You won't get any closer to Bose for this price!
Jan 11, 2008 (Updated Jan 12, 2008)
Review by mwietstock
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Beautiful, great-sounding alternative to Bose, for about one third the price.
Cons:Earcups a bit on the snug side; external sound leakage.
The Bottom Line: They aren't Bose, but the positive reviews are on point. This headset is comparable to Bose in nearly every respect, but with just a tad less bass response.
HOW/WHY I FOUND THE AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-ANC7:
Recommend this product?
Once upon a time, my wife bought me a set of Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones as a Christmas gift. They were, without a doubt, the finest headphones I've ever owned. They weren't made of the strongest stuff (after about 2 years of very light use, mine broke at the extender bracket, but Bose replaced the entire headset, no questions asked, so, no harm no foul), but in terms of combined sound performance, comfort and noise cancelling, I had never experienced their equal ... and I still have not.
My Bose headphones got stolen from among my luggage at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport rental car pavillion (all you frequent travelers out there know the exact place I'm talking about), while I was standing only a few feet away, looking up at the departing/arriving flights monitors. In a word, I was devastated.
As I could not bring myself to fork out another $300 for a replacement set, I began to search for a less-expensive alternative to the Bose. As it so happened, there was available to me on one of those popular credit card "rewards" programs a set of noise cancelling cans from Sony ... the MDR-NC50 (the current version of this headset is the MDR-NC60). Since I could get the Sonys right away, without having to shell out any more money, I decided to use my rewards points and take a chance on the Sonys. The Sonys had a very spotty reputation among reviewers, but I actually liked them. They weren't as good as the Bose in the sound department, but the sound was OK; they were very well-constructed, and the noise cancelling function was actually a bit better than the Bose. Unfortunately, about a year after I first acquired them, the noise cancelling function inexplicably stopped working. No bumps, no fizz ... I just pulled them out of the case one day and ... nothing. That left me with only passive mode operation, which was totally unacceptable. My wife is now inheriting that set, as she thinks they sound just peachy ... no comment, men.
A few months after my Sonys died, I started researching replacements again, and happened upon the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7. You've heard it all before ... many good reviews; comparable to Bose, etc., etc. I found some high res photos of the Audio Technicas online, and was intrigued. Here, it seemed, was a set of noise-cancelling cans that replicated almost everything I loved about my Bose headset, right down to the case and accessory pouch, for a fraction of the cost of the Bose. Could it really be true? Like a German brown trout in a rainstorm, I bit, and ordered a set, and here's what I got.
ACCESSORIES AND CARRYING CASE:
The ATs come in a really nice box. In the front half is the headset, shown through a glassine window; in the back is the case, with the accessories already in the zippered pouch that attaches with a velcro backing to the inner lid of the case ... just like the Bose. The included accessories are the main audio cable, a 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch stereo adapter plug, an airline audio adapter plug, and a complimentary AAA battery to get you started. I loved it already. The case is just like the Bose case ... a polymer shell covered with black nylon mesh, like the material a typical backpack is made of. It differs from the Bose case in two important respects, however. The Bose case has an elastic pocket on the back, and an adjustable shoulder strap with two little hinge clips that allow you to remove the strap from the case if you want. Both these features are missing from the AT case. You get the case, and that's it.
APPEARANCE AND CONSTRUCTION:
The headset itself is a thing of beauty ... flat black with gray lettering and highlights. Both the external microphones and the power-on switch for the noise cancelling are located in positions similar to that for the Bose, and they look equally cool in the ATs. This headset is more sturdy, however, and constructed a little differently than the Bose. In the Bose set, there are two separate steel bands attached to the earcups that adjust by pushing into, and out of, the padded part that sits on top of your head. The ATs use a single steel band, padded at the top, and the headset adjusts by pushing the earcups up or down on this single band ... probably a more durable design than that used in the Bose ... far less likely to fracture at the plastic adjustment fittings, like my Bose did.
Like the Bose, the earcups on the AT swivel to allow the headset to lay flat in the case. The main cable for the ATs is also detachable, like the Bose (so you can use the headset for quiet/noise-cancelling only), but there is no switch built into the AT cable (as there is with the Bose) that allows you to adjust between "hi" and "lo" input levels.
The earcup cushions are plush, soft black leather (or some kind of fake leather ... I can't tell for sure), just like the Bose, however, there is less interior space in the earcups than I remember having in the Bose. I had to monkey with these a bit to get them to fit comfortably over my ears, and the outer edges of my ears remained in contact with several surfaces within the earcups. I can definitely see these headphones getting constricting and hot if used for any significant length of time in a warm environment. When you put them on, they almost feel like you're wearing ear muffs ... not UNcomfortable, but definitely more restrictive than the Bose.
