Tao Tronics Headphones review

REVIEW – The appeal of noise canceling/isolating headphones and earphones is increasing as more people listen to personalized audio. Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones are becoming a more popular option as the availability of sound processing technology converges with lower cost and higher demand. The TaoTronics TT-BH046 Hybrid ANC wireless stereo headphones are a new entry into this market. Read on to see what I think!

What is it?

The TaoTronics TT-BH046 Hybrid ANC wireless stereo headphones have many of the same features that can be found on other high-end headphones: Bluetooth 4.2 compliance, Hybrid Active Noise Canceling,  30 hours of use battery, and 40 mm drivers, for instance. What sets this item apart is the low sale price of about $90. This is significantly less than the $200 – $500 price of competitive products. The real question about these headphones is how do they compare to the competition? Is this gadget a game changer or pack trailer?

What’s in the box?

  • TaoTronics Hybrid ANC Wireless Headphones
  • USB Charging cable
  • 3.5mm audio cable
  • User guide
  • support contact pamphlet
  • airline headphone adapter
  • carrying case

Hardware specs

The hardware specs are gathered from the Taotronics website, the Taotronics Amazon page, and the FCC Part 15C Measurement and Test Report

  • Active Noise Cancellation – Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation significantly reduces low-frequency sound by up to 96%
  • Item Weight – 7.7 ounces
  • Headphone Fit – Over Ear & Rotatable Design
  • Item Dimensions – 6.89 x 7.87 x 2.17 in
  • Playing Time – Enjoy an impressive 2 hours of music with just 5 minutes of charge; completely recharges in just 45 minutes for 30 hours of music playback
  • Super soft protein cushions, adjustable headband, 90° rotation axis for comfy all-day wear; safe storage & transportation with the carry case.
  • Dual 40 mm drivers deliver audio reproduction at 20Hz-20KHz
  • built in cVc 6.0 noise-canceling microphone for clear hands-free calls
  • Rated Voltage: Battery: DC3.7V
  • Battery Capacity: 550mAh
  • Bluetooth Version: V4.2 (BR/EDR mode)

Design and features

Unboxing

The TaoTronics TT-BH046 Hybrid ANC wireless stereo headphones come in a silver high-quality corrugated box with an image of the side of the headphones printed on the front. The rear of the box lists some of the main features. The box and presentation are suitable for gift giving.

Hardware

The headphones come stored in the carrying case included with the product. The carrying case is zippered on three sides and hinged with fabric on the remaining side.

The case has a shiny textured surface that will stand up to a lot of wear and still look good afterward.

The unit I received is still emblazoned with the existing TaoTronics logo, although units manufactured later will have a newer logo. The new logo is shown on the product registration card included with my sample.

One side of the case is a nylon mesh pocket which can hold the included cables and airplane adapter. The opposite side of the case includes a velcro closure that crosses where the slider attaches to the headband.

The item weight of 7.7 ounces is on the lighter side for ANC wireless headphones. The Sony WH1000XM3 headphones weigh 9 ounces, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II weighs 8.3 ounces, and the Beats Solo³ weighs 7.5 ounces, but are not ANC. The headphones feel very solid; the rotation and extension/retraction of the sliders seems very secure and the cushioning of the headband and ear cups seems very thorough and smooth. The earcups do not rotate freely but have to be pushed around, which appears to make them a more sturdy product. The openings in each earcup are large and I have no trouble fitting my ears into them. The headband sits nicely on the top of my head and due to the lightweight design doesn’t tend to flip forwards or back.

The ear cushions seem soft enough to let the temples of glasses by, but since I don’t wear glasses I can’t be sure, and I cannot verify how glasses would impact the ANC if the earcup seal wasn’t perfect. The headphones do have a couple of design issues that I feel may pose a problem: the steel of the headband seems very sharp behind the imitation leather surrounding the top, uncushioned part of the headband. I wonder if one day it will cut through the imitation leather. Also, the ear cup pivot is only on one side of the cup, and it seems that there is the potential that the plastic or metal may become overstressed where this pivot enters the cup and that the joint may fail. 

 

The headphones look sharp. The metal back to the earcups, with the beveled chrome surround, is a nice touch.

I wonder if this is purely aesthetic or if the added stiffness of the metal is part of the hybrid ANC design or dual speaker design. The plastic parts of the rest of the unit seem untreated after they are cast. The plastic buttons on the earcup look very plain, but at least they do not rattle in place. The bezel around the 3.5mm audio jack is also a nice touch. The inside of the ear cups is a nylon material that is an upgrade from a foam sponge that could be found on lower quality headphones.

Operation

All of the buttons for the system, the 3.5mm input, and the headset microphone (for telephone calls) is on the right earcup. The microUSB input is on the left earcup. The battery is charged in 5 minutes for up to 2 hours of constant use with ANC, or about an hour for a full charge. This 5 minute charge feature is only available with a source greater than 5 Watts (5 v, 1 amp). My measurement of the drawn amperage is about 0.83 amps, so the need for a higher amperage charger is confusing. The headphones don’t come with a charger of their own, but I estimate that most people have 10 or 12 watt chargers available.

