Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds review: Serious sound value
“Denon nails the basics with superb sound and great noise cancellation.”
- Comfortable fit
- Excellent sound quality
- Very good noise canceling
- Very good transparency
- Good call quality
- IPX4 water resistance
- No wireless charging
- No EQ or control customization
- No Bluetooth multipoint
- Require frequent fit adjustment
Though late to the true wireless earbuds party, legendary Japanese audio brand Denon has taken the plunge with two new competitively priced models — the $159 with active noise cancellation (ANC) and the $99 . We check out the noise-canceling model to see how Denon’s first try at true wireless compares to similarly priced earbuds from the leaders in this space.
It’s pretty clear right from the get-go that Denon is making a play for the folks who like Apple’s AirPods Pro. Placed side by side, the Noise Cancelling Earbuds and AirPods Pro look very similar, especially given that the Denons come in white (you can choose black as well).
There are some subtle differences: Denon’s stems are a bit thicker, and capped in an elegant chrome-finished tip. And instead of Apple’s pinch controls on the stems, Denon uses the more common touch-based style that Apple uses on its first-and second-gen AirPods.
Google Fast Pair makes Android connecting easy: Flip open the case lid and tap the connect button on your phone’s screen.
In the box, Denon includes three sizes of silicone eartips to help you get a good seal, and a short USB-C charging cable.
The relatively large charging case has a flat bottom so it can stand on its own, and it features an elegant, angled lid that’s easy to open and close. Unfortunately, getting the earbuds out of the case can be tricky. The super-smooth plastic used on the outer shell makes it difficult to get a good grip, so you must master the technique of using your thumb as a lever to nudge each earbud out of its socket high enough so that you can grip them with your index finger. Unlike the AirPods Pro, the case doesn’t support wireless charging.
Denon says the Noise Cancelling Earbuds are Class 1 Bluetooth devices, which usually means they should get better range than non-Class 1 devices. But I found the range to be about average — 30 to 40 feet indoors and 50 to 60 feet outside. Within these distances, the connection was very stable and latency was never an issue while watching videos.
Android users get Google Fast Pair, which makes the initial connection as easy as flipping open the case lid and tapping the connect button on your phone’s screen.
When inserted, the Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds are really comfortable. They’re just small enough to avoid that feeling of having something wedged deep in your ears, yet they also provide a decent amount of surface contact with your outer ear to keep the buds from moving about.
Sound quality is where the Noise Cancelling Earbuds show their greatest strength: They sound fantastic.
But the fit isn’t secure enough to use them reliably during high-impact activities like running, although, with an IPX4 rating, they can certainly handle sweat and rain. They also have a tendency to work themselves loose when you talk — something that might prevent them from being ideal companions on long Zoom calls. During one recent video call, I found myself needing to readjust them multiple times.
In another Apple-esque move, Denon keeps things simple with the Noise Cancelling Earbuds — all of the features are controlled from the buds themselves and there’s no Denon companion app for iOS or Android. On the one hand, there isn’t much to learn. A single tap on the right earbud starts and stops your music, a double-tap skips forward, and a triple-tap skips backward. When a call comes in, a double-tap on the right earbud answers the call, and a second double-tap ends it. Meanwhile, single taps on the left earbud switch the ANC mode from on to ambient, and then to off.
But on the other hand, the lack of an app means no firmware updates, no EQ or control customizations, and no advanced functions like fit tests or find my earbuds.
The touch controls work really well, but it’s very easy to trigger them accidentally when inserting the earbuds or adjusting them when in your ear. You get a quick feedback tone to let you know a tap was detected, which takes the guesswork out of it, and reaction times are lightning fast. The Noise Cancelling Earbuds are also equipped with wear sensors that can quickly and reliably pause and play your audio when you remove or reinsert them.
To learn about the full set of controls, you need to download the user manual from Denon’s website. For some reason, the included quick start guide makes no mention of being able to reject calls or mute the microphone while on a call, both of which can be done.
Consistent sounds like fans, or other machine-based hums, are reduced to just a whisper.
