Lenovo is known for building some of the most powerful and well-built laptops ever, specifically, the iconic ThinkPad. The PC giant made the decision years back to expand its product portfolio, making everything from monitors to gaming headsets, and even office furniture (check the Lenovo website if you think we’re kidding). Now, the company plans to disrupt the consumer headphones market, introducing its first-ever active noise-cancelling model: the ThinkPad X1 ANC.
- Our expert picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, per budget and style
- Check out our Bose 700 review
- …and our Sony WH-1000xM4 review
Originally unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2019, these on-ear wireless headphones are being pushed as an affordable work-from-home ANC alternative to the more popular Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. They embody the ThinkPad ethos of excellent craftsmanship and practicality, while offering quality performance benchmarks (e.g., connectivity, call quality) aimed at business users. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad X1 ANC fails to deliver on its biggest promises: great noise cancellation and “rich, crystal-clear audio.”
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Availability and price
The ThinkPad X1 ANC is available for $149.99 on Walmart or directly from Lenovo, though we have found them on sale for as low as $136 at Amazon. The headphones are only sold in one color: Gray/Black. Bundled with the purchase are a carrying case, braided USB-C charging cable, warranty, and quick-start card.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Design
Lenovo did a stand-up job designing the ThinkPad X1 ANC to look like a complementary piece for its productivity laptops. In fact, the company should strongly consider bundling headphones with future ThinkPad laptops. They are conveniently portable, versatile, and well-constructed, made from materials such as faux leather (padding), solid plastic (earcups), and metal (frame and hinges).
At just 7.5 ounces, these are some of the lightest and most comfortable headphones out there. They won’t weigh you down when commuting to work or when walking from the living room to your home office. More importantly, you can wear them for several hours, depending on your pain threshold. I say that because the earpad cutouts are not hollow, so you may feel the speaker grills press up against your ears, possibly causing discomfort. This didn’t bother me much until I hit the 3-hour mark.
The earcup design does resemble other cheap on-ear models like the Urbanears Plattan II and Satechi Wireless Headphones, though these are more aesthetically appealing. The slate gray finish, along with the X1 and ThinkPad logos keep these headphones on theme with the ThinkPad brand. I love the flexibility and sturdiness of the hinges, which allow the earcups to swivel 90 degrees and fold inward for seamless storage. Even small details like the braided USB-C cable are greatly appreciated and ensure a longer life.
The ThinkPad X1 ANC provides a tight fit when adjusting the extenders to the proper setting; this is important to prevent slippage, which does occur if they're too loose atop the skull. The extenders are lengthy as well to accommodate different head sizes. I also found the headband padding to be highly supportive. You won’t feel it pressing too hard on the skull, and it is perforated to allow for better airflow and prevent moisture buildup.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Controls and digital assistant
Considering the ThinkPad’s mechanical appearance, it’s fitting for Lenovo to use physical buttons instead of touch controls. And though this may not be the most favorable option among computer and mobile users, the ThinkPad X1 ANC makes playback and call management a breeze to operate.
Tactility is great, with every press and hold gesture offering reassurance for intended commands. Even with the earcups’ smaller form, the buttons can be easily located on the rear side of each cup. The left carries the digital assistant button and a toggle to power on/off or pair the headphones, which has some nice spring action to it. The right has a toggle for muting the mic and a three-button scheme with a multifunctional button flanked between the volume buttons. All you need to know is that the buttons are responsive.
The ThinkPad X1 ANC does come with digital assistant support to carry out Siri and Google Assistant tasks. It’s hit or miss on these cans due to the amount of external sound the mics pick up. Performing basic commands like “open my calendar” or “open Apple Music” required complete silence, otherwise, the slightest noises threw off Siri’s speech recognition and misinterpreted commands. I also noticed Google Assistant struggle with long-winded commands, cutting off requests before fully processing them.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Active noise cancellation
The ThinkPad X1 ANC is not a suitable alternative for premium noise-cancelling headphones like the Bose 700, Sony WH-1000xM4 or Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. Lenovo’s active noise cancelling technology sounds powerful on paper. It consists of six microphones and the company’s own electronic noise cancellation (ENC), a technology designed specifically to enhance voice quality on phone calls. Sadly, it doesn’t produce the muted results Lenovo promises, nor does it match the ANC performance of other budget-friendly models, like the Anker Soundcore Life Q30.
According to Lenovo, there are two levels of active noise cancellation. The first level is said to be useful for office environments, while the second level is better suited for commutes and louder settings. I could barely tell the difference between either one. The highest ANC level wasn’t that effective either.
