We’ve been following the wireless personal audio market with interest. When the Apple iPhone waved ‘goodbye’ to the ubiquitous mini-jack connector, the personal audio world went into a temporary meltdown, then quickly got its act together. The first – and arguably still ‘best’ – wireless connection placed the ‘wireless’ part into a separate U-shaped neckband, which connects by wire to the earphones. While many have switched to ‘true wireless’ earphones that often charge in their own carry case, the wireless headband earphone still has a lot going for it, especially when it’s the Ausounds AU-Flex-ANC.
Some of the clues are in the name. OK, so the ‘AU’ part of ‘AU-Flex-ANC’ is recognising that it’s made by Ausounds, but the other parts are pivotal, too.
The ‘Flex’ part is important for many. I’m going to confess that as a former rugby player of some ‘huskiness’, I’m somewhat neckless, so a neckband is often ‘contra-indicated’ (it ends up feeling like you are wearing a dog‑collar, only without the studs and gimp mask). However, the Ausounds band is extremely flexible and accommodating. OK, if you have Mike Tyson’s neck, that might be pushing it, but for even the most no-neck of us no-necks it fits without a problem. The elegant matt black and contrasting gunmetal-coloured aluminium earphone housings and neckband ends/controller sections are understated and classy, too.
The band itself holds the battery and charger outlet, controls and wireless connectivity. It charges through USB and has a USB-C port on the front right part of the neckband, this also has four buttons and a combined microphone/indicator along the top. When you take the AU-Flex-ANC out of the box, charge it for about an hour and a half initially. The battery is typically good for about 22 hours between charges (10 hours with ANC) and can accept fast charge (15 minutes of juice buys you about two hours of playing). One of the buttons is a multi-function control, which can be used to pair the earphones to a Bluetooth device (it supports Bluetooth 5.0), receive and end calls, and basic track handling. However, unlike other Bluetooth-compatible coding technologies such as SBC (sub-band coding), it operates without any down-conversion of the Hi-Res Audio content and allows approximately three times more data than those other technologies to be transmitted over a Bluetooth wireless network with unprecedented sound quality, and can support high-resolution wireless transfers at a rate of 990kbps.
Then there are a pair of volume up and down buttons that… just do volume. Then there’s the last button, which explains the end of the name.
The little button marked ‘ANC’ engages the Ausounds Active Noise Cancellation system, which connects to little microphones in between the casing and rear housing of each earphone to deliver surprisingly effective anti-phase noise cancellation. While the active noise cancellation doesn’t use some of the more sci-fi ‘shaping’ algorithms used by the big brands, it works well and delivers -25dB of active noise reduction. There is also a ‘monitor’ setting that uses the microphones in each earphone in phase, so you can interrupt your quiet sojourn if someone wishes to speak to you. The ANC button cycles through On-Monitor-Off.
To save battery and prevent accidental Bluetoothing (is that even a word?), the earphones have a Hall effect power-down. So, if you let the magnetised earphone shells join together back-to-back, the whole AU-Flex-ANC unit goes to sleep. Perhaps more importantly, it can act as a full pause for your phone, ending calls or pausing music playing. This is useful when playing music as we’ve all turned a headset off, only to find the music blaring out of your phone’s loudspeaker; it’s hard to maintain your cool demeanour when the people around you know you just played ‘The Birdy Song’ by The Tweets.