A little while ago I was given the opportunity to test out a set of Oppo Enco Q1 wireless noise-cancelling headphones. My first thought was “I don’t travel by plane much so probably don’t have a need for them”. Then I thought about it a little more and figured there’s actually a reasonable number of scenarios where they would be useful. So, I said yes.
I’ve put a link to the website in the first sentence so you can easily go check out the official specs for yourselves. However, in summary they are:
What I’ve done here is to write about my experiences with these headphones. Some of these experiences are the mundane ones you’d expect. Some are not. To be a little different, I decided I’d also put them into situations which the manufacturer might not have expected, possibly didn’t [deliberately] design for, and likely wouldn’t recommend.
First though, let’s talk about the packaging. The headphones come in a sturdy cardboard box. The light card wrap around this box gives you a lot of information about the headphones, including the specifications and features. Inside is a plastic shelf which houses the headphones themselves. Lifting the shelf out reveals two small cardboard boxes, the larger of which contains two booklets - the quick start guide and the warranty.
The quick start booklet looks quite bulky but don’t be alarmed by this, it’s written in 11 different languages. The smaller box contains a 28cm USB A – USB C cable, however, no power adaptor is supplied with this product so you’ll need to already own one, or buy one, or charge from a computer - with a cable of this length, you’ll need to be able to put your headphones quite close to the USB socket you’re charging from.
In the box is also a small bag with different sized silicone earpieces so you can fit the correctly sized ones for your ears. The earpiece sizes in the bag are small, medium and extra-large. The large earpieces are pre-fitted to the headphones.
I popped the large earpieces off and replaced them with the medium sized ones. An easy operation which only took a few seconds. Then it was onto a charger for a couple of hours to get fully charged up.
The charging port is sealed with a sturdy rubber plug which is flush with the underneath of the control side of the collar. A small gap between the plug and the collar allows you to pop the plug upwards and swivel it out of the way before plugging the charger in. There is a sticker which surrounds the controls, peeling this off will allow you to see an LED which indicates red when charging and green when charged. If not connected to a charger, the LED stays off.
The control layout inside the collar is very simple and easy to remember. There are only four buttons. The outermost is the power on/off control. The next two in are volume up and volume down respectively, and they are also used for track restart or track skipping. The innermost one is the mode button which can turn the active noise cancelling on or off or it can also be used to switch music modes between music, cinema and game.
The headphones are a soft, pliable, collar design which you wear around your neck. It sits so comfortably on your shoulders, due to the soft rubberized covering material, that you’ll barely notice it. The earbuds attach to this collar by 22cm wires and look a little bulky – but that’s because as well as having two microphones (a feed forward and a feedback as part of the hybrid active noise control) there’s an 11.8 mm dynamic driver in there which puts sound into your ears with surprising clarity and tonal response.
As is de rigueur with this style of headphones, magnets in the back of the earpieces allow you ‘clip’ them together so they aren’t constantly flapping around in a random fashion as you’re moving about. The IPX4 water resistance rating means there’s no issues wearing these while it’s raining, or if you’re sweating it out at the gym or on a run.
I have narrow ear channels, and I’ve never had success with earbud style headphones staying in place. These are different. My first test after putting them in my ears was to give my head a bit of a shake. No movement. Repeat with more intensity. No movement. Repeat quite violently. Still there. I was impressed already.
Pairing with my phone was as easy as you’d expect so from there, things came down to a few different test scenarios:
I tested a variety of musical styles (heavy rock/metal, jazz, pop, and classical) with the different modes for each. Switching between modes is as simple as a double press of the mode button. Music mode is the default and without a doubt was the best mode for my general listening preference.
With rock, pop and jazz music, I found cinema mode spread the sound too much. It could be good if you’re looking to get that big hall sound but some loss of fidelity is the price you’ll pay with weighting towards more bass. Classical music in cinema mode gave me a feeling of being in a large acoustic chamber and presented the music quite beautifully.
Game mode took away a lot of the sound spread of cinema mode but made the sound even more bass heavy. For me, no music sounded particularly good in this mode.
Leaving the default music mode in place while listening to music will give you excellent balance of sound across both ears with a clarity that’s quite astonishing. It doesn’t matter what you’re listening to you’ll be able to hone in and concentrate on an individual instrument or simply listen to the piece as a whole.
As there’s only 4 buttons music is easy to control – squeezing the power button once, between a finger and thumb, will pause your music, squeezing it again will restart it. If you have a voice-controlled assistant enabled on your phone you can activate this with a double squeeze.
The volume up and down buttons work in increments by squeezing them repeatedly. If you hold these buttons down, they will either skip back or forward a track depending on which one you squeeze. This may also depend on the configuration of your music app, for instance with PowerAmp (Android) I have this action set to restart a track so have to do 2 long squeezes to start track skipping.
Watching movies or perhaps a TV episode with these in music mode provides a perfectly good listening experience. Watching in cinema mode gives a great listening experience – the spread and bass emphasis which wasn’t so good for music really shines here, giving a great 3.1 experience including the subwoofer sounds you’d expect, all you miss out on is the feeling of the bass moving through you.
Gaming mode sounds good hear too, but definitely not as good as cinema mode. I’m not a gamer so have no games I could try the various modes with.
