Strauss and Wagner are a company named after 2 German composers, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. As a company based in New York, Strauss and Wagner want to offer Best-in-Class sound at an affordable price.
The Strauss and Wagner SW-ANCBT501 Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones is their entry into Active noise-canceling headphones.
The SW-ANCBT501 came in a nice presentation box, that would ensure that the headphones would not get damaged during shipping. Opening the box, there is a clamshell carrying case that is big enough to easily fit the headphones inside. The extra space in the carrying case will come in handy if you want to bring along a dedicated music player, or a power bank.
They do lack foam inserts to keep the headphones from moving around inside, but the case would definitely do a good job of protecting the headphones when you are on the go.
The SW-ANCBT501 package also comes with 2 wires, a USB type C to Type A for charging, and a 3.5mm to USB C for listening on the headphones directly from a phone. It’s good that Strauss & Wagner decided to use USB C, making it more convenient to plug in the USB cables into the port, without having to try multiple times like we have to with micro USB and older USB ports.
Once I opened the SW-ANCBT501 clamshell case, the first thing that I noticed are the designs on the earcups. It has this metallic design with etched concentric circles with a silver outer ring that can be found in older headphone designs, but they do integrate quite well with the rest of the design.
The headband mainly is made of plastic, but the plastic seems to be the more durable kind, so I am not too worried about it too much. The adjustment mechanism is lined with a metal strip, this puts me at ease that these will not simply break after a few adjustments of the headband.
My only minor gripe is that the adjustment mechanism is not exceptionally smooth, as it sometimes needs a little coercing to adjust to the right size.
The touch of faux leather on the top part of the headband brings a luxurious feel to the headphones; it even has the Strauss & Wagner name nicely etched on top. The earpads are also made of the same soft faux leather material, so at least sweat from extended use can easily be cleaned off the earcups.
The size of the buttons for the headphone are nice since they can easily be pressed even when you are wearing the headphone. However, the buttons are a little loose, as they wobble just a bit in their place, but this does not really affect the performance of the buttons.
Comfort is especially important for noise-canceling headphones since they will generally be used for long hours, away from the comforts of home. It can be when walking in your daily commute, long-haul plane rides, or whatever use case you might end up with the SW-ANCBT501, I am sure that these will fit the bill quite well.
They are as comfortable as any pair of headphones can be. The clamping force is not too much that it would squeeze your brains out, but at the same time, it’s not too light that you’d be scared that they would fall off at the slightest movement of your head.
The earpads are made of soft faux leather, with a soft foam inside that would really make you feel like there are these little pillows being held against your ears. Even the inside of the earcup is lined with soft foam, so whatever your ear touches is just soft inside. However, the ear cups are just a tad small, so they may touch your ear sometimes, but your mileage may vary.
The headband pad was also a nice touch, since they warped the same soft foam in the same faux leather, to prevent any hot spots on the top of your head. For comfort, I would say that these do quite well and would be barely noticeable as long as you have smaller sized ears.
The noise-canceling feature of the SW-ANCBT501 has 3 modes, off, on, and environment mode. The sound is not affected that much by the 3 different modes. The 1st mode is ANC off, where there is no noise-canceling, but it does not amplify any sound from the outside.
The 2nd mode is ANC on, but the noise that they tend to attenuate more are higher frequency sounds such as snaps and claps while attenuating to a lesser degree the low-frequency machine rumbling sound.
The 3rd mode is an environmental mode. I found that this mode amplifies the outside noise, for when you want to hear what is around you, a smart feature for when you want to stay safe from any dangers when you want to walk around with these headphones on.
One of the great features of the Strauss & Wagner SW-ANCBT501 is fast charging. When I got the headphones, it had no battery at all. I plugged the headphones to my fast charger for 45 minutes, then the battery was already full, as indicated by the blue LED beside the power button.
Although they specified that the headphones would be able to have 40 hours of battery life, it was not indicated whether the noise canceling was on or off, and at what volume the headphones were playing. In my experience, 4 days of use, at moderate volume levels, with ANC on with around 8 hours of use fully drained the battery.
I would say that this is already a respectable amount of playing time, since getting to a charger within 4 days is not too hard. The battery percentage is also indicated in my phone when connected to Bluetooth, this would help easily monitor the amount of juice still available.
The Strauss & Wagner has 2 modes of connection: Bluetooth and wired connection through the USB C port located at the bottom of the earcup.
The SW-ANCBT501 only allows for the Standard Bluetooth Codec through Bluetooth V5.0, without options for aptX, ACC or LDAC, so lossless formats will be out of the question. The Bluetooth connection is good though and does not seem to have any audio latency issues.
Connection to my phone was a hassle-free experience. After I have connected it to my phone for the 1st time, the SW-ANCBT501 automatically connects to my phone without any intervention during the succeeding times, but it can only be connected to 1 device at a time. Bluetooth connection range is also good, as I can walk around my house with the headphones on my head while I leave my phone on my desk.
