OVC H15: Silence is Golden
Today we’re checking out a dual-driver noise cancelling earphone, the OVC H15.
When passive noise isolation isn’t enough to block out the world around you and you absolutely need dead silence to concentrate, active noise cancelling products swoop in to save the day. While the most effective noise cancelling products seem to command prices in the triple digits, there are a slew of products at a variety of prices vying for your attention.
Some like the sub-100 USD Mixcder ANC-G5 are quite effective in their noise blocking capabilities and sound decent to boot, while others fail in one or both regards. The UE6000 and A-Audio Legacy come to mind. Both sound great in passive modes while their ANC functions are little more than amping or EQing features to make them sound louder and more dynamic, and in the case of the Legacy do not positively change their sound. Disappointing given their debut prices.
Like the ANC-G5, OVC’s H15 not only sounds good but it effectively reduces external noise, though the way in which it does this is a little more interesting than Mixcder’s methods. Let’s take a closer look at why I think the H15 is worth consideration if you’re looking to buy an inexpensive ANC earphone.
A big thanks to Shallow at OVC for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing their product. The H15 was provided free of charge for the purposes of a fair and unbiased review. There is no financial incentive for writing this review, nor do the thoughts within represent anyone but myself.
Due to some issues with my computer that delayed the completion and release of this review, I received two review units. There were some mild modifications made after the first review unit was received. The second contained a revised set of ear tips that improve comfort over the originals and enhanced bass levels when the smaller 6mm driver was running solo. It might seem insignificant, but this change is a great example of tuning sound with tips and why I always tip roll my earphones when possible.
The standard retail price for the H15 is 79.99 USD, but at the time of this review was on sale for 43.99 USD. You can pick it up on Amazon;
For at home use the H15 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or straight out of my Asus FX53V laptop. During portable use it was paired with an LG G5 or Shanling M1, both of which brought it up to listening volume without any effort.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, MacaW GT600s, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy.
Packaging and Accessories:
The H15 arrives in some fairly basic packaging. The cardboard used is thin and somewhat flimsy but the overall presentation is attractive and does exactly what it needs to. The external sleeve clearly communicates the H15’s features and includes a frequency response chart intended to show off the effectiveness of the ANC hardware. There are also images of each aspect of the build including the earpieces, 90 degree angled jack, y-split which also contains the remote and media controls, and the ANC module. Last is a list of specifications.
Sliding off the external sheath and flipping open the front flap reveals the H15 neatly contained within a plastic tray coated in a soft fabric-like material. Underneath this tray is the manual, a customer service card, and the accessories. In all you get;
* H15 earphones
* durable carrying pouch
* two prong airplane adapter
* micro USB for charging
* magnetic cable tie
* shirt clip
* silicone eartips (s/m/l)
Overall this was a pretty basic unboxing experience. The packaging is nothing you’ll want to keep around to display, but the accessories included are of good quality and magnetic cable tie is handy. The inclusion of an airplane adapter will be especially useful for those using these on flights. The original version I was sent included a second set of black silicone tips. The omission of these with the newest version of the H15 was a surprise. Then again, the new tips both sound better and are more comfortable so not a huge loss in the grand scheme of things.
Build and Comfort:
The H15 is a very well built earphone with good fit and finish. Despite being mostly plastic, they feel durable and tough. Silver accents are placed conservatively adding some well-thought out contrast to what would otherwise be an all-black and somewhat drab design. The ANC module’s front plate is metal with the OVC logo raised and textured. The y-split is made from a dense, well-formed plastic with the volume and multifunction buttons coated in rubber. I was expecting them to have a spongy feel when pressed, but they move with a solid click giving you a clear tactile response. They are also easy to differentiate.
The cable is fabric coated and one of the few of this style that I actually like. It’s thick, flexible, and both memory and tangle resistant. Excellent strain relief is present at the jack, leading into the ANC module, and at the ear pieces, though it’s missing entirely at the y-split which is a bit of an oversight. You will find a chin cinch though. Another reason I tend to dislike cloth cables is the noise they cause when rubbing against your clothing. OVC’s cable also does a great job of reducing microphonics (cable noise) to the point that I almost forgot to mention it. Like almost every fabric cable I’ve seen (Dunu Titan 1 is the one exception) at frequent bend points there is some mild fraying.
