House of Marley Exodus ANC headphones review: Balancing act

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House of Marley Exodus ANC headphones review: Balancing act

“The Exodus ANC stumble on features, but their balanced sound is refreshing.”
  • Very comfortable
  • Sustainable materials
  • Great battery life
  • Good sound
  • Uneven noise-canceling
  • Poor call quality
  • Physical switch can rattle

The noise-canceling headphone market is busier than a subway car in rush hour. The biggest brands are all here like Sony, Bose, Beats, JBL, Sennheiser, and so on. A new entrant must offer something unique if it hopes to attract buyers. House of Marley hopes to do just that with its $250 Exodus ANC, its first wireless noise-canceling headphones.

With features and specs that are run-of-the-mill, Exodus ANC has two things going for it. A price that is considerably less than most noise-canceling models, and House of Marley’s reputation for environmentally-conscious materials and designs. Do they deliver performance where it counts, or should you be looking elsewhere? Here’s our full review.

Cushy comfort

The Exodus ANC bears a strong resemblance to its $200 non-ANC Exodus sibling. Both use deeply padded earcups combined with exposed braided wire and prominent earcup slider posts.

I’m not especially enamored of the look — it’s a bit too Cyberman-esque for me — but there’s no denying these are comfortable cans. The ANC model has better padding on both the earcups and headband, and the result is like sticking your head in a memory-foam mattress (in a good way). They’re not too soft and not too firm. Let’s call them the Goldilocks model.

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I’ll offer one caveat. I didn’t mind the tiny amount of tilt afforded by the invisible ear cup pivots, but some may find it’s not enough compared to a more articulated design.

Solid sound

The frequency response on the Exodus ANC is surprisingly neutral. In a world that seems increasingly dominated by bass-heavy headphones, they’re refreshingly flat, delivering a sound that seems to favor lows, mids, and highs equally.

Even better, there’s a good amount of each. Through various genres from hard rock to classical and a generous helping of jazz, I found myself enjoying them all.

Listen to tracks from Apple Music and Spotify on an iPhone 11, and the Exodus ANC make the most of the content. Feed them something a little richer, like Tidal’s Masters recordings, and you’ll appreciate how the Exodus ANC tease out details missed on a bass-heavy competitor.

In a world that seems increasingly dominated by bass-heavy headphones, they’re refreshingly flat.

Strangely, the ANC function acts as a kind of boost. Instead of simply eradicating outside sounds, it pushes more power to the bass and midrange.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be happy about that. However, it did reveal more detail, especially in tracks with complex bass lines like Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground.

Feel the noise

Noise-cancellation with the Exodus ANC can be a bit hit or miss. They handle some sounds well, like the drone of a fan from a few feet away. Other sounds, like traffic from a busy street, or loud conversations at a coffee shop, are more of a challenge. In quiet settings, without music playing, there’s a noticeable hiss that grew tiring.

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You can temporarily let outside sounds in using the handy and effective Monitoring Mode button at the bottom of the right earcup. It’s good for improving your situational awareness and talking to people without needing to remove your cans. Unfortunately, it’s not compatible with phone calls.

For $250, I’d be surprised if the Exodus ANC delivered the kind of make-the-outside-world-disappear ANC magic of a Bose QC35 II or a Sony WH-1000XM3, and they don’t. However, for the noises I think most people need to have suppressed, like the low-level din of a jet engine or the background buzz of a busy office, they’ll work just fine.

Tin can calls

Exodus ANC falls short on phone calls. Though callers sounded fine on my end, several of them complained that I sounded like I was talking through a tin can. One friend told me that if her husband sounded like that on the phone, she’d make him get different headphones.

The problem seems to be tied to the way the microphones do noise-canceling. When I wasn’t speaking, sounds on my end were effectively silenced. When I would talk, however, even in a quiet environment, the mics had trouble focusing on my voice.

A better battery

The Exodus ANC has excellent battery life at 28 hours with ANC turned on. With ANC off, House of Marley claims that number skyrockets to 80. Either way, these cans can withstand a full day of travel. When they do need to be topped up, you can squeeze an additional 6 hours out of just 15 minutes of quick-charge time through the USB-C connector.

I did not test the full 80 hours without ANC, but I can vouch for the 28 with it turned on. There’s no app to let you know precisely how much juice is left, but a quick press on the power button will give you a low/medium/high indicator via a triple set of LEDs.

Good ergo

I appreciate the positioning of the button controls on the Exodus’ earcup. My right hand can comfortably access volume, play/pause, and track control with an index finger, while my thumb seems almost magnetically drawn to the monitor mode button on the bottom of the earcup. My left thumb also found the prominent ANC on/off switch effortlessly.

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There is one drawback to using a physical switch, however. It can move, even when it shouldn’t. If you’re sitting still or walking casually, it’s not a problem. But if you plan on any vigorous activity with the Exodus ANC like running, stair climbing, or jump squat lunges, you may notice a distinct rattling sound as the ANC switch moves about in its housing.

That aside, I found the Exodus ANC’s physical buttons easy to use. The folding design minimizes the bulk when traveling, and the included carry pouch is a nice touch.

A more sustainable choice

Let’s face it, our addiction to gadgets isn’t the best thing for the planet. Most headphones use an abundance of materials that are non-sustainable, non-recyclable, or made from petrochemicals.

We appreciate that House of Marley has minimized these materials on the Exodus ANC where it must use them, and switched to sustainable choices like sustainably-sourced woods and easily recyclable aluminum when it can. The inclusion of higher-quality materials like metal instead of plastic for parts such as hinges that get a lot of wear and tear can increase its lifespan — another important step to reducing the impact of our consumption.

Our take

The Exodus ANC are a comfortable and good-sounding set of headphones. With an excellent battery life, they make for a solid travel companion.

Unfortunately, so-so active noise canceling and poor call quality keep them from being a standout option in the crowded noise-canceling headphone market. If you can see beyond these drawbacks, their attractive price and sustainable choice of materials make them worth your consideration.

Is there a better alternative?

If killer ANC is high on your wishlist, consider spending more. You’ll find that for about another $100 or so, a set of Sony, Bose, or Sennheisers will perform a lot better. On the other hand, if noise-canceling isn’t that big of a deal, the regular House of Marley Exodus headphones cost $50 less and should still deliver all of the non-ANC benefits like comfort, sound quality, and sustainable design.

How long will they last?

In the U.S. the Exodus ANC come with a two-year warranty. Overall construction is very good, so I expect they’ll be able to handle years of use.

I’m not so sure about the battery. It’s not user-replaceable and House of Marley only guarantees 300 charge cycles. We were told that, “based on 300 cycles and heavy use (12 hr/day using BT + ANC on) the product should continue to function 2.5 years and beyond.”

It’s hard to know if this is better or worse than other wireless ANC headphones, but it’s something we’re going to keep an eye on.

Should you buy them?

If you’re OK with their shortcomings, you’ll be happy with the Exodus ANC. For $250, there’s plenty to like, and you won’t get significantly better performance without spending a lot more.

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