We’re starting to see lots of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones on the market, including House of Marley’s first attempt, the Exodus ANC. For $249.99, the Exodus ANC deliver a nicely balanced sound signature without forsaking bass depth. Unfortunately, the ANC (active noise cancellation) is a different story—it’s average at best, and not terribly impressive in most scenarios. There are ANC models in this price range we like better, including the Sony WH-XB900N, which sell for same $249.99.
Like all House of Marley products, there’s a focus on eco-friendly, sustainable materials here. The headphones feature FSC-certified ash wood, stainless steel, and recyclable aluminum. Available in black, the circumaural (over-ear) cups are padded with memory foam, as is the underside of the headband. The fit is secure and comfortable. Internally, 50mm drivers deliver the audio in each ear.
The controls are divided up between the two earcups. On the left cup’s side panel, there’s a power button and an ANC on/off switch, as well as a 3.5mm connection for the included audio cable. There is a control panel on the right earcup, with a central button for play/pause, as well as call management, and plus/minus buttons that handle volume and track navigation. (We’re never fans of these controls being combined—it makes it far too easy to accidentally skip a track when you only mean to adjust the volume). A button labeled MM puts the headphones in Monitor mode, allowing you to hear your surroundings through their ambient mics. The right earcup also houses a USB-C port for the included charging cable.
Both the audio cable (which has an inline remote control) and the charging cable are covered in stylish, sporty cloth material. In addition to these cables, the headphones ship with a canvas zip-up carrying pouch.
What’s missing? An app with adjustable EQ and ANC controls would definitely add value here. Many of the competing models we test have free apps (of admittedly varying quality) that offer customizable controls.
House of Marley estimates battery life to be roughly 28 hours, or an impressive 80 hours with ANC off, so your results will vary dramatically with ANC usage and volume levels.
The headphones provide merely average ANC performance. Like most ANC circuitry, it delivers on the baseline promise of tamping down loud low-frequency rumble—on trains and planes, the headphones will take out a large swath of the low-frequency distractions. Keyboard clicks and office chatter were only nominally canceled out in testing, however, so the overall performance isn’t terribly impressive.
In addition, the hiss the ANC creates is not great. Most ANC circuitry except for the very top options creates some sort of faint hiss—it’s not unpleasant, but it is often used to mask the higher frequencies the headphones have trouble cancelling out. Here, the signal is more noticeable than usual—it’s like tape hiss, and it’s a sign of lower-quality ANC.
Unfortunately, the ANC also has an affect on the audio performance. When it’s on, the higher frequencies sound like they’re being sculpted slightly.
Monitor Mode, which uses the ambient mics to allow you to hear your surroundings, works quite well. The levels are comfortable, and it’s easy to converse with the headphones on in this mode.
The built-in mic offers average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word we recorded, but the mic sounded distant and faint, and the signal was slightly distorted, as is the case with many Bluetooth mics (although Sony’s WH-XB900N headphones offer much stronger quality).
In other words, the only thing that can really save the Exodus ANC headphones is their audio performance. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” they delivers solid low-frequency response—the lows sound powerful, and at top volumes, they don’t distort.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track sound rich and full—there’s some bass boosting here, but it sounds natural instead of thunderous and fake. Callahan’s baritone vocals get a pleasant low-mid richness, and everything gains some extra definition in the high-mids and highs. This is a crisp, bright sound signature with plenty of richness and bass depth. It’s sculpted and boosted in spots, but nicely balanced.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives an ideal high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchy edge. The vinyl crackle and hiss usually relegated to background status is pushed forward in the mix here—there’s significant boosting and sculpting in the highs. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with strong depth—we hear them, all the way down to the deepest frequencies, but they don’t overpower the mix like some bass-forward headphones do. The vocals on this track are delivered with solid clarity, and an added smidge of sibilance, but nothing that sounds bad.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound full and balanced through the Exodus ANC. The lower-register instrumentation is pushed forward in the mix slightly, but the spotlight remains on the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals. The crisp highs here get some solid anchoring from the lows, but the bass response takes a slight back seat, which is refreshing compared with headphones that boost the lows beyond recognition.
Sonically, House of Marley’s Exodus ANC headphones sound quite good, with solid bass depth and excellent high-frequency definition. This makes the lackluster ANC performance that much more disappointing. Simply put, there are far better noise-canceling options available for similar prices, and even some compelling alternatives for less, like the $200 Marshall Mid ANC. For the same price as the Exodus ANC, the aforementioned Sony WH-XB900N and the true wireless Apple AirPods Pro both deliver solid ANC, as well. The Sony model is wildly boosted in the bass department (but has an app with EQ to counter this), while the in-ear AirPods Pro deliver a sound signature more similar to what the Exodus ANC offer.