Comfort is quite good, especially with the new ear tips OVC moved to. It was a smart move for OVC to put the ANC electronics in their own module a couple inches from the jack. You can tuck it into your pocket with your phone or player leaving you with only the weight of the cable and y-split to manage. That’s mostly negligible, especially if you make use of the included shift clip and chin cinch. The ear hooks built into the ear tips are made from the same plush silicone and aid in ear piece stability without causing any discomfort.
Overall the H15 is a well-built and comfortable earphone. OVC did a good job balancing placement of the electronics to keep hanging weight low and ergonomics natural.
Isolation and Noise Cancelling:
The H15’s passive isolation is good for an earphone with an open back and very shallow fit. The shape of the included ear tips and density of the silicone combined with a large ear piece housing fill your outer ear quite well, keeping external noise from bleeding in. I would put it at slightly below average compared to your standard dynamic driver based earphone.
Leaving the window of my new office open lets in a ton of noise from a nearby road that is extremely busy and very distracting. My work computer’s fan is also running at 175% most of the day, a sound which needs to go at the best of times. With the H15’s noise cancelling on, I’m left hearing only the light wisp of tires going by. Turn on some music, even at the very low volumes I listen, and it’s gone. It also does an amazing job of drowning out the sound of the fan above our stove when cooking, and the fan in the bathroom. Fans don’t stand a chance. I must note that when you first turn on the ANC function there is a mild sensation of pressure. Unlike the A-Audio Legacy mentioned in the intro, over the course of a second or so it fades at the same rate as incoming noise until you’re left with near silence and the crisp, detailed sound of the 6mm driver.
Overall I was quite impressed with the H15’s noise reduction capabilities. It’s mid and low range noise attenuation is very effective, though higher pitched and sudden noises will still come through. I really couldn’t ask for much more. The level of silence the H15 affords is more than adequate.
60 hours. I’ve put well over 100 hours on these over the course of two months and I’ve only had to charge them once. This is how you do battery life. I can’t think of a single product that I’ve used that comes close to offering the same stamina.
Unfortunately I forgot to record how long it took to recharge, but even if it ends up being six hours, that’s fine. You’re not going to have to recharge them again anytime soon once they’re juiced up.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect sound quality to suffer somewhat when you start adding extra tech into an earphone. This especially applies to budget and entry-level offerings where compromises are made to achieve a target price. To my ears the H15 does an excellent job of maintaining an above-average standard of quality sound to go along with it’s active noise cancelling feature. Keep in mind that while this is a dual driver earphone, the larger 13.6mm is relegated to ANC and/or bass boost functions. As a result its not always adding something to the experience. When it is you’ll know it because it’s like listening to a totally different product.
Bass Boost and ANC Off: With bass boost and ANC off it’s all 6mm, all the time. To me this is the H15 at it’s best but I expect the 6mm’s uninfluenced signature won’t be for everyone. Why? Like a lot of micro driver earphones, the sound is thin, treble is prominent, and bass presence is somewhat reserved, though I appreciate that OVC kept mid-bass presence in check. It lets the 6mm’s surprisingly good sub-bass extension show itself on tracks where it’s relevant. The mid-range is clean and clear with a very crisp, tight presentation. Vocals do tend to show some sibilance, but it’s minimal at worst and doesn’t detract much from the experience. The H15 gives off a good sense of space with solid imaging, layering, and separation qualities, aided by the thin presentation. I certainly can’t see anyone thinking they sound constricted and claustrophobic, at least not when running the 6mm by itself. In this mode they remind me of a smoother, more refined version of JVC FXD series of micro-drivers from a few years back, but with a much more open sound stage.
ANC On, Bass Boost Off: With ANC on, the 13.6mm kicks in to counter incoming noise. The 6mm’s sound is mostly unchanged, minus a barely perceptible metallic edge added to the lower treble. This is probably the best implementation of ANC I’ve heard in terms of leaving the stock sound alone.
ANC On, Bass Boost On: With ANC on the 13.6mm is already working hard to counter incoming noise. Turning on bass boost raises the low end by maybe 1-2 dB, and that’s about it. I had to reach out to OVC to clarify that bass boost and ANC worked together at all because the change was so minimal. If listening with ANC on, I’d say leave the bass boost off to maximize battery life. It’s addition to the presentation is insignificant.
ANC Off, Bass Boost On: With the H15 running in dual-driver mode, it’s a completely different earphone. The 13.6mm adds a ton of mid-bass and seriously thickens the overall sound. It gives the impression of turning on a sub-woofer along with an additional mid-range speaker. The excellent treble detail and clarity of the 6mm is still there, it’s just overshadowed somewhat by the thicker mid-range and low end presentation of the larger driver. The bass boost feature would be better labelled as a completely different sound profile as opposed to a bass boost in my impression. It does so much more than just increase the low end and makes the H15 sound like a different product entirely.
Overall I think the H15 is pretty accomplished in it’s presentation. However, keep in mind that with ANC off, switching between bass boost on and off without letting your ears acclimatize to the changes can lead to some negative impressions. Because the two sound profiles are so drastically different, the H15 will either sound hilariously thin and bass anemic, or thick and soupy with a muffled veil over everything. Give yourself a couple minutes of adjustment time when switching between each mode and you’ll find they both have their positives and negatives. I personally listen to the H15 almost exclusively with bass boost off, but I can see many finding it more robust and well-rounded with bass boost on.
vs. Mixcder ANC-G5:
Build and Design: Both earphones are very well-built using mostly plastic with some metal accents. The H15 is more subtle and less assuming while the G5 is louder and more stylish with it’s angular housings and brighter color scheme. I give the ANC-G5 the edge in terms of design as to my ears it’s the more attractive offering. It also sticks all the electronics in the y-split which means there are fewer potential failure points. That said, the H15’s cable is thicker and better relived, and it feels more substantial with tighter fit and finish. It gets the edge in build quality.
Comfort: Despite one being a dual-driver and the other a single driver, the housings are similar in size. I give the edge to the H15 because the shape is more ergonomic. The silicone ear hooks are also more comfortable than the ANC-G5’s ear hooks which use the cable itself. Mixcder’s design permits near infinite adjustability to ensure stability in every ear type, but it can cause hot spots on your inner ear after a while.
ANC Effectiveness: This is more or less a wash with the H15 taking the edge. When the ANC-G5’s noise cancelling is activated, there is a hint of static that the H15 lacks. Other than that they both do a similarly great job of nullifying mid and low frequencies.
Sound Quality: The ANC-G5’s sound signature falls somewhere between the two you get with the H15. Thickness is greater than when running the H15 with the 6mm on solo duty, but thinner than the H15 when running with bass boost on. Mid-range presence is more recessed but lacking sibilance entirely. Bass quantity falls short of the H15 with boost on, but quality is better. Turn bass boost off and the H15’s low end is less emphasized, quicker, and better controlled. With bass boost off the H15 has a more spacious sound with more impressive detail and separation. Turn bass boost on and the ANC-G5 sounds more spacious with better separation and detail. I prefer the H15’s more detailed sound with bass boost off, but I suspect the ANC-G5’s fuller, bassier presentation would be preferred by wider audience.
After just over two months of using the H15 on a near daily basis, I can confidently state that OVC’s entry into the sub-100 USD active noise cancelling market is a successful one. It’s affordably priced and brings with it excellent active noise cancelling abilities, good build quality with great fit and finish, solid ergonomics and outstanding battery life.
It’s two different sound signatures, one of which is sure to please you, are entertaining. When running the 6mm only they can be pretty impressive in terms of detail and sound staging. I do wish there was a third sound profile that landed somewhere in between the two currently on offer in terms of bass quantity and sound thickness, but overall I am pleased with and enjoy the H15 as it is.
If you think you’d enjoy one or both of the sound profiles of the H15 and are in the market for a noise cancelling in-ear that doesn’t cost a ton yet offers effective noise suppression, this would be a great choice.
Thanks for reading and thanks to OVC for their patience while this review was in the works.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)