The noise-cancelling feature is excellent, possibly better than the Bose, and with the ATs, I didn't notice the sensation of pressure that I noticed with the noise-cancelling on the Bose. Everyone considering noise cancelling headsets should be aware that none of the models using active noise cancelling do much to eliminate noise in the higher frequencies. Their real strength is in elimination of mid and lower frequency ambient noise, like road noise in a car or train, highway traffic, crowd or machinery noise, or the drone of an airplane's engines ... the kind of non-descript, constant background noise that stresses your brain at a subconscious level and makes it more difficult for you to concentrate or rest. For example, when someone talks to you with the noise cancelling on, you can still hear them, but at a far lower volume, with all the "bass" removed from their voice.
The audio performance of the ATs is also very good. The midrange is well-articulated and bright, but not overpowering; the highs are crystalline and transparent, and integrated well with the mids. The bass is as well-represented as any I've heard in a headset other than Bose. Unlike the Bose, this headset continues to operate whether the noise cancelling is turned on or off. When it's on, you're in "active" mode. When it's turned off, you're in "passive" mode. In active mode, the "impedance" or resistance level of the headset drops, and all the midrange and high frequencies become more pronounced. In passive mode, the impedance is increased, the mid and high frequencies become less pronounced, and the bass becomes more apparent. To some, the bass in passive mode might sound "muddy" or indistinct, but I actually liked it, and tinkered with it quite a bit, experimenting with the EQ and volume controls on my .mp3 player to see how I could modify the dynamic balance. With this kind of tinkering, I found that on some passages of music, at varying volume levels, I actually PREFERRED the audio performance in passive mode (noise cancelling off) over the audio performance in active mode (noise cancelling on). This is totally different from what I experienced with the Sonys ... passive mode operation in the Sonys was clearly inferior to active mode in every respect, and this was a VERY pleasant surprise for me in my road test of the ATs. Nicely done, Audio Technica!
As many reviewers have already observed, the bass response on the ATs isn't QUITE to the level of the Bose, but after listening to the ATs some more, I actually came back to update this review, to note that it's pretty darn close, especially when you "goose" the bass in your player's EQ and pump up the volume a bit. It's no accident that Bose holds U.S. patents on its bass emulation technologies, and man-oh-man, do I MISS that! That's 90% of what you're paying for in the Bose, folks. I've come to conclude that there is no one anywhere who has yet succeeded in doing what Bose has done in emulating low-frequency wavelengths in VERY small packages. Stuff like their Quiet Comfort headsets and "Acoustic Wave" desktop radio/CD players continue to astound, and continue to command top dollar retail in a brutally competitive consumer electronics market. I don't know how they do it, but the difference is obvious to anyone who's listening with an open mind, and an open ear.
Once, I compared my Quiet Comfort headset to a pair of Sennheisers that my nephew had. He was trying to convince me (or maybe himself) that the Bose reputation (and high retail pricing) was based on nothing more than marketing gimmicks, and that his Sennheisers sounded better, but I was stunned at the obvious difference in bass performance between the two headsets, and I mentioned it to him. He looked at me like I was from outer space. In comparison, it was as if the Sennheisers had no bass at all. Either his ear wasn't able to distinguish the difference in the bass, or it simply didn't matter to him. Each to his own taste, I guess.
With all that said, however, I don't want this review to sound negative on the bass response in the ATs. It's not just passable or satisfactory. It's VERY good ... MUCH better than what I experienced in the Sonys (when they still worked), and I've fallen in love with listening to my .mp3 player through headphones again, especially in light of the huge cost savings I've realized by going with the ATs instead of the Bose. At one-third the cost, I can live with a just a bit less bass response ... LOL.
Finally, the reviewers who have complained about "sound leakage" from the ATs weren't kidding. When you take the headphones off, there is practically no difference between what you can hear with the earcups laying face down on a table or cushion, and what you can hear with the earcups facing up. I have no idea why that is, but I can only assume that AT gave no thought at all to this issue in their design of this headset, because if they HAD thought of it, I'm sure it wouldn't be such an obvious problem in the finished headset. Sound leakage is not a big issue for me, but I can certainly understand it being a big issue for other users. In short, if sound leakage is a concern for you, you might want to consider another headset, or wait to see if AT improves this in a later model. If you've got your heart set on the ATs for the noise-cancelling and great audio performance, at minimum, you might want to try out the ATs at a local electronics store before you buy, so you can hear the sound leakage yourself and decide if it's too much for you or not.
OVERALL, AN OUTSTANDING VALUE AT $125:
I got my ATs for about $125, shipped ... $200 less than a new set of Bose QC2's (about $325 after addition of sales tax and free shipping from Bose direct). At this price, I feel that I got a tremendous value, and I'm sure just about anyone buying the ATs will feel the same way.
As many have said before me, they aren't Bose, but they're about as close as anyone's ever going to get to the Bose QC2's at this price. Many thanks to the folks at Audio Technica for their development and marketing of this fine product.
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