Review: Strauss & Wagner ANCBT501 noise-canceling wireless headphones
They look amazing, but the sound just isn’t there.
I’ve not had much experience with Strauss & Wagner. Obviously, it’s a brand named after the classical composers, but outside of that? The only thing I’d ever heard is that musicians love them because their headphones offer a really high level of quality for a really good price.
So, when I got the opportunity to review the $130 SW-ANCBT501s I jumped at it with both hands. I was incredibly excited. Unfortunately though, like a night in the bedroom with me, any enthusiasm was quickly replaced by a sense of underwhelming disappointment.
The important bits
So what’s actually stuffed inside them? A 40 mm driver shows plenty of promise, as does the outstanding battery, which has a 40-hour lifespan and gets five hours of playtime from just five minutes of charging.
Passive, active, and environmental noise cancellation all work towards a tweakable experience, and it also has the ability to make calls. Allegedly. USB Type-C charging means you’ll most likely have a cable you can use on it (no ludicrous proprietary chargers here), and it’s all wrapped up in a design that I can’t get enough of.
Luxury looks, optimum operation
When first opening the box, you’ll be immediately drawn to the hard case that houses them. Minimalistic in black with the Strauss & Wagner logo to the front, you’ll unzip this and be greeted with one of the most beautiful sets of headphones I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
They take the simplicity of a plain pair and add little touches that really impress. On the exterior of each can is a textured surface with etched concentric circles running throughout. Not only does this catch the light, but it also gives a satisfyingly tactile touch. Around them sit metallic highlights, which give a subtle sparkle.
Faux leather around the earpieces and across the adjustable headband makes them incredibly comfortable, even when wearing them for hours on end.
Pairing is a mostly seamless experience. I’ve had the odd bit of difficulty here and there, but nothing that wasn’t resolved within about five minutes. And once you learn button placement, they’re really easy to control without ever having to look at your phone. I genuinely liked this aspect, as even my awful memory managed to retain the different functions.
Style without substance
I’ve tried a few different genres, and none of them really had the ‘oomph’ you’d expect from a set like this. Rock music doesn’t get to the down and dirty bass tones in the drumming. Listening to Stone Sour, Slipknot, or Gojira, everything came through flat and lifeless. The fun personality of pop music didn’t come through. Given the brand’s name, I tried listening to a little bit of classical. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was nice and clear, and just as haunting as you’d expect, but the deeper notes didn’t have any reach.
In fact, the only genre I really felt they had an advantage was old-school ‘90s hip-hop. Salt n Pepa sounded awesome telling me that I’m a mighty good man. LL Cool J came through loud and clear when he was explaining his mama’s suggestion to knock me out.
This wouldn’t be so bad if one of the callouts on Strauss & Wagner’s promo materials didn’t specifically say Impressive Bass sound. I feel lied to.
Activating the noise cancellation feature helped out a little, and also gave a 28dB noise reduction, but it still wasn’t enough to create an experience that blew me away. And the less said about the bleed, the better.
It was almost impressive that I managed to hear a song word for word from across the room when someone else was wearing them. I suppose that’s a testament to their power, but I don’t want to worry about inflicting my dodgy music choices on anyone else while wearing them.
Form without function
Look, these cans seriously impress in the visuals department. Every little nook and cranny oozes style, and if you’re looking for something that manages to bring a classy feel to a simple design, you’ll probably love them too. But that’s as far as it goes for me.
Promised features simply don’t work as they should. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve tried to make or receive calls; it doesn’t matter whose phone I’ve paired them with to make sure it’s not just me. The mic just doesn’t want to pick up my voice. At all.
When I’m out and about, if I head into a shop I’ve got two options. First off, I can pull each can out to the maximum size and suffer having to readjust when I put them back on. Doing this isn’t exactly smooth. I’ve definitely had to coax this out of them once or twice because of how stiff they are.
My other option is to strangle myself because of how tight they are around your neck. Now some people will enjoy this, obviously, but I prefer to keep my asphyxiation tendencies to the bedroom.
And the most annoying thing of all, and admittedly this one is an objective pet peeve; whenever I pair them, the robot woman who lives inside them doesn’t say Bluetooth connected, she says Blutooth connected. It’s just a really weird thing, and something that grated on me every time I switched them on.
Strauss & Wagner ANCBT501 noise-canceling headphones – the final verdict
You know what, I’m so disappointed. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again to really stress the point. They look great. I adore the finish. They feel fantastic to wear, too. Ridiculously comfortable, even when they’re on for a long time.
But all the issues just ruin the experience. The top-end heavy sound doesn’t lend itself well to a lot of genres. The treble is massively out of balance with everything else, so the whole sound profile comes across as tinny at higher volumes. This also affects the bass, as those deep, booming notes don’t feel like they’re trying to rattle your soul.
They’re not the worst-sounding headphones I’ve ever listened to, but for the price, there are far better options out there. In fact, the wireless earbuds I use on a day-to-day basis, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neos, genuinely sound better than these. And they’re only $40!
If you’re looking for an eye-catching piece of tech and all you need is for it to look the part, then the $130 Strauss & Wagner’s ANCBT501s are for you. If however, you want more bang for your buck, you might want to keep searching.
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