In a sea of noise cancelling headphones, how do you stand out?
For Libratone, the answer is beautiful design and an intuitive user experience. Libratone, most known for its speakers like the and , have now branched out to headphones. The company now offers its Q Adapt line of headphones, which come in on-ear and in-ear variants.
We'll cover the in-ear options sometime down the road. But, for now, let's start with the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear.
The design of the headphone is minimalistic, with smooth earcups and hidden controls on the bottom of each ear cup. While most noise cancelling headphones have obvious grilles for its microphones, Libratone hid the Q Adapt On-Ear’s 4 mics behind the earcup “forks” for a sleek look.
The right earcup houses Libratone’s unique touchpad, which lets you control volume, play/pause and Siri, if you’re using the headphones with an iOS device.
For some reason, though, the Q Adapt On-Ears don’t allow switching tracks using the touchpad. A forward and backward swipe would have been intuitive for this feature but as it stands you'll need to pull out your phone to control the flow of music.
That said however, we like the intuitive controls of the touchpad, but was often frustrated by unregistered taps to play and pause music. Thankfully, the headphones automatically pause your music when you take them off.
The touchpad features Libratone’s signature bird logo that lights up when the headphones are powered on. You can adjust volume by dragging your finger clockwise to make music louder, or counter clockwise to make music softer.
You can also put your entire palm on the trackpad to activate Hush mode, which pauses your music and lets you hear the outside world without taking off your headphones.
Hush isn’t the only unique feature of the Q Adapt On-Ear. On the left earcup you’ll find a button that toggles different levels of active noise cancellation (ACN), which Libratone calls “CityMix”. This is handy for maintaining situational awareness while you’re walking. There are four levels of noise cancellation and the one button toggle makes it easy to jump between settings.
Overall, we found the ANC performance of the Q Adapt On-Ear impressive. At its maximum setting, the headphones drowned out a majority of the outside noise, including voices, typing and other people’s music.
However, the headphones exhibit an audible hiss that gets louder the higher the ANC is set. Once you start playing music, you won’t notice the hiss, but it’s disappointing Libratone couldn’t dial it out.
Compared to the excellent , Libratone’s ANC blows the Plantronics out of the water. However, the Plantronics sound better and offer even longer battery life and physical controls that register every time.
The Q Adapt On-Ear is built as good as it looks. Its earcups are attached to metal rods that slide in and out of the headband smoothly. They’re not notched so you can get the perfect fit quickly.
The headband is covered in a durable fabric and its earpads are covered in a super comfortable leather. We had no problem listening to the Q Adapt On-Ears all day, which we can’t say for many on-ear headphones.
Speaking of all day, the Q Adapt On-Ear are rated for 20 hours of playback, and our testing showed that number to be accurate. These headphones last a crazy long time between charges. And, in the event you do run out of juice while you're out on the town, Libratone includes a 3.5mm headphone cable in the box to used in wired mode. You’ll lose out on the ANC when using the 3.5mm cable but at least you can listen to your music.
As for sound, the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear offer a balanced sound signature with a slight warm tilt. Mids are very well represented and bass has satisfying impact. The bass can sound a bit loose at times, but only audiophiles will likely notice. Imaging is good, allowing you to hear instruments around you, instead of having the sound focused inside your head.
Libratone did an excellent job designing its first on-ear headphone. The Q Adapt On-Ears offer unique styling, great build quality and good sound. The ability to choose different levels of noise cancellation is nice, as there are situations in your everyday life where you want to be aware of your surroundings.
Its touchpad is a feature that we love and hate. We love it for its intuitive controls, but hate that our taps and swipes don’t register every time.
If you want an ultra-portable, good sounding noise cancelling headphone that stands out from the crowd, the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear are a great choice. At $250 (£219, about AU$336) they’re not cheap, but they’re worth it if you care about design and the ability to adjust noise cancellation strength.