- Effective noise cancellation
- Smart looks
- Good wireless reliability
- Not the best-sounding at the price
- Higher ANC settings cause noise in some environments
- Review Price: £219.00
- Customisable active noise cancellation
- Companion app
- Cable included
What are the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear?
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear are petite noise-cancelling headphones. Typical of Libratone, they have a Scandinavian sensibility and a cute look that doesn’t make them seem made for a particular gender or “type” of person.
There are plenty of features on offer, too, but at £219 they’re perhaps a little expensive for the quality of sound. Add to that the fact they suffer from some some classic active noise cancellation-related issues and they fall short of the mark.
Related: Best Headphones
Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear – Design and Comfort
Libratone’s design team deserves plaudits. The company’s products have become more accessible over the years, aiming for a more mainstream audience with every passing year, but the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear still have some of that classic Libratone style sauce.
They’re elegant but not intimidating, with a more feminine edge than units such as the Beats Solo 2 Wireless, but without any sense that someone like me – a 30-something guy – shouldn’t be wearing them. The cups are softly curved, the stems rounded-off metal, and they have a slight-but-sturdy feel that both looks and feels right.
Comfort-wise, they’re somewhat similar to the Bowers & Wilkins P3. They use foam-filled leather-effect pads, ones that don’t feature cut-outs by the drivers. The leather is fake, but about as good as you’ll get from a plastic-based synthetic. It’s soft and smooth – a very solid impersonation.
Since the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear are designed for use outdoors, they do exert some pressure. I’m a glasses-wearer, and found that after an hour or so they do start to cause some mild discomfort. However, you can also move them slightly on your head so that more of the pressure is towards your face rather than your mid/outer ears.
Small pads look great, but they also reduce the amount of area across which any pressure is spread. They’re not uncomfortable, but neither are they immune to the comfort issues common among on-ear headphones.
Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear – Wireless and Features
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear are among the more feature-rich headphones money can buy, and as is the case with Libratone’s wireless speakers, they hide this nerdy side very well.
First, one of the cups is actually a capacitive touch surface. You can tap to control playback and use gestures to alter the volume. They work well enough but feel unnecessarily involved compared to buttons.
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear also have active noise cancellation that has several modes you can switch through with a press of a button – located on the bottom of one of the cups. There are two intensities of ANC and a mode that pipes through ambient audio using the mic on these headphones.
Active noise-cancellation performance is fair, but not close to that of the Bose QuietComfort QC35. While the more intense mode is effective at getting rid of low-frequency engine noise – I tried it on the train and the London Underground; it did the job – in less noisy conditions it actually creates unwanted higher-frequency sound of its own.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
It’s more noticeable than the fairly common soft “white noise” that these types of headphone are prone to. You could argue that’s the whole point of having two-tier ANC – letting you use more aggressive but “noisier” ANC where necessary – but I prefer using simple on/off pairs that simply work.
In addition, having to cycle through the ambient monitoring mode is a bit disconcerting if you’re somewhere loud: since there’s only one mode button, you have to flick through the lot.
Libratone calls this take on ANC “CityMix”, and while it sets the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear apart from the crowd, I’m not sure it’s the best fit for most people.
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear’s wireless reliability is very good, however. They use Bluetooth and I heard just a few digital blips during extensive testing over a couple of weeks. There’s no NFC, but I didn’t find this much of an issue; these headphones automatically try to hook up with a paired phone when they’re turned on anyway.
Battery life is between 15-20 hours depending on the mode you use, and there’s a micro-USB socket on one of the cups for charging. An included 3.5mm cable lets you use the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear when you run out of battery, too.
Like any pair of headphones this tech-packed, you can take calls with the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear, and you can also share your music with another pair of Libratone Bluetooth headphones (or a speaker), using this set as a middle-man.
That’s not the end, either. The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear automatically pause your audio when you take them off, resuming when you put them back on. It seems to work reasonably well, although pausing music before I take a pair off is now well and truly baked into my muscle memory.
Finally, there’s also a Q Adapt On-Ear app. This lets you switch between the four levels of active noise cancellation. There are more than just the two default ones.
Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear – Sound Quality
The app has bass and treble boost modes, but I’ve mostly been listening using the default “balanced” mode since it’s what most people are likely to use. These are good-sounding headphones, but the features and look are more impressive than the sound.
The basic balance of treble, bass and mids is solid. There’s no obvious overblown flabbiness to the bass; no treble emphasis that might make the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear tiring.
However, in some other senses the sound isn’t terribly exciting, and there are some negative effects when using active noise cancellation.
Compared to the Bose QuietComfort QC35 and Sony MDR-100ABN, the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear have poorer dynamics, making the sound less lively and engaging. The soundstage isn’t totally flat, but at the price you can get a greater perception of height and depth, which would give music a more “3D” sensibility.
Letting you quickly flick between ANC and non-ANC modes also lets you hear how the mid-range becomes less rich, and a little raw when cancellation is switched on. Just as using powerful cleaning products can strip the finish off certain surfaces, ANC can have this sort of effect on sound if it isn’t very carefully managed.
It makes voices sound a little thinner, less refined and a little less natural. I’ve heard much worse over the years, but the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear aren’t cheap and there are several very good alternatives available nowadays as well. The obvious picks I’d recommend are full-size pairs such as the Sony MDR-100ABN and Bose QC35, but the AKG N60NC are also worth considering if you don’t mind missing out on wireless.
Should you buy the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear?
The Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear are cool-looking headphones with lots of features, most of which are useful. They show up the strengths and weaknesses of Libratone’s experience: it has been making wireless audio gear for years, but is new to headphones.
Wireless performance is good, but sound quality could be better at the price. While there are no glaring errors to make the Libratone Q Adapt On-Ear a failure, the alternatives from the big names simply sound better.
Libratone probably has some great headphones in its future. But these are simply decent ones, and unless you love their particular quirks, you can do better for your cash.
Related: Best noise-cancelling headphones roundup
Smart-looking noise-cancelling wireless headphones that don’t quite have the dynamism of the best.