REVIEW: Denon AH-GC30 - All-rounder with ambitions for overall victory FeaturedWritten by Karl Erik Sylthe
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In the spring, Denon launched a trio of new headphones, in a series they call the Global Cruiser. We have tested the top model among these.
This Global Cruiser series is nothing new at Denon. A few years ago, the AH-GC20 was launched, and also this is relatively adult headphones adapted for travel activities, among other things. with its noise cancellation.
So last spring, three new models were launched in this series, and we wrote about two of them in April. This trio consists of AH-GC25W , a wireless model without ANC, and neither does Denon use its Free-edge concept on the drivers. This costs NOK 2,498, - in Norway.
The second man AH-GC25NC has the slightly unusual combination of noise cancellation and being a wired model. This model, like the top-of-the-range drivers with 40mm FreeEdge construction. The model is currently not marketed in Norway by the HiFi Club, but is priced between the AH-GC25W and the top model abroad. It is tempting to guess that the lack of marketing is due to the fact that it would be too close to the top-of-the-line model, while the lack of wireless connectivity would result in a weaker demand.
So we have come to the top model in the series, Denon AH-GC30 . This has all the features you get by combining the checklist with the two smaller models. That is, it has Bluetooth, ANC and FreeEdge drivers. At the same time, the price tag has risen to NOK 3,498, -.
The design of the three models is quite similar, and also has strong similarities with the former AH-GC20. Also the wired model AH-D1200 has a design with great common features, although it is not part of the Global Cruiser series.
Now that we have mapped out the familiar terrain Denon AH-GC30 has grown up in, it's time to take a look at the brutal reality out there. For, of course, Denon does not have a monopoly situation on headphones suitable for mobile use. The competitors are in line, and there is a fierce competition in the jungle.
Headphones with ANC come in crouds, but there are especially three competitors who are considered particularly sharp noise-reduction specialists. Bose, who With their QuietComfort 35 II long was a bit lonely majesty on top of the pile in the exercise noise cancellation. These have now been given a new throne heritage in the NCH 700, which we hope to be able to test eventually.
But Sony, too, has a very good model in the WH-1000XM3 when it comes to noise cancellation, and some claim that it may overall be better than QC35 II. But also Jabra has some sharp competitors in this exercise with their Elite 85h.
But what is important to note is that all the three mentioned models have their positions with a particularly high emphasis on the quality of the noise cancellation, but of course in combination with other properties. Some of us put less emphasis on a near perfect noise cancellation, and a little more emphasis on other properties, such as sound and design. And here B&O comes in as a very fierce competitor. The Beoplay H9i, which I tested earlier this year and named Queen of the Street , has since been replaced by H9, and is probably the toughest competition for the AH-GC30. But at the same time they are more expensive. We will return to this.
We have just stoipped by the designed of the AH-GC30 earlier. It is dominated by a good deal of plastic in the earcups, combined with synthetic leather and aluminum. The design philosophy is about the diametrically opposite of the functionalist design of the Beoplay headphones, designed by Jacob Wagner. On the Global Cruiser models, there is another lining, and the most striking feature is the slightly sculptural and elegant fork in the transition between the headband and the earmuffs, a design that also has room for a folding function that allows the headphones to easily fit in a small bag during transport, or in the convenient travel bag provided.
The AH-GC30 is available in two colors - Black with nature aluminum, or as the test sample white with gold colored headbands. The latter is perhaps the most elegant, but at the same time, Denon balances on a slightly razor-sharp egg, with the risk of being diabetic with this meringue-white color. Moreover, some will argue that this color combination is the girl variant, which I of course will deny the most fierce.
In addition to the AH-GC30 being able to use the cable with the included 3.5mm minijack cable at each end, it has Bluetooth 5.0 as its most widely used communication method during the test period. And I guess I don't think it will be extraordinary for other users. Both aptX / aptX HD and AAC are supported.
