audio-technica QuietPoint Active Noise Cancelling Headphones ATH-ANC7b Review

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My first experience with noise cancelling technology was many years ago when I got bumped up to first class on a Singapore Airlines flight.  They offered us the headsets for a 15 hour flight to the West coast US and it made me want to buy a set when I got back home.  Unfortunately at that time the options were very expensive, but today there are several products and they range in price from $20 to almost $300.  The audio-technica QuietPoint headphones fall in the middle of that price range, so I thought I’d give them a try.

For those who aren’t familiar with the technology behind active noise cancelling, in a nutshell, there are small microphones on each ear cup that monitor the background noise and then take that waveform and invert it 180 degrees to cancel it out when fed back into the headset.  This reduces that background noise by some percentage and should make it easier to hear the audio without having to crank up the volume.  I’m be no means and audio engineer, so for details try Wikipedia.  Also, I’m not an audiophile, so this review is from the perspective of my everyday work and personal life.

Specifications:

TYPE Active noise-cancelling
DRIVER DIAMETER 40 mm
MAGNET Neodymium
FREQUENCY RESPONSE 10 – 25,000 Hz
QUIETPOINT® ACTIVE NOISE REDUCTION Up to 20 dB
MAXIMUM INPUT POWER 500 mW
SENSITIVITY 109 dB
IMPEDANCE 300 ohms
BATTERY AAA (alkaline)
BATTERY LIFE Up to 40 hours, typical (alkaline)
WEIGHT 210 g (7.4 oz), without cable and battery
CABLE Detachable 1.6 m (5.2′) with 3.5 mm (1/8″) stereo mini-plug;
Detachable 1.0 m (3.3′) with 3.5 mm (1/8″) stereo mini-plug
CONNECTOR 3.5 mm (1/8″)
ACCESSORIES INCLUDED 6.3 mm (1/4″) stereo adapter; airline adapter; AAA battery; carrying case with attached accessory pouch

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Everything you need comes in the box, including a battery.  The overall quality of the headphones is very good.  I did compare the materials used to a pair of Sony MDR-NC6 noise canceling headphones and would say that the QuietPoint uses heavier plastics and has more padding.  The supplied semi-hard case is very handy and protected well after several drops.  The 1/4 ” stereo adapter was a nice thought.

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The left earphone has the on/off switch, the left microphone and the power on indicator LED.

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The right earphone has the battery compartment and the right microphone.

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Aside from making one look like a first class geek :-), the headset wears well.  I’ve had the opportunity to wear the earphones for a several hours and  find them comfortable.  The fact that the ear cups are oval-shaped probably helps.  These headsets are the over the ear type and the cushions are soft and pliable, contributing to the comfort level.  I prefer this type to the on the ear type for sound isolation and long-term wearing.

My first test was to determine the sound cancelling ability of the device and because one of my jobs takes me to the bowels of a commercial airport about twice a month, where there is a continuous din of conveyor belts and motors running, it gave the units a good workout.  The noise reduction was very notable, although it would be hard for me to prove that it was the 85% claimed by the manufacturer.  Normally I would be wearing earplugs, but the headphones were more comfortable and had the added benefit that I could plug-in an audio source.

I gave up flying in 2004, so I had to simulate an aircraft cabin environment.  Luckily I have a device  that generates various sounds and again there was a distinct lowering of the background noise when the headphones were switched to active mode.  I should also note that just putting the units on, without the noise cancelling active,  decreased the noise level appreciably, probably because of the over the ear properties.

So, from a noise reduction perspective, the headphones did their job and were pleasant to wear.  A feature that I particularly liked was the detachable audio cable, so that when I was using the headphones for noise cancelling only, I didn’t have a cable dangling down my side.

To test the audio capabilities, I selected several different tracks from my music collection varying between  Gotta Be Somebody by Nickleback  to Can’t Help Falling in Love by Lick The Tins.  Although the manufacturer states that these headphones can be used in “passive” mode, without the noise cancelling feature turned on, the sound was terrible.  Everything was “muffled”.  I found the same to be true with my Sony unit and also a Sony demo set I tried at Sam’s Club.

I was pleasantly surprised by the fidelity from the headphones when they were in active mode.  I was able to hear details I hadn’t before.  The bass was very acceptable and high tones reproduced well.  For comparison I played the same pieces though my sound system and actually preferred the headphones.  I occurred to me that the cancelling of the background noise added to the perceived better sound from the headphones.

When I began my search for a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones, there were very few on the market and the prices were beyond my reach.  However, during my Christmas shopping this year I’ve seen them as low as $20 at Staples and running up to over $300.  The audio-technica QuietPoint headphones have an MSRP of $219.95, but a quick check using Bing found prices as low as $129.  Interestingly, having let friends try out the headphones and then asking what they would pay, the median number was $150 which unscientifically suggests that the price is reasonable.

In my opinion, the QuietPoint headphones are a good buy.  I now use them daily while sitting at the PC.  Until I used these I didn’t realize how much ambient background noise there was in my environment.  I enjoy listening to my tunes while working and relaxing.

 

Product Information

Price:varies from $129 and up
Manufacturer:audio-technica
Pros:
  • Quality, comfort, noise cancelling, fidelity
Cons:
  • Couldn't find any
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, Reviews

7 comments… add one

  • Norberto December 17, 2009, 2:44 pm

    How bout a smile :)

    1
  • Bill December 17, 2009, 2:48 pm

    I AM smiling :-)

    2
  • Sandee Cohen December 17, 2009, 4:19 pm

    I’m not a big fan of active noise-cancelling headphones. As a friend explains the inversion of the noise only means that you’re going to hear the crying baby or the woman talking behind you without the drone of the engines.

    I use the passive noise-cancelling Etymotic headsets that have flanged earplugs to completely seal out the outside world.

    These are so effective that I can listen to podcasts on the NYC subway.

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  • David December 17, 2009, 7:11 pm

    Sandee – that’s right. They can only can bass/low frequencies, which doesn’t include the range of human voice. I’m wearing JVC noise-canceling headphones now at work, but I don’t turn on the noise canceling since that blocks computer/fan noise but lets me hear other people talking more, which is not what I want.

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  • Fred December 18, 2009, 3:19 am

    Sandee & David, you’re right but over the ears headphones also dim ambiance sounds including human voice. I have a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2.

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  • TC December 19, 2009, 8:32 pm

    I have a pair of the first gen version of these headphones. They work great. I love travelling with them as it makes it possible to listen to music without running the volume up full blast. I actually feel better when I arrive due to less “noise” fatigue.

    I like that the electronics are contained within the headset and not in a separate package which is usually dangling from the cords in other NC models. The battery life is quite good and as noted you can listen to music without turning on the NC unlike other products.

    These are a great value. Perhaps not quite as good as the Bose but much less expensive.

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  • Xavier A December 22, 2009, 5:23 am

    David – It is true that noise-cancelling headphones do not block people talks around you, but it has nothing to do with frequency: to produce the inverse wave that cancells the noise wave, the system needs a few miliseconds, but is not simultaneous. You can notice that in the small delay between switching the system on and noticing the noise cancell. This means it only works with background sound, i.e., persistent sounds that last for a while, like traffic, computer fans…). It is true that most of this background noise is of low frequency, and there might be headphones that concentrate in it, but the tecnique works the same for all frequencies.
    The true difference is these phones are for a different purpose: for situations with some background noise you want to avoid but you NEED to hear people talking around, including your own voice not to shout at them. In fact, first noise-cancelling headphones were not headphones, you could no listen to music: they were just alternatives to other ear muffs. So, as often happens with gadgets, it depends what do you want them for.

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