Denon AH-C830NCW review: An affordable AirPods Pro competitor
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Strong audio performance for the price
Effective active noise cancellation
Long duration battery
Slight lack of clarity in the mid-high to high frequencies
No equalizer function
Denon’s industrial design isn’t as polished as Apple’s, but these ANC headphones offer considerably more bang for the buck than Apple’s AirPods Pro.
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I see at least a dozen pedestrians a day walking down the street with white headphones comfortably installed in their ear canals. Since I live in a recently targeted neighborhood, I’m assuming the vast majority of them are Apple AirPods Pro. Now that I’ve heard the $159 Denon AH-C830NCW, I think most of those listeners could have saved $90.
Design and specifications
I must elaborate by saying save $90 while still giving the impression that you don’t look too closely that you’ve overpaid for the Apple product. The AH-C830NCW are available in black or you can get them in white, like the AirPods Pro. White in color, when viewed from a distance, they can go through Apple buttons. The differences are more apparent up close, so avoid. I kid. Well beyond the point of influence of peers, I’d probably opt for the black version.
In any color, the AH-C830NCW weighs approximately 5.3 grams (approximately 1.87 ounces) each and comes in a color-matched charging case. The buds themselves are rated for 6 hours of runtime and the case for 24 hours (or four recharge cycles). That drops to 4.8 hours and 19 hours when active noise cancellation (ANC) is employed.
In case you didn’t know, ANC captures ambient noise through microphones, then creates and adds a signal of opposite phase to the signal flow to cancel it out. This, of course, requires more power. The AH-C830NCW can also cut through ambient noise if you want to hear someone speaking, or turn off the microphones entirely so the headphones act as sound-blocking earplugs. Such microphones are also used to facilitate audio during phone calls.
The charging/carrying case features a USB-C port for charging and a button for Bluetooth pairing, reset, and battery level on the back. The indicator light for those functions is on the front. With the lid closed, the earbuds charge and when you open the case, they automatically go into pairing mode.
The tops of the buttons are touch sensitive and are used to switch ANC modes (on/off/ambience step), control phone calls, change tracks, etc. I couldn’t find any volume up/down functions, so you’ll have to rely on your playback device for that.
There are three sizes of ear tips (S, M, L). Medium-sized ear tips came fitted to the earcups, but I switched to the small versions, which I found stayed in my ears more easily. There’s also a very short (8.5-inch) USB-A to USB-C cable as a quick start guide in the box. This guide contains a scan code that will take you to the more detailed user guide on the Denon website.
Sound, comfort and battery life
I have to admit, having experienced Denon as a premium brand for most of my life, I thought the AH-C830NCW headphones would blow my mind. Instead, they seemed mid-tier to me, like the AirPods Pro. Given the $90 difference, though… Part of that judgment is because the last headphones I tried were the exceptional Marshall Motif ANC.
My only complaint, if you can call it that, is a slight dullness; that is, a very slight lack of clarity in the high-mid to high frequencies. This is something that can usually be EQ’d to taste, but as mentioned, there’s no EQ feature here. Younger ears probably won’t agree with the high frequencies, but I’ll take the caveat about the mids.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure these beautiful headphones could match the sound of the Marshall Motif ANC, if they had an EQ feature. The lack of app and EQ means what you hear is what you get. It’s also likely part of the reason the AH-C380NWC is $40 less than the Marshall product.
When it comes to comfort, the AH-C380NWCs are average on the ears. I find the type exhausting and annoying, but don’t let that deter you. Runtimes and charging capacity were close to the claims, and I actually went a little overboard with ANC enabled, squeezing out 5 hours at very low volume.
Big bang for the buck
Long story short, while the overall look and feel of Denon’s headphones can’t quite match the AirPods Pro, the sound does, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the AH-C830NCW to anyone more interested in tunes than style. .
Jon is a Juilliard-educated musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and longtime (late 70’s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco Bay Area. [email protected]