The Bluetooth functions of the headphones are controlled using the power and volume buttons. The ANC is operated with a separate switch and switch mounted LED. The Bluetooth is version 4.2 and the headphones support the A2DP, AVRCP  profiles for remote control functionality.  This results in a lot of Bluetooth functionality for 3 total buttons but most are intuitive.

Function Keypad Operation
Power on / off
Press and hold the Power Button until the power / Bluetooth indicator flashes / the headphones turn off.
Play / Pause / Answer / Hang up Phone Calls
Press the Power Button once.
Reject Phone Calls
Press and hold the Power Button for 3 seconds.
Mute the Call / Music
Press Volume + and Volume – Buttons at the same time.
Redial
Press the Power Button twice.
Volume + / –
Press the Volume + / – Button.
Previous / Next Track
Press and hold the Volume – / + Button.
Bluetooth Pairing
Press and hold Power Button for 5s when off.

I wish that the redial function was not supported. I have inadvertently dialed my last called number this way; when you butt-dial someone with your head it makes you a…

The type of noise canceling used on these headphones is Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling (HANC) technology.  It takes advantage of a feedforward design that creates a noise canceling waveform based on sounds picked up on the outside of the earcup. It also takes advantage of a feedback design that creates a noise canceling waveform from a sample of the sound inside of the earcups (subtracting the waveform of any music being played). This type of ANC is the most advanced approach available. The execution of this approach depends on the ANC electronics and software. Taotronics claims it can reduce ambient low-frequency sound by up to 96 percent (about 2.5 dB). You can see the mic hole at the top of the ear cup.

The headphones can also be used with a 3.5mm cord and ANC for situations when the Bluetooth radio should not be used (if an airline steward requests you turn off your headphones, legally, you must comply with their request.) If the battery is completely dead then the headphones will still function using the 3.5mm cable.

A nice feature is that if the Bluetooth headphones are not connected to a Bluetooth device for 10 minutes they will shut down.

Performance

It appears that the headphones have two 40 mm drivers on each cup. I wonder what the crossover is between the two speakers because it seems one is entirely for bass boost. Overall I found the listening experience compromising with these headphones. An audiophile would conclude that the sound was muddy and veiled and lacked clarity and presence. Turning on the ANC helped a little bit. I have to guess that some of the muddied sound field may be intentional – like Dolby noise reduction recordings were made on cassette tapes 35 years ago. I listened to Hours from Karakusa by Toshiki Hayashi. Normally, I’m convinced there’s a live bass player on my left shoulder, but not while listening to this. I also listened to the other recordings I used as samples for the V-MODA Forza Metallo Wireless Bluetooth headphone review.  When I listen to Bahia by John Coltrane I can usually feel like I’m listening to a live performance on the upper west side of Broadway, but with the TaoTronics it’s just a recording and not a very crisp one. Listening to There’s No Underwear in Space by The Claypool Lennon Delirium with the Taotronics, the sound of the bow against the bass is muddy and the drums, which are distant to begin with, sound too far away.  The rain at the beginning of La femme d’argent by Air sounds like static and the bass line is too overpowering. The French Suites by Bach played by Murry Perahia is an excellent recording but seems veiled and flat when listening with the TaoTronics. All of these criticisms are made while comparing the sound to some very good alternative headphone and earphones. Using these headphones for daily use, 

The microphone for telephone communication also sounds distant and unclear on the transmitted audio, although the received audio sounds very loud and clear.

The headphones have a fast charge feature. To test this feature I left the headphones on until they were out of juice. Neither the power button not the noise canceling was functioning. I left the headphones alone for a few hours to allow the condition of the battery to normalize. I attached the headphones to a high power charger and the headphones drew only 0.83 amps. I set a timer and charged the headphones for 5 minutes. The tester indicated 69 mAh of charging had occurred.

After charging I immediately started listening to music from my iPhone at 5-6 volume segments (31% to 38% full volume) with the noise canceling on. I got two hours 15 minutes of listening before the 20% low battery alarm started.

What I like

  • Low Cost
  • Fast Charge
  • Effective ANC for loud environments

What needs to be improved

  • Sound Quality
  • Cantilevered earbud may break
  • the redial feature is accident prone.

Final thoughts

The TaoTronics TT-BH046 Hybrid ANC wireless stereo headphones provide excellent ANC isolation from your environment, but with average sound quality. With ANC off, the sound is muffled and clogged by heavy bass. Turning ANC on improves the sound, but not enough to recommend using these headphones for serious audio. At this low price, however, these may be the perfect set for commuting on a bus or train.

Price: $84.99
Where to buy: Amazon
Source: The sample of this product was provided by TaoTronics.

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