Top notch noise canceling headphones
Apr 18, 2009 (Updated Jul 24, 2010)
Review by Jarrett Volzer
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:great passive and active NR, decent price, regular AAA battery
Cons:others in class just a bit cheaper, not great bass sound, hot ears
The Bottom Line: These come highly recommended and definitely earn their Above Average rating.
Recommend this product?
As the fourth of four noise-canceling headphones I tested, I'll start right out by saying that these are at the top of my list. My first set was a Sony MDR-NC6 that I received for free. The other three I purchased looking for something better. As it turns out, all three are excellent headphones and unlike the entry level MDR-NC6, I'll actually keep them all for the family to use on airline flights. All three were at or under $150, making them less than half of the Bose sets that everyone seems to compare to.
I'll also point out in this intro section that these headphones are made by the same manufacturer as the Panasonic RP-HC600 set that I also reviewed. They look virtually identical. Even the packaging they come it is designed the same. The zippered carry case is identical except for the logo. The outer shell of the ear cups are different only in the logo and style and size of the on/off switch, with the Panasonic providing a larger, easier to flip switch and the AT's requiring a fingernail to flip. Given the similarity, I expected them to perform the same as well, guessing that only the badging was the different. However, it turns out that while the seem to have the same level of noise cancelation and share many other features, the sound quality of music is slightly better on this AT set than the Panasonic, offering a little crisper sound in the mid and high range. Therefore, I give them a slightly higher rating overall.
In the box
In addition to the headphones, you'll also find a hard carry case, AAA alkaline battery, 2-prong airline adapter, and the detachable audio cable. The headphones can be used without the cable if you want to just use them for noise canceling without playing any audio source. Note that these take a standard AAA battery. No worries about recharging a proprietary battery or carrying and keeping up with a charger.
Design and comfort
In addition to comparing to the "sister" Panasonic RP-HC600, I also compared to the JVC HANC250, which has a separate review here on e-pinions. I'll leave out any of the comparison to the Sony headphones I mentioned earlier, because they are just the entry level for Sony and not really in this class, underperforming in all areas from comfort to passive and active noise cancelation.
In terms of design, the ANC7 and Panasonic practically the same. The JVC unit is much smaller and considered "on the ear" rather than "over the ear". Since the JVCs are much smaller and lighter, I found them to be more comfortable. The ANC7 tend to make my ears hot after awhile, although not so much that I'd say they are uncomfortable. The leather padding on the ear pieces and the headband is soft and feels great. Access to the single AAA battery compartment is fairly easy to get to on the top of one of the earpieces.
For noise cancelation, I rank the ANC7 and Panasonic units at a tie again, both being better than the JVC unit, but only by a small amount. Most of this is owed to the larger design that provides more passive noise reduction even before turning them on. Passive noise reduction is simply the blocking of surrounding noise by having the insulating materials of the headphones themselves covering your ears to block sound. Active noise reduction is the electronic circuitry that samples the sound on the outside of the headphones and then plays the inverse sound wave through the headphones which results in cancellation of some of the sound.
As with all NC headsets, keep in mind that it only "reduces" noise. Nothing will cancel it out completely and provide a completely quiet environment. But they sure to make a difference at reducing the low frequency drone of an airplane engine and make it much more relaxing and peaceful. Other cabin noises, like passenger voices and such are muffled and less sharp. One of the other great benefits is that you can actually hear music or a movie very easily without having to blast the volume and damage your ears to overcome the loud engine noise!
Music and sound quality
I rank the ANC7s high in the music and sound quality, but I've heard much better from non-NC headsets on displays at stores. As mentioned in the section above though, you can really hear music or a movie well on an airplane due to the reduced noise of the engine to compete with. As for comparing to the other headsets, the ANC7 sounds a bit better, in my opinion, than the almost-identical Panasonic headphones, having a brighter sound. I suspect that they put better speaker drivers in these than the Panasonics. The JVC set I compared to had a little better bass response, so I put it a little higher than either of these.
I tested these with an iPod nano, a cell phone's music player (an LG Env2), and with the airplane's in-flight sound for a movie. In all cases, I only needed to have the volume set for low levels (well below half) to be able to hear clearly. By comparison, when I've used standard cheap headphones (the ones you can buy in-flight for the movie) or earbuds in the past, I've always had to use 75% volume or more from various sources, especially the crummy sound you get from the airline jack in the seat. I finally gave up on in-flight movies because my ears would hurt from blasting the sound. So from that standpoint, the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7 headphones are great!
Even if just wanting to relax or sleep, I found that using the headphones with just a very low volume of music is the best combination. The NC circuitry cuts out a good bit of noise, especially at the low end, and some low, soft music helps mask the rest! Perhaps the best test of this was when my wife, who can hardly ever sleep on a plane, was able to doze off for awhile!
These are great headphones and won't disappoint! As for over-the-ear models, these are top notch. The Panasonic twin is a close second. The JVC HANC250 is smaller and lighter, which may be more comfortable and easier to carry too, but block slightly less noise. All three are great choices, but I still give a slight lead to the ANC7. All of them far surpass entry level sets that you find for $75 or less.
*** UPDATE JULY 2010 ***
Version "B" of these headphones are now available. A family member wanted a set, so I got to try them. They are even better than the originals, although not drastically. They are slightly larger, which can be good an bad. The good part is that they probably have better passive noise reduction (more bulk/insulation to block noise). The bad is that the case is even a little bigger than before, which is already bigger than on-the-ear models. But the lightly bigger earphones are just enough bigger that I can now get my whole ear to be covered, creating a better seal against the head, which probably also helps block more noise. The company says they've improved the electronic/active noise cancellation technology too. So once again you probably can't go wrong with these headphones unless you prefer the lighter, smaller on-the-ear style headphones (which don't block quite as much noise) as I do. My favorites to-date are the on the ear Denon AH-NC732 (click for my review).
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