An important detail, however, is that the AH-GC30, like the other headphones in this series, supports digital wired transmission via the USB / microUSB cable.
The noise cancellation of the AH-GC30 has three different settings. Airplane mode, City mode and Office mode. The difference between these three noise cancellation programs is not very obvious, and the effect is otherwise quite moderate. It does not reach up to the Beoplay H9i when it comes to noise cancellation, and this is again clearly weaker than the super league in noise cancellation. In other words, we are not talking about a challenger to the hottest noise cancelers here. For some, this may be crucial, but not for me. I use only exceptionally headphones in situations where I do not at the same time want to have some contact with the environment. Even on flights it is okay to be able to register the captain's announcement that good landing conditions are expected at Flesland, with embarrassing wind in the cast…
On the other hand, one thing I really appreciate is Denon's Ambient Monitor. If you notice that a nice lady in front of you moves her lips, and thus probably tries to make contact where you are inside your musical bubble, it is very useful that you can just come out from the bubble with a concise double-tap on the right earmold. Then the Ambient Monitor is engaged and the ambient sound is picked up via the headset's microphones. A new double drain and you can disappear into the bubble again.
Which brings us to the theme of handling. At B&O, the touch Control rules. At least if you stick to the more expensive models like H8i and H9 / H9i. This is incredibly fancy, and if you are keen to be at the top of the gadget technology there is no way around.
But it is not certain that the most advanced touch control is always the most functional and practical. In many situations, a more conventional button control may be preferable, at least if well done. At the Denon AH-GC30, it is a highly thought-out design, With sufficciant air around the buttons making it easy to operate the buttons without visual contact, just tactile guides.
Another major advantage of traditional button solution is that it is less exposed to accidental operation, e.g. If you use the headphones in connection with a nap after dinner, and they come in uncontrolled contact with what you have to rest your head on.
In the middle between the two traditional volume + and - buttons on the right earpiece we find the central multifunction key. A half-long press makes it wake to life, and a short press alternates between play and pause. If you want to skip to the next track, it is a double press, and the previous track is a triple press. Although it is basically a bit cryptic, at the same time it is so standard that it becomes quite intuitive.
A little further down you will find a separate button for the ANC. A 2 sec. press turns the ANC on or off, while a shorter press alternates between the three ANC modes. And as mentioned earlier, you also have the opportunity to engage Ambient Monitor by double-tapping on the right earmuff - otherwise the only touch-inspired feature around.
On the left earpiece there is a single button for telephone operation. You always get feedback on what is happening to a lady with a rather cheerful but at the same time very correct voice with the borderline of the pronounced English "stiff overlip". If you still want this feedback in another language, you can choose it, or simply switch to some slightly insecure beeps.
The main summary of operation is that this is very well resolved and is one of many strengths with Denon AH-GC30
Comfort is another important element of headphones. The AH-GC30 has a synthetic leather solution combined with memory foam in the earmuffs, and along with moderate weight and strong strap tightening, this gives a good comfort, which is roughly the same as Beoplay H9i. At one point, however, the AH-GC30 is clearly better - it has significantly better cushioning on the inside of the headband than the Beoplay H9i, a condition that is claimed to be improved on the new H9 that came in May.
And then there is also another factor on the comfort side that can be of great importance to many. The Denon AH-G30 is one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever tried to wear while lying on the side. Here comes the nap affter dinner again - these headphones are the ultimate headphones for falling asleep.
The drivers in the Denon AH-GC30 have a diameter of 40mm, and what Denon calls a FreeEdge construction. This is a concept we recognize from the three HighEnd headphones of Denon that we have published reviews of during the past year. It is about the models with ear muffs in each of its three types - the AH-D5200 , the AH-D7200 and the flagship AH-D9200 .
