Man, am I a happy camper. While I more than appreciate House of Marley’s dedication to using sustainable materials in their products, my last bout with a pair of the company’s headphones provided a somewhat bland auditory experience.
My newfound joy stems from the company’s new $100 Positive Vibration XL ANC (active noise cancellation) headphones delivering much improved audio quality and top-notch ANC. Indeed, I liked the sound better with the ANC engaged!
Design and specs
The Positive Vibration XL ANC that I tested are over-ear headphones styled almost entirely in black. The exception being the FSC-certified wood grain and silver logo on the back of each cup. They’re also available in blue and off-white color combos (see below) if you’d prefer something not as dour. As I said, the headphones are constructed from environmentally responsible materials wherever and to whatever degree possible.
The packaging is also friendlier to the environment—even the audio cable (featuring an inline ANC on/off switch) and USB Type-A to Type-C charging cables are tied off with recyclable string. Nice touch.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best active noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.
The power/answer/play/pause, next/up, and previous/down buttons are found on the right cup, while the microphone opening, ANC, and ambient sound buttons are on the left. The left side is also home to the USB-C port and audio jack. The Bluetooth is 5.0; however, it doesn’t support any of the AptX codecs.
The Positive Vibration XL ANC are noticeably heavier than the plain, older generation Positive Vibration XL I reviewed earlier; consequently, they have a sturdier feel in the hand and on the head.
Sound and comfort
I powered on the Positive Vibration XL ANC’s, linked them via Bluetooth (it took about 5 seconds), and when the first rhythmic elements of Toto’s “Africa” rang against my ears… I breathed a sigh of relief. As I said up top, my previous experience with House of Marley was with the slightly mediocre-sounding previous generation.
House of Marley informed that the the 40mm driver and chips have been upgraded. It’s noticeable. These latest phones not only have a bit of that high-end shimmer that their predecessor lacked, they feature excellent sound-field placement and separation. Well-defined mid-range that makes it easy to pick instruments out of the mix.
The amount of bass is just about right for modern tastes, albeit just a hair too prominent and a tad boomy by my lights. The XL ANC also do a decent job with the sub-bass in Young Jeezy’s “Put On.” Not as good as the planar drivers in the Drop THX Panda; but so far, the House of Marley’s haven’t produced the recurring Bluetooth issues that plague those $400 boutique cans.
Now as to the noise cancellation: It’s downright excellent. The headphones form a very good seal on the ear, so there’s not a lot of ambient noise to begin with, but the active noise cancellation makes things close to silent. Standing two feet from my decently loud air purifier, I could hardly hear it with the ANC engaged.
Oddly, I thought I could detect a bit more high end with ANC on. It’s normally just the opposite. This may have been observer bias, or the lack of outside noise masking the highs. It might be a slight over-compensation from the processor. Whatever the case, I liked it. So much so, that I kept ANC engaged at all times.
Speaking of all times, I managed somewhere around eight hours of run time on a full charge, compared to the claimed 10 to 12. (There’s also a mention of 24 hours of run time on the product page.) Good enough. In truth, few headphones run as long as their claims if you increase the volume beyond minimal. My sole real complaint about the Positive Vibration XL ANC is that audio from the Samsung Q60A I tested them with lagged noticeably during movies and TV shows.
Also, I didn’t find the XL ANC as comfortable as the non-ANC XL I reviewed previously. The cups are fine, if tight fitting, but the extra weight is telling. I wouldn’t call the XL ANC’s uncomfortable, but I’d probably have doubled the padding on the headband.
Where before I praised House of Marley’s global conscience and simply gave their audio quality a pass, I’ll now say that you can now have your environmental cake and hear it too. Outside of the lag with TV audio, that is. Good job House of Marley, and for $100: a very good deal.