Fresh off its 10-year anniversary, Soul is pumping out more audio products than ever before. Leading the pack is the Emotion Max, the company’s latest flagship noise-cancelling headphones that attempt to combine powerful ANC and sound into a relatively affordable package.
Do the Emotion Max accomplish this? Yes. Unfortunately, it also bears numerous flaws that will have many doubting whether their $120 would be better spent on another ANC model.
That isn’t to say these headphones don’t offer any value. The warm soundstage is ideal for contemporary music, active noise cancellation provides some quiet time in the right environment, and comfort is superb for endless hours of listening. However, with the good comes the bad, and there are several areas where the Emotion Max fails to deliver.
Soul Emotion Max review: Availability and price
The Soul Emotion Max is sold for $120 and can be purchased directly from Soul. Available colors include Black, Blue, and Beige. Bundled with the purchase are a 3.5mm aux cable, USB-C cable, an extra pair of mesh ear cups, and a carrying pouch.
These headphones will appeal to bass lovers that want ANC and sufficient battery life at an attainable price point. Budget models like the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 ($80) are a notable alternative, as well as its pricier sibling, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 ($129), which introduces LDAC technology and on-ear detection for a little extra. Category leaders such as the Bose 700 ($400), Sony WF-1000XM4 ($349), and AirPods Max ($549) still earn top billing for their elite noise neutralization, granted they come at a premium.
Soul Emotion Max review: Design and comfort
The only thing high end about the Emotion Max is the matte finish that gives certain colorways a fancy two-tone appearance: black looks like a combination of black and slate gray (reference the lede image) in the sunlight. Besides that, these headphones are plain and have subpar build quality. The plastic frame feels chintzy, plus the hinges lack durability. I felt the earcups were going to snap off when collapsing them inward the first few times.
Something I didn’t expect to talk about is the faux suede carry pouch, which feels nice, stores the cans and extra accessories, and has a nice medallion piece attached to the pull string for extra flair. To see that this has more aesthetic appeal than the headphones themselves is odd.
Where Soul makes up for the design is comfort and fit. At 7.7 ounces, these are some of the lightest wireless ANC headphones out there. The mesh ear cups are great and increase breathability, so your ears won’t build up moisture during extensive listening sessions. Furthermore, they’re easy to install. I found the standard protein leather cushions to be gentle on the ears, while the soft padded headband kept pressure light atop the skull. The headphones also formed nicely around the head for a secure, pleasant wear.
Soul Emotion Max review: Controls and digital assistant
Soul keeps it old school with physical controls, a charging port, and an aux port, which are all placed on the rear of the left earcup. At the top is the power button that also takes on multifunctional duties (e.g., playback, call management, digital assistance) via single and multi-presses. Underneath it is the ANC toggle and volume rockers that can be employed to skip forward/skip back a track as well. On-ear detection didn’t make the cut for auto-pause/play.
The toggle switch seamlessly moves up and down and each button produces strong tactile feedback to make you feel confident of intended commands being met.
Siri and Google Assistant are available for hands-free voice commands, but the digital assistant feature is buggy. There’s a delay when activating it on either iOS/macOS or Android. In addition, Google Assistant is confusing to use the first time around because while the prompt indicates it’s ready for use, you get no confirmation of it being enabled on your smartphone screen, something almost every other model does. Once working, the mics pick up commands with precision and respond to them quickly.
Soul Emotion Max review: Audio quality
Soul’s soundstage is bit too warm for my sonic taste. Don’t get me wrong, though, because I like warm-sounding headphones, and the Emotion Max keeps bass performance steady and impactful. It’s just too bottom heavy to enjoy most music genres. However, if you’re a contemporary music listener, then this won’t bother you.
I played bangers like Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop” and was met with some well-balanced low end that handled the warped, wobbly bassline surprisingly well. The duo’s vocals were articulated and free of distortion, which, if you’ve ever heard this track on most headphones, is quite the achievement.
The snare-filled conclusion on Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” hits its mark, but the scat-singing, which was famously sampled on The Throne’s “Otis,” didn’t have the same clarity and veracity as it did on the Soundcore Life Q35 and WF-1000XM4. Highs don’t get much attention on these cans either, something that will disappoint critical listeners. Instruments like the jingle bells and hi-hats on Alice Coltrane’s “Turiya & Ramakrishna” sounded veiled.
