an ultra-accessible play/pause button right on the back of the right one.
Don’t expect too much from the active noise cancellation, though. It reduces some low-frequency noise but its effects are minor compared with the best from Bose and Sony, and it adds a bit of hiss to the sound that you'll might notice in softer music. Unlike some, though, it doesn’t radically alter the tone, just smoothing out the mids a little, in quite a pleasant way.
These aren’t the best-sounding wireless headphones at £90, but they’re good. Bass is neither anaemic nor dominant, the treble isn’t veiled and there are no strange black holes of detail. Despite so-so mid-range detail, they can handle complex arrangements with decent authority. However, the soundstage is unremarkable and the best pairs at the price provide a smoother, more refined tone and make vocals sound more realistic.
A jack of all trades for those who want a lot of tech in their headphones
With a title like Globe Cruiser, there’s no getting away from the market Denon’s AH-GC20 are aiming themselves at. And with their lightweight, collapsible design and reasonable price tag, they’re going the right way of grabbing its attention.
The fit is supremely comfy - the ear cups are spacious and the padding is soft enough so listening sessions don’t feel like a chore. You won’t feel like your head is in a vice either – the headband is tight enough to feel secure but nothing more than that.
There’s an attempt at a premium finish to the GC20s, with metal arms and a faux leather headband, to balance out the (actually nicely finished) soft-touch plastic ear cups. It’s only half convincing, but it certainly gives them a nicer look than its more plastic fantastic competition.
Unlike the Lindy BNX 60, the GC20s are perfectly listenable passively should their 20 hours of battery life not prove enough for you. Noise cancelling is the way you’ll want to listen out of the two though – it's not the most talented for actually blocking out noise, but it adds a touch more clarity, throws in added bite in the treble and puts some extra weight in the bass.
That bass will be a touch too overpowering for more neutral tastes though, and it does have an effect on separation, which makes the GC20s sound congested. Detail retrieval is probably passable for their price, but they don’t dig much deeper than surface level, and leave some instruments sounding a little processed and unnatural.
They stand back when ANC is switched on too, which means they aren’t always the most engaging. That’s bolstered by a pretty laid back approach to dynamics. Drums and cymbals lack punch and music stays largely one level, failing to rise and fall with volume and intensity.
A less critical listen will find plenty to like in these full-bodied cans though, and though they might not be the most exciting, they can be enjoyable all the same. If you can’t afford the best, and want a more consistent sound than the Lindys, these could prove to be a good halfway house.
Sound quality and noise cancellation would struggle against the best, but the AH-GC20s are well worth a look in at this price.