When you’re trying to listen to something in an environment with little ambient noise, you need little in the way of noise cancellation. Even a common pair of earbuds may provide enough of a physical barrier for adequate noise isolation. But when you’re dealing with more than a little ambient noise, what you need is active noise cancellation. The same technology used to help protect pilots as they sit next to a roaring engine can be used to ensure you can listen to your headphones over the distractions of daily life.
But noise cancellation can be a tricky feature to add to headphones. It’s a feature that consumes extra power, has implications on physical design and comfort, and can end up detracting from audio quality if you’re not sure what you’re buying. That’s why it’s careful to take an extra close look at any pair of noise cancelling headphones, and make sure they can deliver all of your unique needs.
Cowin E8 Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones
The Cowin E8 is essentially a replacement for the E7, Cowin’s previous generation. The E7 were one of the most popular headphones on Amazon, and received a warm reception from an equally large share of critics. In the E8, you can find an improvement over nearly everything good about the E7, as well as many of the same features that make the E7 popular to begin with. And whether or not you end up becoming a lifetime fan of the series, it’s easy to appreciate Cowin’s 18-month warranty.
Design & Build
The E8 are full sized, over-ear headphones. They use a closed-design that’s optimized to help prevent sound leakage into your listening environment, and help protect your ears from disturbed by unwanted noise. Like all full-sized headphones, the E8 are large. But that size helps directly contribute to their comfort and sound quality. Larger headphones enable bigger, thicker padding. And in spite of being rather bulky, the E8 remains relatively light as far as wireless headphones are concerned, weighing only about 1.4 lbs.
Another advantage of the E8’s build is the ear cushions are magnetically attached. When you’re trying to get long-term use out of a pair of headphones, the first component to be concerned with wearing out is the cord. But in the case of the cordless E8, you can move right along to the second most likely to fail component, which is the padding. After a couple years of steady use, headphone padding gets worn down. But the E8 uses cushions that are magnetically attached and replaceable. Those magnetic attachments make replacement easy, and allow cleaning the pads to be equally simple.
Another of the more substantial improvements over the E7 pertains to comfort. The Cowin E8’s ear cups are drastically more comfortable than anything else in their entire line of headphones. Those boosts in comfort are thanks to a slightly softer material in the E8 which helps cushion around the ear, and help extend how long it’s possible to wear these headphones without fatigue. Larger cushioning also contributes to these headphones being comfortable on a wider range of head sizes.
Furthermore, those bulky cushions have been given a 90° rotational axis, helping them to swivel and find a snug fit. The ability to make the pads adjust in that way ensures a higher degree of comfort for a wider variety of people. It also ensures the E8 are more resistant to the types of physical damage that can happen when headphones aren’t capable of being physically flexible. If a pair of E8 accidentally end up under a couch cushion, their flexibility would likely save them from a kind of horrible destruction which many headphones would not survive.
But there is one problem with comfort. While the COWIN E8 are clearly intended to be taken on the go, large, well-padded headphones aren’t well adapted to being worn in hot environments. The smooth and plush ear pads of the E8 are extremely comfortable, but not extremely good at dissipating heat. Consequently, COWIN advises people intermittently remove the E8 when wearing them in warm places. For indoor temperatures, you shouldn’t run into any concerns with heat. But if you’re outside on a hot and sunny day, then you may find heat can become an issue over time.
Microphone and Bluetooth
The most obvious advantage of Bluetooth is it allows you to escape from the burden of wires. That’s actually a double advantage when dealing with headphones because it means your components are less likely to suffer physical breakage. Getting into the gritty details, you’ll find the E8’s Bluetooth connection isn’t particularly special, but it provides all the best things we’ve come to expect of Bluetooth 4.0. Quick connectivity is no problem, and is usually possible in under ten seconds. Bluetooth 4.0 also provides more than enough bandwidth for a high quality audio signal.
