Audiophiles know and love Denon for its signature sound, which is as good as its names are long and forgetful.
You won’t be surprised to know that Denon’s AH-C830NCW earbuds preserve the name part of the company’s pedigree, but do they bring its incredible audio lineage to true wireless earbuds?
At amid-range price, you’d think not — just another premium speaker company trying to cash in like the Devialet Gemini. But don’t count them out just yet.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Availability and price
Denon’s AH-C830NCW earbuds are available in black or white for $159/£139. This puts them in direct contention with Soundcore’s Liberty 3 Pro and the Jabra Elite 4 Active, while also slotting in at $20 less than the AirPods 3.
You can also pick up a lower cost model in the Denon AH-C630Ws for $109/£89, which strips out a lot of the big features and is made from a cheaper plastic. But, as I will explain throughout this review, you’re going to want to buy the more expensive buds.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Design
I can describe the design of these earbuds in two words: “premium” and “familiar.” But allow me to explore this in a few more words than that.
If AirPods Pro got busy with a pair of Soundcore Life P3, the Denon AH-C830NCWs would be the end result. This shape is an incredibly familiar one, which leads to a snug, comfortable fit over long periods of time. At 0.9 x 0.9 x 1.48 inches with a weight of 0.2 ounces, the dimensions are pretty typical, too.
For context, the fitness-focussed Jabra Elite 4 Active (0.8 x 0.8 x 1 inches) are slightly smaller , but weigh the same. The Liberty 3 Pros (0.7 x 1.1 x 1.1 inches, 0.3 ounces) sport a different shape for different dimensions and a slightly heavier construction. Sizing them up against Apple, the AirPods 3 (0.7 x 0.8 x 1.2 inches, 0.15 ounces) are roughly the same size, but a little lighter.
The case is a little taller and wider than the competition at 2.3 x 1.2 x 1.8 inches (AirPods 3 is at 1.8 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches, whereas Jabra Elite 4 Active measures 2.5 x 1.1 x 1.5 inches), but not to the point that it consumes your entire pocket like the Devialet Gemini does. The lack of wireless charging is becoming more and more of a problem, as it’s now an expected feature of earbuds in 2022, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker, thanks to USB-C fast charging.
Using these as my daily drivers for a week now, the premium finish on the buds and case both look and feel as good. This is a standard stem form factor that is nice to wear for hours on end, with a case that doesn’t take up too much pocket space.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Controls and digital assistant
Touch-sensitive surfaces on the stems are the order of the day for Denon’s AH-C830NCWs — giving you a range of single, double and triple tap inputs. Given we’re relying on resistive touch, the responsiveness is impressive, but they will pick up any unintended touches.
One key problem: you can’t customize these. You are stuck with play/pause, track skipping, turning ANC on/off and taking calls, because of a lack of companion app (more on that later).
This also means the digital assistant can only be woken up by pressing and holding the respective button on the phone you’re using. Once activated, the mic does a good job picking up any requests you throw at them, but without the option to wake it up via the earbuds, it does render the assistant redundant if you have to get your phone out.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Active noise cancellation and ambient listening
Denon brings Active Noise Cancellation to the AH-C830NCWs, which makes the most of its two on-board microphones to cancel out background noise quite effectively. Combined with the isolating fit of the right-sized ear tip, these do a pretty good job of shutting out the ambient noise — minimizing traffic, windy conditions and loud public transport effectively, all with a virtually undetectable hiss.
Transparency mode is pretty great, too. Everything is cranked up around you without interfering too much with whatever you’re listening to, and I was able to heard low-level conversation from 20 feet away.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Audio quality
Here’s where things get interesting. I always err on the side of caution when it comes to making definitive statements that can bite me on the bum somewhere down the line. But in this situation, I’m happy to make an exception.
The Denon AH-C830NCW are some of the best-sounding earbuds I have ever used. Not only do they blow the mid-range competition out of the water, but they also feel fuller and more detailed than the AirPods Pro, and they even match up to the might of Master & Dynamic’s MW08.
Denon’s signature sound is in full force here thanks to the company’s Sound Master Tuning. This is a marketing term that doesn’t mean that much on paper, but in practice, the end result is a 11 x 10mm oval dynamic driver with infectious personality and incredible clarity.
Sleep Token’s latest album “This Will Become Your Tomb,” is a dramatic masterpiece through these, packing deep bass and a real attention to the finer details.
The spaciousness of its tuning is on top form in my regular test track: “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles. Every single one of the many instruments in the cacophonic orchestral uprising is levelled just right and given plenty of space to express itself fully with zero distortion.
My final test comes in the form of Mac Miller’s “2009.” This is a sonically diverse composition that relies on tiny details and deep, sharp bass. Many earbuds struggle with these. Denon’s tuning has absolutely nailed it — highlighting tiny details like the reverb on Mac’s voice while keeping potential composition-spoiling sections like the 808 bass from distorting the entire thing.
There is a lot to love here, no matter what genre you throw at them, and to have this in a mid-range pair of earbuds is shockingly good value for money.
Denon AH-C830NCW: App and special features
Here’s the problem, and it’s a weird one. Normally, I will be spending some time telling you about the additional features and customization potential granted by a companion app. But Denon does not have a companion app for its AH-C830NCWs.
This is a strange, rather user-unfriendly omission, given how much it constrains the ability to edit the controls, the EQ, and the noise cancellation levels. I’ve reached out about whether they are going to release one and once they reply, I’ll update this review.
In 2022, releasing your earbuds without an app to control them is quite the own-goal.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Battery life
Denon promises up to six hours of listening time, extended to 24 with the case. That “up to” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in Denon’s claim, as that is with ANC turned off. And in those same testing conditions, the AH-C830NCWs live up to that promise — just over six hours of listening time.
Turn ANC on, however, and that goes down to 5 hours with an additional 20 in the case. This is smack bang in the middle of what we’d call average battery life for mid-range earbuds. They fall short of the six hours listening time in AirPods 3, Jabra Elite 4 Active and the Liberty 3 Pros, but do outlast the Nothing ear (1) (4.5 hours) and Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro (5 hours).
Denon AH-C830NCW: Call quality and connectivity
Each bud packs two microphones. That’s less than the three in AirPods 3 and four in the Jabra Elite 4 Active (the symmetry here is almost too convenient), but the call quality is better than you’d expect from this lacking hardware.
Voices came through loud and crisp and the buds did a good job of eliminating external sounds to provide excellent vocal clarity, even against the likes of rush hour traffic on the road I’m living on.
As for connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0 with LE ensures a stable connection up to a range of around 30 feet. Initial pairing is rapid and re-pairing is even quicker. But I would have loved to see multipoint technology to pair these to two devices simultaneously.
Denon AH-C830NCW: Verdict
So, what are we left with? Easy: Denon has something magic on its hands.
The Denon AH-C830NCW earbuds pack the incredible signature sound the brand is known for into a shockingly well-priced package, while combining good audio quality, decent battery life and a premium design that fits nicely in the ear.
A lack of wireless charging and a companion app keeps this just fingertips away from being mid-range perfection. But if you care about sound and are willing to make these sacrifices, these are the buds for you.