You’ll want to listen to music with ANC off to get stronger bass performance. The additional aux cable is fine for casual listening and increases the midrange a smidge, though the low end takes a minor dip. Volume is also brought down a few notches to preserve your hearing.
AAC and aptX codec support come programmed on these cans. Therefore, you should be getting hi-res wireless streaming no matter the device or platform. Sound quality on Spotify was satisfying on both my Google Pixel 3XL and MacBook Pro, but there was noticeable latency whenever playing tracks. The same issue occurred with YouTube videos.
Soul Emotion Max review: Active noise cancellation
ANC is serviceable, meaning you’ll be able to block out specific ambient noises, but not all. The technology performs best against droning and rumbling sounds. It was nice to walk past the AC units and washing machine without feeling distracted. Other common household fracas like kitchen appliances, loud TVs, and talkative relatives went silent for the most part. High-frequency sounds weren’t escapable, particularly my baby boy’s cries during nap training.
Using the Emotion Max outside saw similar results. Chatty pedestrians and construction work taking place about a block away went unnoticed. Speeding cars and wind created minor whooshing that wasn’t harmful to my hearing. I could hear ambulance sirens and fire truck horns very clearly.
On a sidenote, ANC does work in wired mode, allowing you to hear music and get some noise neutralization when connected to the audio jack. How this effects battery life is unknown.
Soul’s Transparency Mode is more like JBL’s TalkThru Mode. Instead of maintaining the same volume level and opening the mics more to let in sounds around you, it lowers the volume to about 15 percent to hear ambient noise clearly. It gets the job done and increases environmental awareness, plus you’ll be able to engage in conversations without having to take off the headphones. For those who want to keep their music playing and be audible at a higher volume, look for another model.
Soul Emotion Max review: Battery life
Soul rates battery life at 24 hours with ANC on, 38 hours with ANC off. My testing saw the headphones tap out after 22 hours when using ANC. Volume, streaming, and other features also drop overall playtimes by about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Thankfully, this is more than enough to play with and is slightly higher than the Bose 700 (24 hours). If you want longer ANC playtimes, check out the WH-1000XM (30 hours) or Cleer Enduro ANC (60 hours).
Quick charging will net you 1.5 hours on a 10-minute charge. Not the weakest, nor the strongest, but pretty good, nonetheless. It would have been cool to see other features like wireless charging integrated into this model; the Marshall Major IV is the only pair of wireless headphones to offer this that I know of.
Soul Emotion Max review: Call quality and connectivity
According to Soul, its built-in Qualcomm CvC 8.0 noise-cancelling technology should result in clear-sounding calls and voice communication. That’s a fallacy. The Emotion Max is a terrible calling headset that creates a lot of muffling, no matter what environment you’re in, and it lets in more than it cancels. My wife and two clients could barely understand anything I said, while also bringing attention to the traffic around me during walks. On top of that, the volume was very low, making it difficult to chat with others.
Bluetooth 5.0 operates well to give users instant connectivity. Multipoint technology is also included to pair to two devices simultaneously, which is awesome when you want to seamlessly switch from mobile to desktop. Considering the emphasis on wireless functionality, I’m surprised Soul didn’t add Google Fast Pair for automatically pairing to Android devices. Soul has range advertised at 50 feet, but it’s really 35 feet before audio starts stuttering.
Soul Emotion Max review: Verdict
The pros and cons are practically equal on the Soul Emotion Max. For its strong audio performance, there is the blanketed high end. ANC comes in handy for specific situations, but the technology is a dud on the calling end. You’ll get reliable comfort for long hours of listening, though the construction is mediocre. See what I mean?
Honestly, the Emotion Max might be more enticing once it drops to $100 because the competition in the $120 range (and up) is just too stiff. Both the Life QC30 and Life QC35 come to mind, along with top performers like the Enduro ANC. Some of these require spending extra, but their overall performance is worth the investment. Soul will need to rethink a few things when working on its next flagship model.
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