Current testing methodology is v1.2
July 1, 2021
6.5 x 3.35 x 7.4 in
The “commuter headphone” segment – that is, portable headphones with wireless and ANC features – has seen a ton of competition over the past few years. Indeed, you can tell it’s a popular tech accessory when even Apple came out with its own take on them.
As someone who’s been holed up at home for the past three or so years already, I never really looked into getting them – IEMs were more than enough for the times I did need to leave the house.
But when a friend hinted at needing a pair of ANC headphones, I figured it was a good time to get one to give the Make Life Click treatment. And so I got the Anker Soundcore Life Q35.
Anker Soundcore Life Q35
More than a way to the Sony XM4 for a third of the price
With a well-rounded feature set and great performance across the board, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is about the closest you could get to a Sony WH-1000XM4—sound, features, and all—without spending the same kind of money. And while it falls short in some aspects, the Q35 can still be the more practical buy even if you have the money for an XM4.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back over-ear headphones
- Driver Type: Single 40mm dynamic drivers
- Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Weight: ~275 grams
What’s in the Box?
- Anker Soundcore Life Q35 headphones
- Hard case
- Charging cable (USB-C to USB-A)
- 1.2m cable (1/8″ TRS to 1/8″ TRRS)
- Airplane adapter
Stuff I like
- Thunderous bass with decent clarity
- Can be used wired with ANC
- Excellent battery life
- Companion app unlocks lots of features
Stuff I like less
- Bass gets boomy and overbearing
- Low midrange
- Drastic sound difference with ANC off
Comparable products to consider
Succeeding the model that defined the wireless ANC headphone, the Sony XM4 now holds the standard for its category as supplies of the XM3 finally approach zero.
A Bit of Background
Until a couple of years back, I wasn’t aware of Anker entering the headphone space. I am, however, a big fan of their power banks and the MFi cables that are vastly better than Apple’s first-party ones.
But yes, Soundcore is one of Anker’s many sub-brands (among them the Powerline cables and Eufy smart home devices) and has recently gotten quite popular in the mid-range to budget price brackets for generally great value.
The Soundcore Life Q35 is an updated version of the Q30, their then-flagship wireless ANC headphones before the release of the Soundcore Space Q45 at about $20 higher.
Coming in a very Anker-styled box, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 doesn’t come with much other than an audio cable, charging cable, and an airplane adapter. I’d say it’s a bit sparse, but in fact, it’s basically the exact same package as the Sony WH-1000XM4, even down to giving the included hard case a carrying loop and a fabric outer layer.
And just like with the XM4, I really would’ve liked the Q35’s hard case to not have that fabric outer layer. Anyone who’s taken the case out on a commute for a few months will know that it will collect dust and dirt that’s quite difficult to clean.
Mostly made out of plastics, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is pretty solid and well-built with no creaking or loose parts to find anywhere. Despite its more “budget” leanings, exposing the metal headband with a brushed finish does add a bit of a premium look to them.
All in all, though, they’re pretty unremarkable.
Design-wise they don’t come off as a particularly fancy product the same way the Philips Fidelio L2 did when I reviewed those. (Although in fairness to Anker, it’s not like I could say the same for the all-plastic Sony XM4s.)
A more serious nitpick I have, if there’s anything to report, is the choice to have the wired cable enter the right earcup – a standout from most headphones that usually have them entering the left.
Fit and Comfort
Once you put them on, though, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 immediately makes one of its key selling points known.
Despite the smaller earcup diameter, the Q35’s earpad design still gives them an over-ear fit unless you have impossibly large ears. There’s also a lot of squishy padding on the headband so you shouldn’t feel any pressure on the top of the head.
As headphones with ANC, having a very good seal from the get-go is mandatory. The Q35’s earpads do the job quite nicely with decent depth and slow rebound memory foam helping to keep the seal locked in.
However, that seal does get broken rather easily. Even having so much thick hair on the sides of your head makes the pads seal differently than when they do fresh after a haircut. And don’t get me started on glasses.
I should probably state for the record that I’m not a wireless headphone aficionado by any means. While I’ve owned many in the past, they’ve never been for long as I constantly gravitate towards wired setups.
As it stands, though, the wireless capabilities of the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 are about as good as you can expect: Bluetooth 5.0 with support for LDAC and AAC.
I don’t have the space to test for range, but at the very least I can say they’ve passed the obscured-source test, maintaining a clear signal even with the phone in a pocket or bag.
The same could be said for my experience with ANC. As I’ve already mentioned, I just don’t have a need for the feature and as such never bought any headphones that had them.
From my experience of them fresh out of the box, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 has quite good ANC, cutting out stuff ranging from the loud electric fan I use in my room to car noises to the din of a packed shopping mall. This can’t be tweaked directly on the headphones, however, and will need a separate app on your phone to do so.
But as it is, the ANC uses the “Transport” preset by default, which puts a lot of emphasis on low-frequency noise canceling. While this works great in a vehicle as the name suggests, it does result in a really low bass drone when using them in relatively quiet spaces.
While we’re on the topic, now would be a good time to cover the Soundcore companion app. Available on both iOS and Android, it unlocks the Q35’s features so you can tweak it to fit your needs—these features being extra ANC settings and an EQ.
The ANC section gives you two additional options that could offer a better experience in different situations. The default “Transport” setting does what it says on the tin, but I feel the “Indoor” setting is the best one for most cases as it still has strong noise canceling but with less of that bass drone being pumped in.
The “Outdoor” setting, for whatever reason, pipes in a bit more midrange and treble than I think it should. I think this is to help with pedestrian safety and awareness – although if that’s a priority, then one should be using Transparency mode or just not have the headphones on in the first place.