The Active Noise Cancelling
This was the fun part, but I’ll start with the regular stuff. To help with this I used a Digitech QM1591 micro sound level meter. Out of the box I’ve no way of telling exactly how accurate this device is as there’s no calibration certificate, however I’ll assume it’s ‘reasonably’ accurate which is all I think is necessary for the limited testing done for this review.
I also have no way, and could not think of one, of measuring the noise reduction within my ear, so I’m going to talk in terms of how comfortable I felt with what I was experiencing. However, to wrap some context around this, and the following numbers expressed in decibels (dB), a standard office environment is generally rated as being around the 60dB mark.
I took the headphones to my workplace. The day I did this happened to coincide with an electrical shutdown to parts of the building to test failure response. This resulted in a very noisy generator beside my office kicking into life for an extended period of time. How noisy? Unhelpfully, I don’t know as I didn’t have the sound meter at this point. Noisy enough to be highly irritating. It produced a range of frequencies, but mostly it was low pitched throb which vibrated through the office.
Active noise control can be switched on or off by squeezing the mode button once. With noise cancelling on the low pitch noise was dramatically reduced. So much so that the generator went to being more of a background noise that I could ignore fairly easily. Turning noise control off brought back most of the annoying noise, but not all as there is some physical buffer provided by the ear buds.
I work at an airport so took an opportunity to be airside while an Airbus A350 was coming in. I was reasonably close to the air bridge so got the full noise of the turbines as the craft came in. Or perhaps I should say I got very little noise as it came in. I took the earphones out to make sure it wasn’t a super quiet pair of engines... They were quieter than I expected but putting the earphones back on, it was astonishing just how much noise they cancelled out. Standing about 20 metres from the turbines, my noise meter had fluctuating readings of 92.9dB - 93.3dB.
What about an ATR 72-600 spinning up to taxi off towards the runway? From about 30m away I was getting readings around the 94dB mark. At this level the noise wasn’t exactly uncomfortable but talking to the person next to me required a significantly raised voice. With the noise cancelling earphones put to work the volume of the plane was dramatically reduced to an easily tolerated level. A Boeing 737-800 coming in to an air gate was at a similar level and I had similar results with the earphones.
Driving my little Nissan March (a tin box with virtually no soundproofing) can be quite noisy depending on the road surface and speed travelled at. Again, a lot of that noise is low pitched so again the noise cancelling headphones were very effective at dramatically reducing the noise. As the headphones don’t target higher pitched noises, such as human voice, conversing with my passenger remained easy. For reference, I’ve listed a few different road surfaces, my speed, and the noise readings I was getting.
From there it was on to 2-stroke garden tools at home. My Stihl FS-55 RC line trimmer ranged from 77.8dB at idle to 101.7dB under full throttle. With the motor around a meter away from my ears that’s starting to get uncomfortable without protection. With prolonged exposure it’s getting into hearing damage territory. For test purposes, with only the Oppo Enco Q1 headphones for protection, I found the noise was significantly reduced and put firmly into what I’d describe as a comfortable level. This was generally true of all the machinery I fired up for this experiment, which had measured volumes levels as per below:
Noise Cancelling and Music Playback
Because the active noise cancelling is so effective, music can be played at relatively low volumes without loss of clarity which is great for your hearing. With loud machinery running, naturally the volume had to come up a little. But it still didn’t need to be played at high volumes to be heard well.
Perfect for the job! Not really much else to say in this category. The recent COVID-19 lockdown provided an opportunity for a few video conferencing calls, mainly based around whisky drinking. After experiencing one with horrendous echo through my home theatre I used the Oppo Enco Q1’s for the next video conference. As stated in the first sentence of this paragraph – perfect.
Got an incoming call while you’re wearing your headphones? You have a simple choice here:
Want to make a call? Press the power button twice to get the attention of your phones assistant then simply speak – i.e. “Phone Fred Bloggs”. It’s that easy.
Would I recommend using these as noise control for power tools like the ones I used during my testing? By themselves - absolutely not. In fact I’d go as far as to say you’d be a bit silly to use them on their own for this purpose. I only did it for short periods of time for each tool and only for the purposes of my personal experiment. What I did find was that due to the design of these headphones, i.e. a wire trailing up to each ear, putting on good hearing protection in the form of proper ear muffs over the top of the ear buds when using loud power tools was comfortable and worked very well. This also has the advantage of you not having to turn the headphones up loud to hear your music no matter how loud your machinery is.
For ‘everyday’ usage, whether it be toning down the volume of an office environment but still being able to hear your colleagues (except those for whom you employ selective deafness), or flying somewhere in an aeroplane, these are an excellent choice. I found them to be very effective at reducing noise and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Add to this the long battery life and the value proposition really goes up. A good clean, balanced sound with a great bass response and ear buds that stay in place really well are big pluses.
These are an excellent piece of kit to own. If you’re after affordable, comfortable, long lasting, in-ear, noise cancelling headphones with a great sound – the Oppo Enco Q1 are exactly what you’re looking for. Now that the countrywide lockdown is over (here in New Zealand) go and buy a set. If you’re elsewhere and still in lockdown, order some online. They’re worth it.