The only thing missing is a volume adjustment, and there’s no way to switch between ANC and ambient mode without going through the off mode.
But you do get access to your phone’s assistant, and you can choose to use each earbud independently for calls and music. When you do, the play controls that are usually on the right earbud transfer to the left earbud when using just that side.
At the end of the day, most of us want our earbuds to provide great sound quality above all else. And this is where the Noise Cancelling Earbuds show their greatest strength. Denon says it has employed its Sound Master Tuning on these earbuds. I can’t tell you exactly what that means, but I’ll say this: They sound fantastic. Utterly clear throughout the full range of frequencies, and with a wonderfully wide and precise soundstage, they offer the same level of performance you’ll find in true wireless earbuds that cost a lot more, like the excellent $230 Technics EAH-AZ60.
While it’s true that there’s no way to tweak the EQ settings either using the buds or via an app, I wouldn’t change a thing. Low-end bass is punchy, yet warmly resonant, giving tracks like Hans Zimmer’s Time all of the depth they deserve, and there’s enough midrange detail that you can sink into a jazz standards by Miles Davis or The Dave Brubeck Quartet and discover (or rediscover) elements that lesser earbuds would obscure.
As the name suggests, the Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds have a hybrid ANC system, and it’s very impressive. Variable sounds like traffic and background conversations are almost entirely eliminated, and droning, consistent sounds like fans, or other machine-based hums, are reduced to just a whisper.
I put Denon’s ANC up against the very best: The Apple AirPods Pro, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and Sony WF-1000XM4, and it was almost impossible to tell the difference. The Denons produce a very slight hiss when you’re not listening to music, and there’s not much in the way of external sounds to cancel, but otherwise, they do an excellent job of keeping things nice and quiet.
Transparency mode is almost as good — it lets a lot of ambient noise in, but doesn’t quite erase the feeling of wearing earbuds the way the AirPods Pro can do. My only complaint, as I mentioned earlier, is the inability to toggle between ANC and transparency directly.
Overall, calling on the Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds is very good. External sounds are largely cancelled, and your voice will sound full, not thin and tinny, like it can with some earbuds. There were the occasional wobbles, as can happen with any earbuds, but I don’t think your callers will be bothered by it.
You can also engage transparency mode while on a call, which lets you hear more of everything, including your own voice, and really reduces call fatigue. If only the earbuds didn’t have a habit of working themselves loose while you’re talking, they’d be ideal.
Denon claims up to 4.8 hours per charge and 19 hours in total when you include the charging case and you’ve got ANC turned on. When ANC is off, this goes up to six and 24 hours respectively. That’s about the same as the AirPods Pro, which is to say, not bad — enough for a full day — but nothing impressive by today’s standards. I couldn’t fully test these claims because the wear sensors can’t be defeated, but based on the remaining battery life visible in my Google Pixel 5’s control center, it looks pretty accurate. You get an audible low-battery warning from the earbuds, but there’s no fast-charge option for topping up a nearly dead battery.
Though not as full-featured as some true wireless earbuds, Denon’sabsolutely kill it when it comes to sound quality, noise cancellation, and value for money.
Is there a better alternative?
Near this price, your best alternative are:
- $130 : Better battery life, wireless charging, and customizations, but sound quality and ANC aren’t as good.
- $170 : Better battery life, wireless charging, customizations, and hi-res audio on Android devices, but ANC isn’t as good.
- $180 : A more secure fit, tons of app-based customizations, volume control, plus sound and ANC quality that matches the Denons.
How long will they last?
It’s always hard to say with true wireless earbuds, since battery capacity can diminish over time, but the case and earbuds look well-built and the earbuds’ IPX4 rating will keep them from suffering any ill effects from mild water exposure. Denon backs the Noise Cancelling Earbuds with a one-year limited warranty.
Should you buy them?
Yes. As long as you don’t mind the lack of an app for EQ and control customization, and you aren’t planning to use them for workouts or sports, the Denon Noise Cancelling Earbuds (AH-C830NCW) are an excellent value based on their sound and ANC.