OVC promised me an exceptional mix of audio performance and noise cancelling through a very interesting driver setup that seeks to address the main flaw with noise cancelling in-ears. Because the driver has to work so hard cancelling out noise, and also due to the higher cost of all the electronics inside the module, most ANC earphones sound quite mediocre, even downright bad. However, the H15 utilizes two separate drivers, one dedicated for ANC and the other for audio. Through such a setup, OVC hope to provide the best of both worlds. And in listening, the H15 did impress in many ways but also fell into some of the same pitfalls as other budget ANC earphones. So while their noise cancelling performance is thoroughly impressive for their $50 asking price, their sound quality isn’t quite as flawless, even when compared to similarly priced earphones like the Fiio EX1, Shozy Zero, Meze 11 Neo and even the vastly cheaper Fiio F3.
Bass Boost Off –
The first thing I noticed about the H15 was its brightness, they had a prominent treble response on the verge of becoming overbearing and a notable lack of low-end authority; bass is light and lacking both presence and extension for my preferences. That said, bass is still clearly audible and commendably snappy on faster tracks but lows so lack body and sub-bass is soft in impact. In return, the earphones are nicely textured and very clean with a lack of any kind of bloat or bloom. That said, when outside, even with noise cancelling enabled, the earphones sounded overly lean. Above that, the H15 is not a bad performer, mids are certainly bright, with recessed lower mids and male vocals, though they have a very smooth, clear upper midrange that flatters female singers and acoustic. Highs are forward but possess above average detailing and extension. While this style of tuning isn’t perfectly suited towards louder volume listening in noisier environments, it is nicely revealing for a noise cancelling earphone of this price, most of which are veiled and bass dominated.
But onto the less positive aspects of the H15’s sound, their soundstage is definitely below average. Space is decent but imaging is imprecise making it difficult to locate directional cues. Perhaps this is due to the noise cancelling processing, but the earphones aren’t well suited towards gaming as a result. In addition, the earphones are pretty difficult to drive with a sub 100dB sensitivity rating. I noticed that they sounded downright off from my phone in either sound mode but sounded much better in bass boost mode + ANC from my Fiio X7 II. For an earphone intended for easy use while travelling, this really shouldn’t be an issue.
Bass Boost On –
When ANC is disabled, the bass boost makes the H15 sound very muddy and bloated. Bass bleeds into the mids and they sound overly boomy within the lower-frequencies, not an enjoyable listening experience regardless of genre choice. I’m assuming the switch enables the noise cancelling driver as an audio driver, introducing large quantities of bass. However, turning on the bass boost when noise cancelling is enabled finds a far nicer balance. The driver becomes split between noise cancelling and audio, which makes the bass boost far more tasteful but also slightly affects their ability to attenuate external noise. Still, this was by far my preferred listening setting.
With both bass boost and ANC enabled, lows are granted with a nudge of extra fullness that makes them sound notably more dynamic. Greater low-end presence creates a more open, balanced sound with greater reach and slam than before. In addition, mids get covered in an extra layer of body that grants the H15 with a more natural presentation while retaining excellent clarity. This enhanced low-end presentation better complements their more forward high-end, creating a very balanced and more tastefully bright tonality. Moreover, they do so while retaining a crisp, nicely detailed high-end and a tight low-frequency response with great definition. While it does little to mend their rather incoherent soundstage, the H15 is a nicely resolving earphone for their asking price if not a particularly inviting one. They still don’t sound rich and lush like the Bose QC20 nor as revealing and refined as the Meze 11 Neo and Shozy Zero, but I can see plenty of buyers enjoying the earphones in this configuration.
Bose QC20 ($299): The Bose has a considerably fuller, richer low-end combined with a more linear tuning. This results in a slightly more textured, defined bass response despite their greater emphasis and the Bose do sound appreciably more balanced in louder environments where bass tends to get drowned out. This continues to a warm, laid-back midrange that is smooth and approachable if lacking technicality. Highs are the Achilles heel of the Bose earphones, that are tuned for long-term listenability over engagement, with a rather blunted high-frequency response that saps music of crispness and truncates a lot of finer details. While the H15 is far from the most resolving earphone out there, they do have a little more bite to their higher frequencies that grants genres such as rock and acoustic with that essence of rawness and immediacy that the QC20 is lacking.
The H15 isn’t a bad buy; a mere $50 gets you a very nice build and an excellent fit that rivals much more expensive models from Bose. In addition, the ANC actually pretty well, better than the vast majority of similarly priced ANC in-ears and plenty of on-ear headphones too. This combination of isolation and comfort is truly a rarity at this price. I wanted so badly to love the H15, OVC is a new company and the H15 is their very first product, one that has evidently been thought out and considered. Unfortunately, I am obligated to take a more objective stance as a reviewer and the H15’s audio performance, though serviceable, could do with some work.
Of note, they are strangely picky with sources that makes them a little awkward to use with a smartphone, they just don’t sound right whether bass boost is enabled or not. Additionally, though their more reserved low-end tuning benefits the speed and accuracy of their sound, the earphones often lean out when ambient noise starts to creep up. The H15 is a very noble first effort from OVC and one with great potential. If OVC could swap out the audio driver for a more balanced full range unit (or even implement some sort of DSP into the module to eQ the tweeter driver), dedicate the second driver purely towards ANC and exchange that bass boost switch for some sort of NC toggle, they would have a winning formula.
Verdict – 6/10, The H15 gets an easy recommendation in terms of fit and noise cancelling performance (as long as you keep your expectations realistic). However, though their sound quality is above average for OVC’s asking price, the H15’s tone is not well considered for their intended uses.