If you’re looking for an affordable set of active noise cancelling (ANC) over-ear headphones, you should read this review.
First, I want to make it clear that I purchased this set of Mobvoi TicKasa ANC headphones myself, out of my own pocket, and have used them daily for a couple of months before I wrote this review. I do not receive freebies from Mobvoi, and all of my reviews are based on my personal experience as a customer.
For a long time I’ve wanted a set of Bluetooth noise cancelling over-ear headphones like Sony’s highly rated WH-1000XM4, but without spending hundreds of dollars. Since I’m already a Mobvoi fan, I thought I’d try these TicKasa ANC headphones, because they were on sale for a much more affordable £30/$30 during the last year’s Black Friday sale. I’m glad I spent the money, because they’ve performed as well as I hoped and now I use them regularly – I even bought my father in law a set for Christmas.
How does Noise Cancelling Work?
First let’s explain exactly what these headphones do and how they work. There are two different types of noise cancelling available in headphones:
Passive Noise Cancelling: physically blocks outside noise from entering your ear. On ear-buds this is done by a small silicone seal which fits snugly in your ear-canal. On over-ear headphones noise is blocked by the foam cup which surrounds the outer ear, and the hard plastic casing of the headphone. Passive noise cancelling is able to deaden all types of sounds.
Active Noise Cancelling: this is a more technical approach, which uses microphones on the outside of the headphone to listen to the noise in your environment, and then creates an opposing sound wave precisely tuned to cancel out that external noise. Active noise cancelling is really good at blocking out constant, low, droning type sounds, such as engine and wind noise in an aircraft (and even cars or trains), air-conditioning hum, or computer fan noise. It’s not so good at blocking more random noise, like people talking.
If you’re hoping to create a bubble of perfect silence in your noise office, the bad news is that no headphones can do that – the only way you can really achieve this is by using foam ear-plugs and/or ear defenders to physically block as much noise as possible from entering your ear.
Noise cancelling headphones like these are really designed to significantly lower external noise so that you can listen to music, podcasts, or whatever, without having the volume turned to deafening levels to overcome background noise.
Mobvoi TicKasa ANC Noise Cancelling Performance
Let’s get straight to the point, do these headphones work well? Categorically yes!
When I put them on at my desk and power them up, without any music or other audio playing through them, there’s an immediately noticeable drop in background noise. Suddenly I can’t hear the fans on my PC, or the hum of the dishwasher working in the next room. Even though I can still hear the sound of my kids playing in the house, it’s significantly muted and much less distracting.
If I wear them for a long period without playing music, it’s easy to forget that they’re busy working away at eliminating noise, so when I take them off I’m suddenly struck by how loud everything is. It’s a sign that they do their job really well.
I’ve worn them for a couple of train journeys, and they did a good job of blocking most of the noise, only struggling momentarily when there was a sudden jolt or rattle which obviously confused them a little.
I mostly use them for Zoom calls from my home office. Not only do they block out background noise so I can hear my colleagues more clearly, the five built-in microphones cleverly isolate my voice from the background noise too, so I sound clear on the call.
The sound quality seems absolutely fine to me, whether I’m on a call, watching videos or just listening to music. They use a pair of chunky 40mm drivers, which is the same as you’d get in Sony’s high-end headphones, and these are more than capable for most applications – unless you’re a studio sound engineer and need specialist gear.
I’m not a hardcore audiophile, but I’ve owned a lot of different headphones over the years and I know what a crappy pair sounds like – the Mobvoi TicKasa ANC do not have any noticeable problems, and I challenge anybody to fault the sound quality for the price.
So, I can safely say they do exactly the job I want them to do, at a very affordable price point.
Quality and Design
When I first unboxed these headphones, I was not disappointed with the experience. They come in a nice looking box, with accessories that include a soft-touch carry-case and a cable with 3.5mm audio jacks and inline microphone so that the headphones can be used even if they run out of battery charge.
You also get an adapter to connect the audio cable to the in-flight entertainment system on an aircraft, a micro-USB charging cable, and another adapter for larger 6.35mm audio jacks, all with a nice little velvet bag. The unboxing experience isn’t quiet up there with high end premium headphones costing hundreds of dollars, but it’s still on a par with what I’d expect from a respectable brand.
The design of the headphones themselves is at the same level. The styling is subtle and not garish like you see with a lot of cheap Beats clones, and apart from low-key logos on the cups there’s no over-the-top branding. The ear cups and headband are lined with super-soft imitation leather, while the rest of the unit is constructed from rigid plastic with a kind of matt brushed-metal style finish, with a little gun-metal detailing around the edge of the cups and where the plastic meets the cushioned headband.
You won’t feel embarrassed being seen in public with these on your head – yes they’re low-cost, but they don’t look or feel cheap.
Practicality and Ergonomics
I’ve worn the TicKasa ANC headphones for hours at a time without any problems, they’re light and the soft padding around the earcups and headband make them very comfortable. The headband is adjustable, with numbered adjustments so it’s easy to set it to exactly the size you like very time, and the earcups can be pivoted through a wide range of movement. This not only makes sure they fit snugly over your ears, but also that they can be folded away neatly when not in use.
They seem to last forever on a single battery charge. Mobvoi claims 30 hours, dependent on usage, and although I’ve not performed an exhaustive battery life test, I’ve got no reason to doubt that. My one gripe about recharging is that they use the older micro-USB port, when USB-C would be better, but that’s a small complaint.
A cable is provided so that you can use them as conventional wired headphones if required, and this features an inline mic which means you can still use the headset for voice or Zoom calls even if the battery has no charge.
The headphones use Bluetooth 5.0, which means you get a solid connection and good audio quality, with a claimed range of up to 50 feet / 15 meters. That does depend on a few factors though. I sometimes get up and walk around my house while I’m on a work call and don’t need to be on camera, but the connection can suffer in some areas of the house where there’s a lot of physical obstructions between me and my PC (walls, cupboards, etc) even though I’m only a few meters away.
On the rear of the right hand earcup, you’ll find a power button which turns the headset on/off with a long press, and can also toggle the noise-cancelling with a quick tap. There are also volume up and down controls, which also allow you to skip/rewind audio tracks, and a multi-function button that can be used to accept or decline incoming calls if you’re connected to a phone.
Value for Money
It’s worth noting that when these headphones were launched they were priced much less competitively, at well over $100/£100 – but Mobvoi has gradually cut the price to this level. My guess is that the company struggled to compete at that price-point with better known brands such as Sony and Sennheiser, and was forced to lower the price.
Also, the TicKasa name is confusing. Mobvoi has a range of Bluetooth earbuds called TicPods, and that name makes sense – it fits in with the TicWatch branding and the “pod” part gives you an obvious clue that they’re similar to Apple AirPods. But TicKasa doesn’t really resonate, so perhaps that’s part of the reason they had to drop the price so drastically.
For consumers this is great news, because we can now get a set of good quality Bluetooth enabled active noise cancelling over-ear headphones for approximately 10% of the cost of the flagship models from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser.