Scandinavian furniture has clean lines and, too often, appear to sacrifice comfort in favor of minimalism and style. Sit in such furniture and… you will be pleasantly surprised. The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear headphones reflect this same Scandinavian design language. The have clean lines and, like the furniture, appear to sacrifice comfort in favor of minimalism.
Seriously, has there ever been a pair of headphones that screamed Scandinavian style as loudly as these? I think not. And the question one is left asking is, when trying to break into the headphones market, did the designers behind these on-ear cans put too much effort on style and not enough on sound? We’ll answer that question shortly.
Let me first say this. I like Libratone products. I liked their original Zipp speakers, and am pretty thrilled with their current home audio offerings. The ZIPP (read the review), ZIPP Mini (read the review) and Libratone ONE (read the review), all of which we have reviewed and like, are fantastic speakers that don’t get as much love and appreciation as they deserve.
I was excited to learn that Libratone was expanding into the ever-more-crowded headphone market and was anxious to check them out. Would the company be able to produce headphones that merge style and substance as seamlessly as they do their headphones? The shower answer is, yes. I like the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear Headphones a great deal. As the same time, I have some minor criticisms that also need to be mentioned.
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear Headphones have a minimalist style you will either love or hate. Available in White or Black, There are no readily apparent controls, they have refined but minimal adjustments, and they look — well to put it bluntly — they look simple.
The one-piece headband is covered with cloth. The seams running along both sides make clear where the two pieces of the headband covering come together. And while such a seam might appear to be sloppy on other headphones, thanks to the otherwise minimalist style of the Q Adapt headphones, here the seam actually adds some interest.
The headphones adjustments as solid metal tubes that emerge from the headband and continue down to the ear cups. There is a bend of almost 45 degrees when the metal meets the actual ear cups. Adjusting the headphones is as easy as having more or less “tube” emerging from the headband which is wrapped in CoolWeave mesh fabric. There is enough resistance that the headphones will hold the adjustment point once you have them properly sized.
That leads to my first criticism of the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear Headphones. Whether you like or hate On-Ear headphones is a matter of personal choice. Some like wearing headphones that do not completely engulf one’s ears. Others would prefer the comfort of something that either sits inside the ear- in-ear monitors- or sit around the entire ear- Over-the-Ear headphones. The challenge is that, because they rest on the ear, On-Ear headphones can become uncomfortable if one wears them for an extended period of time. For me, that’s the case with the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear Headphones. In order to stay in place and create a proper seal with the ear, the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear Headphones offer a good deal of clamping pressure which, during long listening sessions, becomes uncomfortable. I should point out, however, that I have a fairly large head. Someone with a smaller head might not encounter this issue.
The ear cups are as minimal in their design as the rest of the headphones. In this case, however, the minimalism hides a ton of packed-in tech and a full complement of audio controls.
The left ear but has the power and pairing button. Depress the button and the headphones turn on. Depress the button and continue to hold it down, and the headphones go into pairing mode. The Libratone name sits on the surface of the ear cup.
The right ear cup is a bit more interesting.
There is a CITYMIX button (more on that shortly), a microUSB charging port, a microphone and a 3.5mm headphones jack. There is also a touch interface that allows you to control a number of different aspects of the listening experience.
- App Simplicity: Setup and control your Libratone product with the Libratone App. Download it through Google Play or the Apple App Store.
- Bluetooth phone connectivity: Connect your Libratone headphones to your phone via Bluetooth.
- Charge up: With more than 20 hours of battery play time. Full recharge takes less than 3 hours.
- CityMix™ Adjustable ANC: Choose how much of the world you let in or out, with CityMix, adjustable noise cancelling.
- Share your music: Bluetooth +1 : Connect to a friend’s set over Bluetooth and enjoy your music together.
- Touch Controls: Play, Pause, change the track, activate the “Hush” function, or simply crank up the volume, just by tapping the touch interface on your earcup
Inside the box you will find the headphones, a USB 2.0 charging cable, a 3.5mm Audio cable, a “Transport pouch”, a quick guide and instructions to download the Libratone app which is available through Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
This list of included items leads to my second criticism of the Q Adapt On-Ear headphones.
Libratone ruled out not one but two headsets in the Q Adapt series- the on-ear headphones we are reviewing and a pair of in-ear headphones that also have built-in noise reduction. The in-ear headphones a specifically designed for Apple products and, as a result, have a Lightning connection rather than a 3.5mm plug. This makes since-since, through the Lightning connection the Q Adapt in-ear headphones can draw power for the active noise cancellation feature and, in the process, lose the battery pack which most other noise canceling headphones require. (In this way they are similar to the headphones I used with my Sony Xperia phones.) That noted the Q Adapt on-ear headphones ship with a cable that has a 3.5mm jack. And while I understand that these headphones are primarily intended to be used wirelessly over Bluetooth, it seems to me that the company would have been wise to include both a 3.5mm cable AND a Lighting cable. Sadly, that is not the case.
The Listening Experience
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear headphones sound pretty awesome. No, these don’t stand out as my favorite-sounding headphones. That standing still goes to offerings from V-MODA, JBL, and Plantronics (each sounds great in its own right.) Still, these headphones are a pleasure to use. Their highs are clean and crip, their mids are exceptionally present and the lows sound good too. And since you can adjust the sound using the Libratone app, you can change the sound to suit your needs and tastes.
For example, at the end of the song Tremors by SOHN there is a soft vocal with some rather intriquate harmonies. The Q Adapt on-ear headphones sound AMAZING with this and show their audio prowess. These headphones aren’t just another pretty face!
YOU’VE GOT THE POWER: Q Adapt On-Ear is the perfect travel companion with 20+ hrs of wireless power. Forgot to charge up? No worries, they also come with a wire to connect to your phone.
