November 20, 2019
I was on a long trip, and when I got on the plane realized I’d left my $300 Parrot cans at home, so had to deal with 8 hours of flying without noise cancellation. I’m totally spoiled, I’ll admit it, by traveling with good noise cancelling headphones. So before the return trip, I decided to try a couple of more entry level headphones, as I wasn’t about to spend another $300, money doesn’t grow on Orange trees and that kind of thing....
I ordered these and some Boltunes, thinking if they’re as good as the reviews, I’d keep one pair for the office, and give one to my kid who really wants ANC headphones for the guy-in-the-big-red-suit holiday. She’s been asking for a pair of Beats, but I’m not sure I’m ready to drop that kind of change for a pre-teen.
The SE7’s were first to arrive, and I had two days to try them out. My experience was mixed.
Positives: Easy pairing, plenty of volume, good presence (mid-range), and seemingly good noise cancelling. Also, on the plus side, fun color, and reasonably comfortable for the time I had to try them at nights after work.
Negatives: There are some minor negatives I noticed, such as the sound being a bit thin/tinny compared to what I remembered of the Parrots. I’m not a self-labeled audiophile, but what does that really mean when someone says that? I don’t know, but I do care about good sound. Given nothing but my Airpods to compare to at the time, they sounded ok not great, a score of say 6 out of 10. Then there’s the “off” function. Like another reviewer said, to turn it off, you have to first put it in pairing mode then keep holding the button down to actually turn off. It took me a while playing with it to figure that out. Very silly user interface. And in the dark, the buttons are not easy to figure out which is which. Also, the feel was rather plastic, and I could see these getting scraped up or breaking without great care. With these minor negatives I might have given these headphones a 4 star rating, BUT then were the BIG negatives.
First off, as other reviewers noted, when noise cancelling is turned on, the bass goes away. Like seriously - it’s canceling not only outside sound but inside sound. If I wanted headphones to just cancel noise and I didn’t care about the music, then this would be fine. But I actually care about what I’m hearing, and it wasn’t good. In addition, the noise cancelling (ANC) would do weird pulsing things in a relatively quiet environment. I turned it on one afternoon when someone was vacuuming in the next room, and I got this low-frequency pulsing effect that was very annoying - I had to turn it off. It felt like someone was vacuuming my head, in a pulsed fashion. Try that at your next party, only don’t blame me if someone gets hurt. I take a star off for that.
Anyway, the second big negative in my book is not having a volume that can go low enough for chillax nighttime listening. Seriously? Do they think I’m already deaf, or that I’ll always be in a noisy place where someone is vacuuming at all times? Okay, while I have tinnitus, I still like low volume, but with these it was either off or medium, no “low”. I take another star off for that.
And THEN the Boltunes came in. I ordered them when I read some of the reviews here and became concerned that I wouldn’t be fully happy with the quality of these SE7’s. After two days of listening to the SE7’s, when I put the Boltunes on I was blown away by the better sound. Since this isn’t a review of the Boltunes, I’ll just say what they pointed out about the deficiency of the SE7 sound that I hadn’t realized.
In comparison, the SE7 had poor bass and treble response, and sounded like it was transmitted through a tin can. I couldn’t listen to them after spending some time with the others, there was such a big difference. The SE7’s do have a bit better mid-range, so if you’re listening to voice-focused things like books, these might be better. But for music, which is my main thing, the SE7’s were quite lacking. Another star off (are we negative yet? Let’s see if I can count....)
On the plane ride home, I took out both pairs of cans to compare sound and noise cancelling. My seat neighbor probably thought I was weird, continuously switching headphones. I’m sure he took some stories back to his pals about the crazy headphone switcher on the plane.
The good news for the SE7’s is that the ANC was actually a bit better than the Boltunes, really quieting down the plane noise to a whisper. But of course it also killed the bass in the music. After switching back and forth, I found I could get very nearly as much cancellation with the Boltunes with a tight seal around my ears, and the sound was just so much better, I couldn’t go with the SE7’s. I put them back away and settled in with the nice sound of the Boltunes.
So then I thought, maybe my pre teenager might like the Cowin SE7s, since she’s probably not as discriminating. Ha! Kids have a way of always surprising we adults.
When I got home, I did an experiment. I didn’t tell her I was thinking of gifting the ‘phones as an Xmas present, I just pulled out all four pairs of noise cancelling headphones in the house, the SE7’s, the Boltunes, the Parrot (gen 1), and some mid-range Sony ANC phones owned by another household member. I then had my kid try all four in turn with her favorite music - some kind of Youtube thing - and I asked her to notice sound, comfort, and general enjoyment.
The good news? She has discriminating tastes: she liked the $300+ Parrot’s the best, followed by the Boltunes.
The bad news? She has discriminating tastes, so I can’t get away with giving her cheap stuff. The worse news? Of the four pair of headphones, her least favorite was the SE7’s. I asked her why. She didn’t like the sound as well, she didn’t like the comfort, and she didn’t like the look.
Ugh. I can’t even pass them off on a pre-teen. (Okay, yes, she should be grateful pre-teen to receive any pair of ‘phones over $30).
But seriously, these were the lowest-ranked by all household members who tried them (one other kid and one other adult also ranked these the lowest).
Given the low rankings and the intermittent ANC issues, the poor bass with ANC on, the inability to produce a low-volume sound - and the fact that nobody in the household enjoys them - they are going back to Amazon. I’m quite surprised at the high ratings they get here, I had expected better for a four-star rated product.
I am now curious if it is just the SE7’s or all Cowin headphones that have these issues. Maybe someday I’ll give Cowin another shot, but for now I’m enjoying the surprisingly good sound of the pair of under-$100 Boltunes I got for comparison.