Anker Innovation’s Soundcore brand isn’t going to be as well-known to most people as the likes of Sony, EPOS, Beats, Bose or Apple’s AirPods. However, when you’ll generally be expecting to pay $200 – $300 for a set of earbuds from those companies, the Soundcore Space A40 is a relatively modest $120. And, unlike most earbuds at that lower price range, the Space A40 doesn’t sound like you’re listening to music through cotton wool.
What is most impressive about the Space A40 is that it has active noise cancelling, and it is good. For this price tag on earbuds, that’s unheralded. You put these things in and you’re going to be drowning out the sounds of the street, the typical hum of the office, or the person in the next room watching Netflix. It even manages to almost mute the bogans on the train that read the “quiet carriage” signs and decide that hosting a party instead is going to be their act of rebellion. It’s almost good enough for that and bogans are obnoxiously loud.
As someone who does like to zone out, but also prefers earbuds to headphones, the Space A40 immediately resonated with me as an everyday use option. These are earbuds I can carry around in the backpack and use while trying to concentrate and work on the train, or in a café, or just generally tune out. I’m a big fan of being anti-social in public.
(Image used with kind permission from our friends at Pickr. Check out the amazing review by Leigh Stark for a detailed technical breakdown of the earbuds)
It helps that these earbuds have exceptional battery life, too, so if I forget to charge them overnight (pretty common for me to do that) I’m not going to have to go without the next day. The case holds enough power for four full recharges (which it does quickly, in ten or so minutes), and each charge will net you around eight hours play with the strongest noise cancelling turned on. The only downside is that I didn’t necessarily want to take the case with me when I was out and about. I was disappointed by the build quality of the case, with the lid in particular closing softly and feeling like a stiff breeze will blow it clean off. Still, Anker might not be quite at the premium end of town for presentation and aesthetics, but there’s also no doubt that the designers are genuine about what they’re doing, and they like music, so the case does look the part, at least.
The Space A40 also has a genuinely surprising range of features that make it a pleasure to use… and for more than just music. It starts with the app (Android or iOS), which allows you to turn the noise cancelling on and off, flip gaming mode on (which actively aims to cut latency down, for those rhythm game sessions on the go), and choose between two dozen different profiles to suit everything from listening to podcasts right through to heavy metal or classical music. Again, the earbuds might not have the quality of a set that comes in at three times the price of the A40, but these earbuds are good enough that those profiles are useful and flipping between them is meaningful, so it’s great that they’re all so easy to access in an app that Apple themselves would have been proud to design.
In fact, if there’s one big problem the Space A40 has it’s that Anker seems to have no idea how to show off the best features of their stuff. Admittedly I’m not the kind of person that sits down to read manuals, but I had no idea that the A40 has an app until I happened on a website that mentioned it. Another hugely useful feature that you just wouldn’t expect to see on earbuds at this price is the ability for the device to have two connections going at the same time, which is great for seamlessly switching between your PC or Switch and the phone to take a call. That feature is buried somewhere down near the bottom of the promo pages. There’s more to the Space A40 than you might initially assume, is the point, and that’s yet another huge win do such a modest asking price.
In terms of the kind of sound the Space A40 produces, the best way to describe it is that it’s smooth. The 10mm Double-Layer Diaphragm Drivers are reasonably powerful, but Anker seems to have aimed to a well-tapered mid-range focus instead of hitting you with a head-rattling base. Even with the bass profile switched on, listening to the more savage music, like Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat, or tracks with a strong pulse like Sisters of Mercy Temple of Love, do come across as slightly mellowed. On the upper end, there’s a nice crispness, and while the vocals are perhaps a little soft and fuzzy, I never felt they were overpowered. Interestingly enough, while I’m not the world’s biggest fan of metal music, I do like a fair few groups with female vocalists, and the calibration of the Space A40 makes the likes of Lacuna Coil and Nightwish sound really good. Because of the good balance, the earbuds also do most popular music genres justice too, and smoother music genres like jazz or enka come across particularly well.
My only criticism with the technology is unfortunately a big one; these earbuds come with a strong “no water” warning. They’re only IPX4 waterproof rated (i.e. splashproof but no more). As someone who is admittedly a heavy sweater, this means I won’t be using these for my gym outings (where they would have otherwise been perfect, since I would pay really good money to drown out the kind of conversations that go on at the gym). But it also means you’ll need to reconsider using them if it starts raining. They’ll probably be fine, but I would suggest that in 2022, earbuds should come with a higher standard of waterproofing so that people can give them a drenching with confidence.
Despite that one limitation, the Space A40 is a truly enjoyable set of earbuds, and I’ll be paying much closer attention to Anker’s Soundcore brand into the future. I’ll still use my good Sony earbuds for when I’m at home and want to deeply immerse myself in a game, film or music. But when I’m out and about and simply need something decent to give me some space on the train or find myself stuck in a noisy area, the Space A40 more than exceeds what I need from good earbuds, and it does so at a very modest asking price.