Once a premium feature exclusive to high-end headphones and earphones, active noise cancellation is now often seen even on affordable wireless audio products. While there's naturally still a significant difference in ANC performance between entry-level and premium headsets, the fact that you can now get this excellent technology at such low prices shows just how far the personal audio segment in India and abroad has come in just a few years. Today, I'm reviewing an affordable wireless headset with active noise cancellation from TCL, popular for its smart TVs and appliances in India.
Priced at Rs. 2,299, the TCL ELIT200NC wireless active noise cancelling headset has a neckband-style in-ear design. Can these new earphones compete against the recently launched Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro and claim the title of the best affordable active noise cancelling earphones? Find out in this review.
The neckband design for wireless earphones is quite cost-effective, so it isn't surprising to see TCL go with it for the ELIT200NC which is pitched as a value-for-money offering. The back of the neckband is flexible, while the ends are large plastic modules that rest safely on your collarbones. Short cables extend from the modules to the plastic earpieces. These have an in-canal fit and proper-sized silicone ear tips for noise isolation and comfort.
There isn't anything particularly fancy here; the TCL ELIT200NC looks about as simple and discreet as you would expect from an affordable pair of wireless earphones. What do somewhat draw attention though are the conspicuous TCL logos – one on the left of the neckband, and one each on the outer sides of the earpieces. The right module is bare, while the left one has all the buttons.
The controls are on the inner side, and there's a Micro-USB port for charging at the bottom. As I've said before, there's no excuse for having Micro-USB charging on anything anymore, and Type-C is expected even on budget earphones.
There is also a 2.5mm audio input for wired connectivity, and you can use the included 2.5mm-to-3.5mm stereo cable to connect the ELIT200NC to a source device. A Micro-USB cable for charging is included in the box, and you get a total of three pairs of silicone ear tips of different sizes for a customisable fit. Interestingly, the TCL ELIT200NC also has a vibration motor in the neckband, so it can alert you when you're receiving a call on your paired device, and let you know the status of the headset.
The TCL ELIT200NC uses Bluetooth 4.2 for connectivity, with support for only the SBC Bluetooth codec. The sound is delivered by 12.5mm dynamic drivers, and as stated before there is active noise cancellation as well. Unfortunately, there is no water resistance rating, so you'll have to be careful with these earphones around water.
Battery life on the TCL ELIT200NC is very ordinary for the form factor. The earphones ran for just over six hours on a single charge, with active noise cancellation on. There were frequent ‘low battery' voice prompts when the battery level dropped below 20 percent, which I found particularly annoying. These made it very hard to use the headset, essentially forcing me to charge it even when I had about an hour of listening time left. On the positive side, the headset charges quickly, and 15 minutes is enough to offer a claimed two hours of listening.
While I have heard some decent-sounding affordable wireless earphones over the past few months, the TCL ELIT200NC doesn't quite go beyond the basics when it comes to sound quality and active noise cancellation performance. There are no significant drawbacks, but there simply isn't anything special about the sound on these earphones either. Part of the blame may fall on the lack of advanced codec support, but I felt that the real shortcomings were in the tuning.
I listened to tracks across genres, and found the sonic signature of the TCL ELIT200NC best suited to electronic music since there's definitely a bias towards the bass. With Dance Wiv Me by Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris, the strong beat was perhaps the only element in the track that sounded somewhat enjoyable, even while the mid-range and highs sounded a bit dull in comparison.
That said, the bass simply sounded louder; there wasn't quite as much thump, drive, or character as I've heard on similarly priced options such as the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z. Even the similarly specified Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro – which feature ANC and are priced under Rs. 2,000 – offer more character than the plain vanilla sound of the TCL ELIT200NC.
Although the sound can get loud and the sonic signature is largely inoffensive, the TCL ELIT200NC's biggest drawback is its lack of character. Listening to Fire by Ferry Corsten, the earphones did little to offer any detail or definition in this busy, fast track. The vocals felt subdued, while the synthesised bass sounded a bit unrefined and raw. The earphones felt closed and restricted. The soundstage is narrow and only just about gets the stereo separation right, with very little direction virtualisation beyond that.
Having active noise cancellation on wireless earphones priced at under Rs. 3,000 should be considered an achievement, so I didn't have too many complaints about the quality of ANC performance. With ANC switched on, the TCL ELIT200NC provided a slight drop in household background sounds such as a ceiling fan and air conditioner, which made listening to music or dialogue in videos a bit easier. It's far from the kind of performance you'd expect from high-end active noise cancelling earphones though, and will likely not be very effective in loud environments.
I didn't have any issues with connection stability or performance on voice calls at home, with the TCL ELIT200NC doing reasonably well in this regard. The vibration function on the neckband was particularly useful when using the headset for calls; the intensity of the vibration was a bit too strong for me though.
There aren't too many wireless earphones with active noise cancellation priced below Rs. 3,000, so the TCL ELIT200NC has that significant advantage over competing options in the price segment. Apart from that, this is a comfortable pair of wireless earphones, and the vibration function on the neckband sets it apart as well. However, sound quality and battery life are where the TCL ELIT200NC falls a bit short – performance is entirely ordinary in both of these departments.
It might be worth buying this headset purely for its functional and usable ANC. Its stable connectivity and the vibration motor on the neckband are also plusses. However, if you're looking for better sound quality, it's definitely worth considering the Mi Neckband Bluetooth Earphones Pro which is priced at Rs. 1,799 and sounds just a hint better.
What is the best phone under Rs. 15,000 in India right now? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Later (starting at 27:54), we speak to OK Computer creators Neil Pagedar and Pooja Shetty. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.