Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: Denon gives its debut true wireless earbuds a chance to play spoiler against the AirPods, particularly for Android users looking for a similar experience without paying the full cost. And like the AirPods, you have to miss out on a few things, too.
Good sound quality
Comfortable when fitting right
Solid ANC and ambient modes
Great call quality
Pretty good touch controls
Nice build quality
Mediocre battery life
No app support at all
No multipoint connections
No wireless charging
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Denon is a known brand in audiophile circles, but it's never ventured into making true wireless earbuds before. Even for an established company that's already earned its pedigree in audio, new categories don't always guarantee success, and in this case, Denon's approach may have been the right one for the right type of user.
That becomes clearer after trying them out, though the more obvious contrast is with the AirPods, not as much with others. The reasons why come down to value and performance.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Price and availability
Denon launched the AH-C830NCW in November 2021 at $159. Given this is Denon's first foray into true wireless earbuds, it's hard to tell when it might drop in price, so it's likely to keep steady for at least a little while. Retail availability should expand over time as well. They come in both black and white variants.
Denon AH-C830NCW: What's good
Denon released two pairs at the same time: the AH-C830NCW and the AH-C630NCW. The main difference between them is that the 830s have active noise cancelation (ANC), whereas the others don't. The focus isn't so much on unique features or cutting-edge technology, it's simply about getting better sound to your ears at a reasonable price.
To do that, Denon chose to keep things simple. The design is not unlike other AirPods clones, though I would say there is a clearer distinction toward the AirPods Pro. The shorter stems, angular earpieces, and tips each contribute to a comfortable familiarity. Granted, the stems here are thicker, and they don't have quite the svelte contours Apple gave the AirPods Pro, but the gap isn't huge between them.
Like the AirPods Pro, the AH-C830NCW have no dedicated app to customize them, though Apple does offer a modicum of change through the settings on an iOS device. On Android, you will probably have to look for third-party apps to adjust AirPods settings. No such issues here, for the most part. Google Fast Pair kicks in to automatically connect them to an Android device.
What you don't get is any way to change or customize how they work. No equalizer to adjust sound, no way to change the touch-sensitive controls, nor any way to personalize them. What you see and hear is what you get. For those reasons alone, sound quality has to make a statement, and in that regard, the AH-C830NCW come out sounding great. I'm not talking a stunning fidelity, I'm referring to a crisp and defined audio profile coming from the 11mm drivers that you can appreciate out of the box. Mind you, they won't blow away the competition, where the best wireless earbuds stand out for a variety of reasons. They sound as good, or better than a lot of comparable pairs, and most importantly, are easily on par with the AirPods Pro.
What helps is the ANC, which is more than adequate at holding off background noise, even if it's not amongst the best you can find. Without an EQ to moderate how they actually sound, your only real recourse is to utilize ANC to hear more of what you're listening to. The opposite works well, too, when you engage ambient mode to hear your surroundings. You also have the option to turn both off. Denon would've been better suited to include verbal confirmation for these things, as you only get tones to indicate something is changing.
Comfort and fit do play a role here, and I'm not sure it's always going to be where it should be. When they fit right, they're great. I just wasn't convinced they would stay there firmly on a consistent basis. The touch controls are another element that works well when you get the hang of it. Thing is, when I would feel them slipping, I could also accidentally switch modes. The AH-C830NCW do automatically pause once you remove one earbud, playing back again when you put them back on, but the last thing you'd want to do is hang up on someone when on a call. Didn't happen to me, though I throw it out there as a cautionary note on how to handle these buds.
Why Denon didn't expand the quick start guide is another mystery. I always make a point of reading the full user manual when reviewing something in case there's some feature buried in there, and sure enough, there was. The quick start guide doesn't mention that you can mute a call by tapping and holding either bud for five seconds. You can also abort a Google Assistant request by holding for three seconds after waking it. For any nuances, I advise you check out the full manual to make sure you grasp everything these earbuds can do.
Speaking of phone calls, the AH-C830NCW served me well on that front. I had no callers complain or point out any audible issues during conversations. Naturally, they were clearer in quieter settings, but even outside, the ANC did a solid job making both sides easier to hear. Once I got the touch controls down, it was super simple to make or take calls and mute when I needed to.
Denon rates battery life in two ways, coming down to whether ANC is on or not. Leave it on and you're looking at a mediocre max of 4.8 hours per charge. Keep it off, and that goes up to six hours. The case gives you an extra three charges, and nicely sits up on its own, yet doesn't support wireless charging — an inexcusable omission at this price.
Denon AH-C830NCW: What's not good
It's not just the lack of wireless charging, it's also the lack of fast charging. The AH-C830NCW do charge via USB-C, except there's no speed uptick here to take advantage of. If you're going from empty to full, you'll have to plug in and wait two hours for it to fill up.
I mentioned the slippery fit earlier, which is largely caused by two design choices. The glossy finish may make these resemble AirPods (at least the white ones do), but it also makes them slicker when heat from your ears starts to warm them up. Their slightly larger profile, particularly in the portion that makes contact with the concha in the ear, contributes to the lack of stability when they get slippery. That's why, over time, you find them slipping out a bit.
That also doesn't bode well when you want to get active. Denon gave these earbuds an IPX4 rating, which is passable for sweat and water resistance, but hardly what I consider durable. The AirPods Pro have the same designation, so yet another thing these earbuds match them on, but if you are looking for something to break a sweat in, the best running and workout earbuds could be a place to start.
I couldn't find a way to only use one earbud, unless I just kept one in the case and wore the other. There is no multipoint, so forget connecting to two devices simultaneously. No switching over from a computer to a phone when a call comes in, either.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Competition
It's not hard to find a good pair these days, even if you look beyond the best wireless earbuds. The AirPods Pro are the clearest one to me because of how similar they feel from a visual and functional standpoint. If price is a factor, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro are similar in design, yet come with more trappings.
The Jabra Elite 4 Active are much more ruggedized, offer ANC, and come with ample app support. Not to mention they're super comfy. The Marshall Motif ANC are also similar in concept, and look great, though you won't get a white variant for those to look like AirPods.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want something like the AirPods
- You want active noise cancelation
- You want something simple to use
- You care about good sound quality
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want more customization
- You want better battery life
- You want more durability
- You want multipoint connections
Denon didn't hit it out of the park with the AH-C830NCW, but it certainly didn't come out with a dud, either. These are solid earbuds that do a key fundamental well, which is sound quality. The fit is hard to measure because of how subjective it may be, but if you can get that right, you will like the combination. It's just a shame there is no real customization involved from an app perspective.
3.5 out of 5
If you look at it purely as an alternative to using the AirPods with an Android device, there's no doubt you get better value with these earbuds. You save money and get a very similar experience. It's just hard for them to match the myriad of other options available.
Bottom line: Denon enters the true wireless earbud arena with a decent debut courtesy of the AH-C830NCW, which are capable of playing great sound and offering solid ANC. You do have to deal with mediocre battery life and a finicky fit, but they are a better value than the AirPods for Android users.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.