In rowdy settings, the headphones are capable of blocking out around 70% of ambient noise. This is on the lower end of the ANC spectrum. I could still hear my newborn crying loudly from several rooms away, along with common distractions like door buzzers and my mother-in-law’s iPhone ringer. The Life Q30 does a much better job of silencing external sounds (about 80%), granted it still struggles with high-frequency noises like whistles and sirens.
Despite noise cancellation being a disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing isolation the ThinkPad X1 ANC delivered. My wife couldn’t hear the music I was blasting when laying next to her in bed; she appreciated the quiet time.
The ThinkPad X1 ANC does not have a transparency mode for listeners to hear what’s happening around them. I found this very odd, especially when seeing the number of microphones stuffed into these cans, along with the fact that numerous other headphones include this feature.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Audio quality
Overall, I would describe the ThinkPad X1 ANC’s audio quality as adequate at times and inconsistent at others. It is much better than what you get from any off-brand headphones on Amazon, but there are many competitors that deliver better sound.
Lenovo programmed these headphones with multiple codecs, including SBC, AAC, aptX, aptXLL, HP1.7, and mSBC. This helps improve fidelity when streaming music on Android devices. Jazz classics such as Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” carried a vibrant and melodic resonance that I didn’t expect the headphones to reproduce so well; the drums and strings were detailed and bright. Although I did notice the hi-hats, while audible, sounded a bit tinny.
Audio is more bogged down on iOS and macOS devices. Volume levels are taken down several notches, plus the low end isn’t well balanced. You will notice issues with reverberation when jamming out to bass-heavy records. Trying to get through Rapsody’s “12 Problems” was rough due to the distorted bass effects and hissing, which was most present when the rapper pronounced the “s” in words.
Video content presented audio issues as well. SNL clips on YouTube played fine with clear-sounding dialogue and zero lag, but there was a lot of static when watching ESPN clips; this mostly occurred with commentary programs like First Take and NFL Countdown. Podcasts sounded decent for the most part, though users will enjoy the better overall sound from the Soundcore Life Q30.
These headphones do connect to a laptop via a USB-C-to-USB-A connection for wired listening, which is both a positive and negative. On one hand, the cord gives bass and volume a boost, as I experienced when listening to music on my Google Pixel 3XL. On the other hand, some new laptop models don’t accept this input, like my MacBook Pro (2018), which only takes USB-C-to-USB-C. A 3.5mm jack would have been the better decision.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Battery life
Lenovo rates battery life at 14 hours on a single charge. It sounds like crumbs compared to other models in the category: the Jabra Elite 85h and Anker Soundcore Life Q30 get you 40 hours with ANC on. Still, it’s generous for the price point. I used the headphones for 2 hours daily during the workweek and still had about 30% battery life by Saturday. High volume and heavy media streaming will affect playtimes, but it isn’t a significant drop.
Quick charging is available on these cans, giving you 2 hours of use on a 15-minute charge. A full charge is said to take less than 3 hours. This is pretty good and just enough juice to keep you entertained no matter how you plan on using the ThinkPad X1 ANC.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC Headphones: Call Quality and Connectivity
One thing the ThinkPad X1 ANC has going for it: excellent call quality. Jumping on phone calls and video chats was exciting. On calls with my wife, she thought I was speaking directly into my phone and was impressed by how loud and clear I sounded, especially outside in drafty conditions. Lenovo’s ENC technology worked superbly, as she couldn’t hear any of the background noises (e.g., cat meows, keyboard clatter) around me.
Bluetooth 5.0 was even more reliable. It provided stable connectivity and range, no matter the device or platform (e.g., iOS/macOS, Android, Windows). I experienced zero dropouts when taking calls around the house. Music streaming was another high point; stuttering only occurred when removed 40 feet from my smartphone. The ThinkPad X1 ANC comes with multipoint technology as well, so you can pair the headphones to two devices simultaneously, something that benefits most business users who like to switch between their smartphone and laptop.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ANC: Verdict
While the aesthetic appeal and price point are enticing, the ThinkPad X1 ANC is a below-average effort from a brand that we have come to expect nothing but great things from. Sound and noise cancellation pale in comparison to what the Surface Headphones 2 and other mid-range ANC headphones deliver. The lack of special features doesn’t make a compelling case either.
The ThinkPad X1 ANC does have redeeming qualities, primarily, the build quality, which is gorgeous and stays true to Lenovo’s design pedigree. Call quality and connectivity are some of the best I’ve tested in the category, too. Still, these hallmarks aren’t enough to justify the purchase.