Noise-cancelling is the current trend in headsets, and it’s one that makes sense in an increasingly, busy cacophonous world. The current kings on that arena are still Sony and Bose, who make the very best sets available. They’re still far too expensive for most, but ubiquity has led to competition – not just with features and function, but also affordability.
Noise cancelling headsets now run the gamut from thousands of Rands, to less than a thousand, each offering varying features for their price. One of the best sets to find a good balance between price and performance that I’ve used is the Taotronics TT-BH22. Though it has a few design issues, it offered a warm and rich sound, with feedback noise cancelling that surpassed more expensive sets. The follow-up set, the Taotronics Soundsurge 46 not only has a better name but also switches to a better form of noise cancelling. Instead of the cheaper to implement single-microphone, there’s now also a second, external microphone to help filter out extraneous noise.
Funnily, it’s not as immediately impressive as the noise cancelling on the TT-BH22, but that’s because that set did a better job of passive noise isolation. It is, however, far better at reducing the constant hums of traffic, fans, air condition and the other churning, droning cacophony of everyday life. I found the set to be especially good at removing the sometimes-overwhelming din of being at gym. I’ve used it on a long-haul flight, and it worked better than I expected for the purpose, removing the terribly pervasive roar of plane engines. As with most noise-cancelling though, it’s not especially good at removing sharp sounds like clattering mechanical keyboards, barking dogs or the sound of Darryn screaming from the basement he’s currently locked in.
Its noise-cancelling however, isn’t its best feature. That honour goes to its wonderful fast-charging capabilities. Though the set, like its forebear, is still fitted with the soon-to-be-outdated micro USB port, it allows for fast-charging, letting you get a few hours of listening off a 5-minute charge. That’s a godsend if you’ve somehow forgotten to charge the thing and need to dash out, but also a necessity given that the Soundsurge 46 carries through one of the biggest design faults of the previous set. There’s a dedicated toggle switch for noise cancelling, which means that it’s far too easy to forget to switch it off, leaving the batteries draining while they’re cancelling sound for an audience of zero. It’s not a problem that’s unique to TaoTronics, but it would be nicer to have a software-controlled noise-cancelling function that switched itself off when the headset itself switches off. The noise-cancelling drains the battery fairly quickly, reducing the manufacturer’s promised 30 hours of battery life considerably. I generally got around 20 hours off a single charge, using the set wirelessly with noise cancelling on.
While the Soundsurge 46, with its deep 40mm drivers has a better overall sound than the TT-BH22, I prefer the latter’s tuning, though the bass here is less likely to fatigue. Most modern, expensive headsets favour a neutral, flat sound that highlights authenticity in sound reproduction, The Soundsurge 46 is tuned like many consumer headsets from years ago – with a larger focus on thumping, punchy bass. That’s not to say that they’re tuned poorly or sound bad by any means; I think the best descriptor for their signature is “fun.” Music has a good, deep thud, and – when combined with the noise cancelling – is a delightful aural cocoon. The bass may be at the forefront, but it’s by no means overpowering. Listening to bass-heavy music like Portishead’s 1994 masterpiece Dummy, right through to Fleetwood Mac’s seminal “Rumours” (the beginning thumps of “Second Hand News” come through beautifully), and more modern fare like Post Malone’s Sunflower and Tool’s Fear Inoculum, it all came through warmly. There is perhaps a bit of dynamism that’s lost in the highs and mids, but it’s never muddy.
Unfortunately, despite some reports to the contrary, the set only supports Bluetooth 4.2, and worse still is that it uses the SBC codec instead of more modern, less compressed ones like aptX and LDAC. Thankfully, unlike the TT-BH22, it still sounds good used wirelessly and without ANC. The call microphone uses Qualcomm’s cVc noise cancelling, but like many products in this category, voice calls can sound hollow as a result.
Aesthetics are subjective, but I like the design of the Soundsurge 46. Unlike the TT-BH22’s that blatantly copy the Bose Quiet Comfort II, these have an understated, almost industrial design. A little generic? Sure, but sleek. Unlike that set, it doesn’t fold up for travel, but is portable enough thanks to cups that swivel 180 on their hinges. They also swivel back and forth on those hinges, ensuring a comfortable fit. The headband is pliable enough that it’s not brittle but remains sturdy. The cups and the underside of the headband are decked with soft foam and protein leather, making for a comfortable fit. The included accessories are generous. Not only do you get the usual charging cable, but also a 3.5mm cable, an aeroplane adapter, and a handy, durable carry-case.
On the right cup, you’ve got a 3.5mm jack and the physical button to enable noise cancelling, along with three buttons that all serve double (and in some cases triple) duty. The power button is used not just to switch the set on and off, but also to enable pairing, while the volume buttons can also be used to skip through tracks and answer calls.
Last Updated: December 9, 2019