The other option that Strauss & Wagner has for connectivity is connecting their USB C cable directly to a 3.5mm jack. This is a good option to continue listening in case you forget to charge the headphones, or if you simply want to bypass the internal Bluetooth DAC.
SW-ANCBT501 Sound Impressions
Strauss & Wagner’s SW-ANCBT501 leans towards a darker sound signature, which bass lovers will probably love a lot. The rest of the frequency spectrum still sounds acceptably clear to listen to lighter tracks like acoustic music.
The first thing that I noticed when I turned them on is the pronounced bass. Bass is one of the strong points of these headphones and they do have a loud thumpy and strong bass.
The bass extension is also more than what I would expect from headphones at this price point, but it tends to be a little muddy at the lower registers.
Drumbeats tend to have an impact, but each beat tends to lack that quality that would let you hear each distinct drum beat. Although the bass has a good amount of quantity, it tends to become muddier on some complicated bass-heavy tracks.
The midrange of the Strauss & Wagner SW-ANCBT501 tends to be relaxed while retaining a certain level of clarity. Although they are not the final word when it comes to a detailed midrange they are sufficiently clear. Despite copious amounts of bass, the vocals in the midrange are still able to shine through the darker quality of the bass.
The Strauss & Wagner SW-ANCBT501 tends to have recessed highs, perfect for those who want a more laid back experience, or are treble sensitive. Though the treble region is still present, sparkling treble is not this headphone’s strong suit. Details in the treble are mostly drowned by the more pronounced bass.
With the slightly veiled quality of these headphones, instrument separation suffers a bit, and everything ends up becoming swirled together making a big blob of sound combining the instruments that are playing.
The sound stage is just in your head, but considering that these are closed-back, that is to be expected. Imaging is limited to just a center image, then a far-left and a far-right image.
I used the 3.5mm jack, and bypassed the onboard Bluetooth DAC, and instead used an AudioQuest Dragonfly Black to test just the drivers themselves.
I was pleasantly surprised at the difference a DAC/amp can make with these headphones. The SW-ANCBT501 suddenly had a more balanced sound signature, and the details were jumping out at me.
Treble sparkle suddenly came out a bit, and much more treble energy became apparent. Instrument separation was also improved quite a bit, and clarity suddenly shone through. The bloated bass was toned down, and instead, a more balanced sound signature replaced it.
I realized that the drivers inside the SW-ANCBT501 can actually do a lot better when on an external DAC, than through the on-board Bluetooth DAC.
Released more than 4 years ago, the Sennheiser PXC550 is a bit of an unfair comparison since it still currently retails at almost twice the price of the ANCBT501, but it gives a perspective on what the ANCBT501 still lacks.
The main difference I heard was a marked difference in clarity. Although they can sound similar in simpler tracks, the PXC550’s would simply be able to present more details with more complicated passages. The noise-canceling levels on both headphones are quite similar, as they both do fairly well in shutting out the noise.
Although the PXC550 is not in the same price range as the SW-ANCBT501, it just highlights what the headphone still lacks for it to be truly revolutionary for its price level.
At around the same price point, the MPOW H21 can be used as a direct comparison to the SW-ANCBT501. When it came to the 2, I saw quite a few contrasting features.
The first is the packaging and accessories, the MPOW came in an unassuming box, with a simple leather pouch, while the ANCBT501’s came in an elaborate box. The MPOW also used a dated micro USB connector, instead of the USB C in the Strauss & Wagner. These are just nice touches that the MPOW simply missed on.
The sound signatures of the 2 headphones are also contrasting. Where the SW-ANCBT501 tended to have a darker tilt to the sound, that bass heads would definitely love, the MPOW tends to lean towards neutral a bit more. Although they have similar levels of instrument separation, the MPOW has a slight edge on clarity over the Strauss & Wagner when I play more complex passages.
When it comes to the noise-canceling though, the MPOW simply had too much noise canceling compared to the Strauss & Wagner. While the Strauss & Wagner’s noise-canceling was subtle and unobtrusive to the sound, the MPOW’s was quite a bit too present, to the point that it felt like the headphones were sucking my ears our of my head.
The Strauss & Wagner SW-ANCBT501 is a great first effort for Strauss & Wagner with ANC Bluetooth headphones. The provided accessories were very generous, especially the carrying case that would ensure that the headphones would be kept safe through all our travels, and USB C was a nice modern touch as well.
The Noise Cancelling feature was also good since it was subtle enough that it didn’t intrude on what was playing. They even used a pair of pretty good drivers inside the headphones, as it scaled quite well when I bypassed the internal Bluetooth DAC. But the Bluetooth DAC gave it quite a darker signature that would make it a hit or miss for some people.