The FreeEdge drivers thus link the AH-GC30 to the HighEnd models from Denon. But only partially, because in this model there are 40mm drivers, while there are 50mm drivers in the wood-based HighEnd models. In addition, the two most expensive models have nanofiber membranes, while the AH-D5200 and AH-GC30 have paper-based drivers.
Denon Audio App
Denon has developed an app for the wireless headphones. It is basically a good deed, but here we have a situation. For the most current feature of the APP - the equalizer has severe limitations. Basically, Denon has created a very flexible equalizer, but the ability to shape the graph on the screen. But it doesn't help much when it basically only works in connection with online radio and playback of locally stored files on the mobile, not on TIDAL and Spotify. There may be some DRM-issues that create barriers, but this has been solved by, B&O's APP and others. Here, Denon should go an extra mile to complete the work with the APP.
We play music
I immediately recognize the slightly warm tone of Denon's HighEnd models in the AH-GC30. But it certainly has a different character in this less expensive wireless headset. For where the Wood models go impressively deep in the bass, Denon is more characterized by a light emphasis in the lower midrange and upper bass range. This emphasis means that the AH-GC30 can hardly be called neutral, but is nevertheless so moderate and competent that it lies safely within what can be many users' preferences.
This is combined with a caution at the top, and it has about the same degree and character as I remember from some of the top models. And again it is on a slightly subtle level, which underpins the slightly warm sound of the AH-GC30, and which is still safe within what many can find desirable from a subjective standpoint.
For there is no doubt that it is an appealing and comfortable sound you get served from these wireless headphones. For me they play all current music genres with good style. It can't quite expose all the details as focused as the somewhat more expensive and slightly more neutral Beoplay H9i, but gives an at least equally effortless and appealing music experience. By contrast, if we compare with the cheaper Beoplay H4 that you can soon read a test of in Audiophile.no, there is a clear victory in the AH-GC30's favor in the exercise music playback. H4 has a price tag of around three thousand and lacks the ANC.
We lift our eyes
Compared to the 500 kroner less expensive Beoplay H4 , there is an obviously better sound reproduction from Denon in addition to H4 missing the ANC. But at the same time H4 has a design that I fall for, and combined with a great material use, this is Beoplay H4's strength.
If we go to Beoplay H9i it is again a design where I clearly prefer the Danes. They also have a sound reproduction that is clearly different, but not as clearly better than Denon. Here there is a lot of talk about preferences. For my own part, I tend to prefer H9i to most of the music, but not all. But on the other hand, I prefer Denon's comfort and service over the slightly more impressive - but not always equally predictable - touch of the Street Queen. The Beoplay H9i basically costs five hundred NOK more than Denon's headphone, but can be purchased at a lower cost after the new H9 was introduced.
And just to clear any doubt aside - even though there are some sonic similarities between the AH-GC30 and the HighEnd trio of Denon, the latter three play in a completely different division. And I would claim that there is less distance between the AH-D5200 and the AH-D9200 than it is between the AH-GC30 and the AH-D5200. It's also really reasondable, since the latter can use their entire budget to build a HighEnd headphone that will play Music with a rude high quality, while the AH-GC30 also has to spend half the budget playing wirelessly and be able to make phone calls and Play sound in opposite phase to the surroundings noice.
There is no doubt that Denon has made a very successful wireless headset with ANC in the AH-GC30. When we look at individual disciplines, it is beaten by some of the competitors in most, but not all, exercises. But as a whole, it is very strong. It does not have as good noise suppression as the best on the ANC pallet, and they do not play as detailed as Beoplay H9i. But they have an excellent set of all-round features that still make them climb to the top.
With a seductive and comfortable sound reproduction, excellent comfort and operation, and the absence of weak points, the AH-GC30 is a highly successful construction from Denon.
The price for Denon AH-GC30 is NOK 3498, -
Thanks to HiFi Klubben for lending us the review samples.
Read more about AH-GC30 at HiFi Klubben
Read more about AH-GC30 at Denon
Karl Erik Sylthe
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