I may have left my bass-head days long ago when I gravitated toward brighter, clearer sound signatures. But I’ll admit, it’s been quite fun listening to the Anker Soundcore Life Q35.
It’s a very bass-heavy sound signature reminiscent of the Sony XM4 but with a greater emphasis on sub-bass and a sharper drop in its transition into the midrange.
The result is what’s called by some in the audiophile community an L-shaped sound signature—mainly focused around that bass boost with a relaxed sound as you go up in the frequency range.
It’s customary at this point to test bass-heavy headphones with bass-heavy music. And the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 does indeed deliver on that front.
Rap and EDM are the obvious ones to test with, and the Q35’s out-of-the-box bass boost gives the aggressive lines used in Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA.” the power and intensity it deserves – even at the expense of Kendrick’s rap at some points.
Interestingly, the Q35 does manage to behave a bit in songs that require a bit of restraint in the low end. Shubh Saran’s “Pareidolia” sounded especially fun on the Q35, with the bass guitar setting the rumbling backdrop of the piece without smothering the rest of the band too much. The toms were still reduced to mush, though.
To my surprise, the midrange of the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 does stay pretty clear despite its immense bass boost.
Much of this, I think, comes down to the way they handle the bass boost, which drops sharply at around 150 Hz instead of sloping slowly down and adding a lot of warmth to the low midrange. This is probably why male vocals can sound a bit thin, as it is with Daichi Yamamoto on “Blueberry“.
Vocals in higher registers sound quite nice for an L-shaped sound signature, with backing vocals and guitars in Junk Fujiyama’s “My Only Sunshine” being quite clear in the mix.
Part of how the Q35’s upper frequencies stay pretty clear is in its great treble tuning. Crisp but not bright, it gives most instruments just enough top-end to make out impacts and other details while still being relatively relaxed in its presentation.
“Everywhere” by paris match is a great example of this in action – despite the bass boost, the brightness from the treble keeps the tonal balance more or less intact. Kingo Hamada’s vocals in “Midnight Cruisin’” also shine through quite clearly alongside percussion and cymbal hits while keeping sibilants under control.
It’s not really reasonable to expect a closed-back headphone design to have a big soundstage – much less one that actively fills your ears with extra sound to cancel outside noise.
As such, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 doesn’t have much of it to speak of; but the key here is that we kind of already knew that. While the ANC doesn’t give the soundstage any favors, the Q35 isn’t completely terrible in this regard – at worst, it just sounds like any decent pair of headphones.
Companion App EQ
As mentioned, the Soundcore Life Q35 does come with a companion app that, among other things, lets you tweak its sound to your liking.
For the most part, it works pretty well.
The app gives you a bunch of EQ presets if you want a quick shift in the tonal balance, but going into Custom mode lets you fine-tune it further. I especially like that you could choose an EQ setting and have that locked in for the Q35 even if you uninstall the app or use it on a different device.
The EQ settings are a bit limited, however, as it has only 8 bands with the lowest at 100 Hz, so it doesn’t let you tame the immense sub-bass at 60Hz and below. To compensate, I’ve instead gone with boosting upper frequencies, which works for the most part, but there’s still a bit of a hollowness in the low midrange that doesn’t quite go away despite my tinkering.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the EQ settings only work if the Q35 is powered on.
ANC Off Sound
I understand that Anker is really pushing the Q35’s amazing 40-hour battery life with ANC on, but even then there’s always a situation or two when you don’t actually want it on – like, for example, when you use transparency mode.
But while you could use the Q35 with no ANC and even completely passively over a cable, you may not want to. For some unusual reason, the Q35’s ANC also changes how the headphones sound.
The most obvious change is in the bass, which suddenly sounds boomy and hollow thanks to what seems to be a boost in the upper bass frequencies.
I, unfortunately, don’t have the experience or equipment to try to find out why this happens, but I have an idea if you’ll allow me to speculate.
It’s possible the Q35 could have a weird resonance in that region that the designers noticed during development; but instead of fixing this physically, they instead added an EQ filter that activates alongside the ANC so it sounds as intended when someone uses them out of the box.
This approach makes sense – as an ANC headphone, most people will likely be using them with ANC on. But this doesn’t actually fix the problem or even hide it completely; as soon as you turn the ANC off or turn Transparency Mode on, the boomy bass enters the mix.
Is it a deal-breaker? For most people, not really. But I do find this concerning and worth reporting on regardless.
With the release of their flagship Q45 headphones, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 finds itself in the prime position to go on sale and make an even stronger value proposition, which it very often does.
Indeed, I bought the Q35 in this review for $100, although I’ve also spotted them as low as $80 at one point. At this price, the Q35 is practically a must-buy if this is the kind of headphones you need.
The operative term here, of course, is “need”. As someone who doesn’t go outside often and is fine with using in-ear monitors, I really don’t have much of a need for a pair of wireless ANC headphones.
And as someone whose main priority is sound quality, there are a lot of alternative options out there to look into. Stuff like the Hifiman HE400SE and Sennheiser HD599 could be found within the same price ballpark as the Q35 while offering arguably better listening experiences.
But if wireless and ANC are features that you absolutely need, the Q35 stands as one of the best you can buy at this price.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is held in high regard for a reason. It manages to cover all of the bases of what a good wireless ANC headphone should be while also not sounding all that bad.
It’s no Sony XM4 by any stretch of the imagination. But for a headphone that costs a third of the price, the Q35 can come within spitting distance of the Sonys on a lot of fronts. (Not the XM3, though—those are way too good.)
While I’m not a huge fan of how it sounds out of the box, the companion app does bridge the gap for me to genuinely recommend it to anyone who needs a great commuter headphone on a reasonable budget.
This post was last updated on 2023-12-03 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.