But what really makes the E8 stand out is how it’s equipped with 4 microphones. Multiple microphone setups enable the E8 to offer stunningly accurate noise cancellation. The difference in pickup between each microphone lets the E8 isolate and remove noise in a way that single mics configurations cannot. Whether you’re walking through an airport terminal or down a busy street, the E8’s multiple-mic configuration helps ensure you keep business-quality call clarity at all times.
The E8 uses a modestly-sized 545mAh lithium ion battery. Battery performance depends on the kinds of things you’re listening to and the volumes you use, but through Bluetooth, you can expect about 20 hours of battery life. That number goes down gradually if you use the active noise cancellation feature or turn up the volume. Even under worse-case-scenario conditions, it’s safe to say that the E8 can take on a full day of activity. But by the end of the day, you’ll need to settle in for the roughly two hours it takes to recharge the E8.
Relative to the E7, the E8 also has some steady improvements in sound quality that are worth noting. One of the more common complaints related to the E7 was its relatively low volume capacity. But the E8 uses comparably large 45mm drivers, capable of being nearly 30% louder than the E7. They can reach a maximum of 100dB, which favorably compares with most mid-sized portable speakers.
Strong bass frequencies were one of the strongest features of the E7, and those strengths continue with the E8. Its use of larger drivers helps provide an even deeper and more accurate range of bass tones. But its mid-tones are where the E8 truly shines, helping provide extra clarity to voices. That makes the E8 optimal for listening to audio books, taking phone calls, and watching dialogue-driven media.
The large over-ear design is good for squashing ambient noise, like the hum of a refrigerator. But what makes these headphones effective at taking on noise is their active noise cancellation. Noise isolation features are the kind of thing that can make-or-break your headphone selection. Fortunately, the E8’s active noise cancelling can work with or without the use of an audio cable, making it ideal for reducing noise for flights or city traffic.
While it’s difficult to accurately portray the quantity of sound being filtered out, Cowin approximates the effect to be about 30db in volume. That’s slightly more noise cancellation than you can get from wearing a pair of foam earplugs. Though it should be noted that active noise cancellation doesn’t target all frequencies of sound equally, which means the experience of cancellation is far more robust than anything possible with earplugs alone. Vocal tones aren’t simply dulled, they’re essentially unheard.
Like many pairs of high-end headphones, the Cowin E8 comes in its own storage case. The case also includes a micro USB charging cable, a 3.5mm audio cable for making a wired connection to the E8, and a user guide. Being able to switch to a wired connection is a nice extra that helps keep the E8 adaptable. Anytime you can switch over to a wired connection, you’re going to start seeing considerable improvements in battery life, possibly as much as 20%.
While the E8’s ear pads are fully replaceable, the headband padding is not. The headband is on the firmer side to begin with, which isn’t totally negligible considering the hefty weight of these headphones. Nevertheless, it’s safe to expect about five years of steady and comfortable use from the E8. If the headband being on the firmer-side isn’t a problem for you, then the absence of thicker padding in that area actually serves to prolong the lifespan of the E8.
Who Should Choose the Cowin E8?
If you don’t value noise cancelling, then you don’t want the Cowin E8. It’s most significant feature is active noise cancellation. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones to take for a jog, these aren’t it. They’re large and bulky, and are better suited to be worn while walking or sitting. The over-ear design can produce issues with heat, but it’s hard to hold that against the E8 because it’s necessary for active noise cancellation.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for protection from noise, then the E8 is a great choice. Its over-ear design can help you take on a wide range of environments. And when you toggle on active cancellation, the kind of noise cancellation you experience is only one step short of what pilots use. In other words, the E8 is a good choice for people who want to make calls through Bluetooth headphones. Its four microphone configuration helps provide call clarity even when you’re standing in a restless crowd of people.
With the Cowin E8, you’re getting exactly what you pay for. You can find headphones with better audio quality, but you’ll have to start spending twice as much. You can find headphones with a wider set of features, but they won’t have the E8’s active noise cancellation. For what it is, it’s fair to say the E8 is the best in its class. But whether or not they’ll work for you ultimately comes down to how much noise isolation you need.