Thanks to Bluetooth 4.1 they support AptX… so long as the source device employs it… sorry Apple lovers… and get an amazing 20 house of listening time per charge when listening over Bluetooth. They even charge in less than 3 hours when the battery runs down.
RICH SOUND EVERYWHERE: Whether you’re plugged in or listening to music wirelessly, Q Adapt On-Ear delivers the fullest, deepest sound anywhere you go.
All of that is great but it doesn’t make the Q Adapt On-Ear headphones stand out. What does let them stand out is the inclusion of what Libratone calls “CityMix.” CityMix is the company’s way of referring to the Q Adapt On-Ear headphone’s ability to adjust the amount of active noise cancellation thing place. (It is also present on the In-Ear model.)
CITYMIX YOUR TOWN: Choose how much of the world you let in. CityMix provides four adjustable noise cancellation levels, letting you customize your listening experience from completely blocking out external noise to letting in just enough sound to be safe.
It is a great idea that is as practical as it is effective. For example, if I am at home and want to hear my music as clearly as possible without having to pump up the volume and potentially damage my ears I can turn the ANC on full and block out as much ambient sound as possible. It works quite well, particularly considering the fact that these are on-ear rather than over-the-ear headphones. The same holds true if I am on a plane or a train and want to keep the constant noise to a minimum. If on the other hand, I am walking down the street and want to be aware of my surroundings, after all, being completely shut out of one’s surroundings while walking down a busy street is just dumb, I can reduce the amount of noise cancellation but still have some. Better still, this can be controlled with either a button on the right earcup or through the Libratone app.
There are two additional aspects of the Q Adapt On-Ear headphones that deserve attention.
The first is the Bluetooth +1 Connect feature. This lets you connect another pair of Bluetooth headphones and share the same source while listening to music. That means your private headphone music experience can now be a bit more social. It is a cool feature but, to be honest, not one I suspect I’ll end up using a whole lot.
TOUCH INTERFACE: Use the Touch Interface on your Q Adapt On-Ear headphone to Play, Pause, skip track, activate Hush function, or simply to crank up the volume. You can also answer and end phone calls.
The second point worthy of special note are the touch controls built into the right earcup. By employing a touch interface Libratone was able to keep the minimalist design of the headphones. More to the point, however, is the fact that, once you become familiar with the touch controls, they work amazingly well. The Touch Controls include…
- Wear Detect: To conserve battery life, Wear detect will automatically turn off any noise canceling and stop your music when you take off your Q Adapt On-Ear headphones. When not used, the headphones will power off after 20 minutes of inactivity.
- Volume Control: To turn the volume up, slide your finger around the Nightingale in a clockwise motion. A counter clockwise motion turns down the volume.
- Play and Pause: Tap the Nightingale using two or more fingers to Pause music. Use the same procedure to Play again.
- Skip Track Forward: Double-tap the Nightingale using two or more fingers to skip to next track.
- Skip Track Backward: Tripple-tap the Nightingale using two or more fingers to skip to the previous track.
- Answer and end a phone call: Use the built-in microphone for phone calls. Tap anywhere on the Touch Interface using two or more fingers to answer and end a phone call.
- Siri: Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear is compatible with this nice Apple feature. To activate Siri on your Q Adapt On-Ear, simply press and hold the Touch Interface with two fingers for approx. 5 seconds until the music stops and you hear an audio cue from your iOS device.
- Hush: For situations where you need to quickly lower the speaker volume momentarily (such as if you get an incoming phone call) you hush the music by placing your hand over the entire Touch interface. This will instantly lower the speaker’s volume, allowing you to hear what you want to hear. Lift your hand, and the music will resume to the original volume level.
I especially like the Hush function. It is a feature on the Libratone ZIPP and ZIPP Mini and it works incredibly well. You simply place you hand over the right ear cup and within a second the music not only stops but the CityMix turns off and the headsets start feeding in ambient sound. It’s awesome if you suddenly have to have a conversation with someone but don’t want to have to take the headphones off.
The app is a key part of the Q Adapt on-ear headphones. It lets you control the amount of CityMix noise cancellation. You can have just a bit of cancellation…
or you can have a lot.
You can choose from pre-set equalization settings so you gt the audio you want.
And at the bottom of the screen, you can control the +1 feature and have a “social” listening experience. You can also set five Internet Radio Favorites.
- Drive Units: 0.08″ x 1.6″ neodymium
- CityMix™ ANC: 4 Adjustable steps of CityMix™active noise cancellation
- Touch Interface: Intuitive controls for volume, play, pause, skip forward/back on ear cup
- Dimensions: Height: 7.5″
- Earcup diameter: 2.4″
- Weight: 7oz
- Power: Battery play time more than 20 hours
- Charged through micro USB
- Charge time < 3 hours
- Inputs: Bluetooth 4.1 AptX, 3.5 mm AUX
I really like the $249 Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear headphones. They sound great, are packed with features, have adjustable noise cancellation that works surprisingly well — especially considering these are on-ear headphones — and they have a minimalist design that stands out in an ever-more-crowded headphone market. When preparing for this review I did something I normally do not do. I read other reviews of the headphones. Those reviews were often somewhat mixed. I honestly don’t get it. Other than the two small shortcomings I cited in this review — the tight clamping of the headphones and the lack of a Lightning cable — these things are great. I highly recommend them to anyone in the market for a pair of pricey wieless on-ear headphones that deliver very good sound AND have active noise cancellation. Check them out here.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Unusual design; Wireless that holds a signal well and works for up to 20 hours per charge; Adjustable active noise cancellation; Sound is excellent; Touch interface that works; Hush and Siri activation features
What Needs Improvement: A bit too much clamping for my comfort during extended listening sessions; Don’t include Lighting cable; Touch interface takes time to learn