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My opinion of wireless headphones has now officially changed. It turns out you can buy a pair of comfortable wireless headphones which offer great sound quality, a reliable Bluetooth connection free from hiss and dropouts, at an entirely affordable price. These are the AtomicX V201s, from manufacturer IdeaUSA.
The AtomicX V201s usually retail at around $150, but are currently on sale for under $100. Grab a pair while stocks last.
What’s in the Box?
Inside the slimline box you’ll find:
- The V201 headphones
- Rigid travel case with contoured half for folded headphones, and mesh net on the other side for holding cables.
- Micro-USB charging cable
- 3.5mm stereo cable
- Dual-mono to 3.5mm stereo airplane adaptor
No charger is included, which is fine in 2017, given USB ports are everywhere. Travellers must be one of their primary markets, because otherwise the inclusion of an airplane adaptor is curious.
The rigid travel case is a nice addition, featured contoured area that the headphones can fold flat and lay in, though the mesh accessory area seems to be upside down compared to the branding on the front of the case. It’s obviously been made that way so that the headphones are the right way up and the accessory fill the void by the headband, but still – if you open it the right way up, they fall straight out.
The V201s weigh just under half a pound, or just over 200 grams. They’re full, over-ear design with soft pleather padding, both on the ear cups and headband. They sit very comfortably on my head without any adjustment, though I do have a quite a big head, which means they probably run on the large size. I’m not sure these would suit particularly small heads well.
From an aesthetic design perspective, they’re fairly neutral. The external face of the ear cups has a quasi carbon fibre cross-hatched look to it, but other than that, it’s all standard solid black matt plastic. They neither make a bold statement, nor display any branding – which is exactly how I like it.
Sound Quality and Bluetooth
Clearly, one of the most important aspects to buying headphones is the audio quality, and I happy to report I was pleased with the overall sound quality. I’m certainly no audio expert – I’ve been happy with a budget pair of wired AKG K451s for everyday use – but the sound from the V201s seemed to have a full dynamic range with plenty of bass. At normal listening levels, there was no noticeable distortion from anything I threw at it: trance, industrial, classical, country, or podcasts. If you’re the type of person who wouldn’t balk at spending $500 on a pair of headphones, you might be disappointed; but for my relatively simple tastes, these do the job quite well indeed.
Unlike older Bluetooth headsets, there’s no hissing or crackling, and I experienced no dropouts at all during testing. This is likely due to the use of the latest Bluetooth 4.1 standards and Apt-X streaming. I tested on an iPhone 6 Plus, so if your device doesn’t support Bluetooth 4.1, your experience may vary.
There’s also a microphone for call functionality, and the power button can be used to answer the call. In testing, we found the microphone to be of passable quality – the other person could certainly hear what I was saying, clear enough – but not as good as my phone’s native microphone.
Active Noise Cancellation
In addition to generally cutting out externally sounds by enveloping your entire ear with a soft padded surround, the V201 feature active noise cancellation technology. This means the headphones contain a microphone which constantly listens for external noise, and attempt to cancel it out by playing an “anti-noise”. In theory, when the anti-noise and noise sound waves combine, the resulting sound will be diminished (though not completely gone).
So does it work? Somewhat, but on certain sounds better than others. The ANC feature actually operates independently of other audio sources. If I stood outside on a regular country day – birds, wind, a faint chainsaw in the background – I was able to cut out nearly all of the noise. If you wanted to just generally cut out of the level of noise without drowning it in music, this would work just fine. Since ANC is activated independently, it does mean that you need to turn off both your Bluetooth connection and the ANC when not using the headphones, as leaving the ANC on will slowly drain the battery.
Generally, it worked best on low, rumbly noises in the background, rather than high pitched bird calls or noise with a more dynamic range. The sound of cars driving by was dulled, but not eliminated. Rumbly construction noises from far away were almost completely cut. I imagine it would work well on the rumbly train car, but if you’re a city dweller, don’t expect to suddenly be surrounded in a bubble of silence.
The noise cancellation certainly works to some extent, but it also produces a slightly ethereal effect on the audio source you actually want to hear too. At the same time as cancelling the rumbly noise from outside, I felt the audio I was listening to also lost some of it’s bass range, and generally felt a little compressed dynamically. I’d hazard a guess that the ethereal quality is a result of the ANC feature producing anti-noises over the spectrum, which cut the original background noise, as well as a bit of the audio you’re listening too. You get used to the effect, and it doesn’t make the audio sound bad, per se, just… different. You’ll notice more if you’re switch ANC on and off to deliberately find the difference, but otherwise you’ll quickly adjust. I always turn the ANC feature on now, as I’d far rather have the diminished background noise than perfect audio quality.
Charging is done using an ubiquitous micro-USB cable. Despite the relatively modest 500mAh battery, the V201s have a stated life of 20 hours while using ANC feature, or 25 hours otherwise. After a week of testing, I have yet to charge them – that’s using them on and off every day for a few hours and a few long sessions at the computer, so the claim appears to hold up. They also have a 250 hour standby time. In real usage, this translate to average users getting about 2 weeks out of them before needing to recharge; heavy users closer to 1 week.
Should You Buy the AtomicX V201 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones?
If you’re looking for an affordable pair of wireless headphones that sound great, and offer a reliable connection, then unreservedly yes, you won’t be let down by these. The noise cancellation feature works well, but won’t completely cut out noise, and does some strange things to your audio, but it’s an optional feature. Personally, I keep the noise cancellation on.
Comfortable, reliable Bluetooth connection, with great sound quality and a long battery life – and active noise cancellation too. What more could you really ask for from a pair of wireless headphones?