The active noise-canceling headphone market has been booming lately, with commendable options from the likes of Sony, Jabra, and Microsoft — not to mention Bose, which has practically defined the product category for years. If you want the best, though, you'll have to pay: it's not uncommon for high-end ANC cans to run $200 or more. Mpow's H5 noise-canceling headphones can't compete with the big guys, but at $50, they're not trying to — and they're probably just right for a lot of people.

The Good

Fit Lightweight and not too tight.
Battery life Up to 30 hours on a charge.
Price For $50, you can abuse these things during travel without feeling too bad about it.

The Not So Good

Noise canceling More dampening than canceling, really.
Micro USB The headphones may be cheap, but that doesn't make an outdated connector any more convenient.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

The H5's design isn't anything to get excited about — they're all plastic and faux leather. I certainly wouldn't call them ugly, although the glossy plastic on the outside of the earcups collects fingerprints and smudges like nobody's business. The left side is home to two volume keys, one additional button that manages play/pause, power, and Bluetooth pairing duties, and a Micro USB port. The right has a switch for noise canceling and a 3.5-millimeter audio jack, in case you want to hardwire the headphones to your audio source.

While I don't particularly like wearing any headphones for long stretches, the H5 are perfectly comfortable. They're lightweight at just a hair over eight ounces, the earcups are deep and soft, and the headband doesn't squeeze too hard. They do make my ears a bit warm during extended use, but that's inherent to the form factor. I haven't had much trouble wearing them for hours at a time.

Aside from the headphones themselves, there's not much else in the box: a Micro USB cable (gross) and a cinch carrying bag. Free accessories are always appreciated, but I can't see myself using the bag — I'm not very worried about these things getting scuffed in my luggage.

Sound quality, features, battery life

I was pleasantly surprised by the H5's sound. There's adequate bass, and highs are pretty bright and airy. I do have a nagging feeling that I'm missing out on detail; it gets hard to pick out individual instruments and sounds in busier arrangements. Still, the headphones absolutely don't sound bad — and that's more than could be said of a lot of Bluetooth cans at this price point.

I was less impressed by the noise canceling. The version I tested was an upgraded revision of the H5 with active noise canceling that's apparently been improved since the original, and while it's effective at blocking certain sounds (the hum of an A/C unit, for example), others come through loud and clear. Flicking the ANC switch on and off, there's little perceptible difference in the sound of street traffic or construction. It's better than nothing, but it won't save you from a wailing infant on a long flight.

Battery life is right up there with premium models like Sony's WH-1000XM3 at up to 30 hours per charge with noise canceling switched on. That's four hours per day for a week straight, or an entire trip from New York to Sydney (provided your layover isn't too long). That's really commendable, and it's why I'm not more miffed at the H5's lack of USB-C. Topping up with a non-standard cable isn't as much of a hassle when you need to do it so infrequently.

Should you buy them?

Mpow H5
7/10

Sure, if you're just looking for some cheap over-ear headphones to knock around. The H5 are very comfortable, sound decent, and their battery lasts forever. They definitely can't go toe-to-toe with premium players in the space; noise canceling is subpar compared to more expensive models and Micro USB is, as always, a drag. But for 50 bucks, it's hard to judge them too harshly — you could buy eight pairs for the price of Bose's latest and greatest. Personally, I'd rather save up longer and get something higher quality, but if that's not what you're after, you could certainly do worse.

Buy if:

  • "Good enough" is all you need.
  • You're okay with Micro USB.

Don’t buy if:

Where to buy: