Introduction

After last month’s excellent experience with the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 open-backed headphones, we decided those cans would be a great reference set when we review new audio products. Shortly after our review, Audio-Technica suggested we spend some time with its closed-back noise-cancelling headphones, the ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint® Active Noise-cancelling Headphones . We have been wanting to review a quality set of Audio-Technica closed-back headphones to compare sound stage differences to open-backed sets while gaming on the PC, but when we saw the words “noise-cancelling” in the product specifications, we immediately thought we would be trading audio fidelity in music and movies and positional awareness in games in order to achieve artificially dampened listening privacy. We are hoping instead for a great second experience with Audio-Technica products when using the ATH-ANC7b headphones.

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This is what Audio-Technica has to say about the headset:

Arrive refreshed after a long flight, avoid distractions in a noisy office, or find peace & quiet in your iving room…with ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint® Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones. These lightweight, compact headphones effectively reduce distracting background noise by 90% while offering the superior audio quality that has made Audio-Technica a worldwide leader in electro-acoustic technology.

Ideal for use with MP3, CD, DVD & in-flight entertainment systems, ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint® closed-back headphones deliver clear, high-resolution sound, with impactful bass, a detailed midrange, extended treble and accurate imaging in an immersive soundfield. Their earcups have been redesigned for greater comfort, with generously cushioned padding and a shape that fits easily over any ear.

The Product, Pricing and Packaging

The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b Active Noise-Cancelling headphones are available from the company’s online store for $199.95, with a MSRP of $219.95. Amazon sells this set for $111.99 and $6.99 shipping, so shopping around online first for these is a must. We received a retail boxed set directly from Audio-Technica.

The “b” in the product’s name denotes that this is the second revision of this headphone model.

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The retail box and the headphones inside are considerably smaller than the ATH-AD700 set we purchased from Newegg last month. The box has a very detailed photograph of the set of headphones inside. There is no guesswork as to what these look like. An orange marker on the box proclaims that this set of headphones “NOW REDUCES ENVIRONMENTAL NOISE BY 90%.” This tells me that I should only experience a very small amount of ambient noise from the outside world intruding upon my listening experience. Technical specifications of the product are listed on the back of the box in ten languages.

All accessories included with the headphones are pictured as well. When we opened the box, we expected to see six plastic baggies and pieces of interlocking cardboard securing our headphones. Instead, we found an attractive and durable black zippered carrying case protecting the headphones inside. After opening the case, we discovered that all of the product’s accessories were contained in a mesh pocket with a zipper on the case’s left side. On the right side, I found a stiff contoured liner which cradles the headphones for storage and maintains their shape.

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The product’s packaging is absolutely superb and we could see ourselves carrying these to a friend’s house or on a long road trip without having to worry that the headphones would be easily damaged. When we consider paying $100.00 to $250.00 for a set of quality headphones, a heavy duty case with its own accessory pouch is an extra value that assures us that we will have this equipment for a long time.

Specifications

We corresponded with Frank Doris of Audio-Technica Consumer P.R. and he assured me that the AN7b headphones will function perfectly well with onboard or dedicated sound cards as well as portable DVD and MP3 players. Therefore potential buyers need not concern themselves with impedance issues such as, “Can my current PC audio setup power these headphones?”

These headphones weigh less than eight ounces, so I do not anticipate any headaches or neck strain from long periods of wear.

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There are two detachable cables of different lengths included with these headphones. If we were to sever my cable accidentally, we would not have to send the whole set into the manufacturer for repair, we could simply replace the cable. You would think the shorter three foot cable would be best for use with an MP3 player so that it would not become tangled. The five foot cord would be best for PC usage with a front panel jack. Unfortunately we had to use a third party cable eight feet in length to plug the headphones into the back of the PC to allow freedom of movement. Audio-Technica smartly included a 1/4″ (6.3 mm) and an airplane passenger seat audio adapter. Airplane usage is the intended primary solution, in order to eliminate the steady roar of the plane’s engines.

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Design and Styling

Upon first glance, The ANC7b headphones seem very small in appearance. Some users may immediately underestimate sound performance based upon the headphone’s simple and small but classy styling. When we initially unwrapped the headphones from its packaging, we were pleased to discover these are solid black in color on the headband, ear cups, and ear pads. There are silver colored rings trimming both ear cups. Each of these cups has a comfortably firm and replaceable vinyl covered ear pad. Both cups swivel outwardly ninety degrees for freedom of movement, head comfort, and temporary storage when wearing or removing the headphones. The headband connecting the two cups has a long and narrow vinyl cushion that adds padding to the headband and relieves the weight of the cans resting on the listener’s head.

The ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint® headphones feature large-aperture 40 mm drivers with neodymium magnet systems and extremely high 109dB sensitivity to provide generous volume levels from any music source. The headphones also work when the noise-cancelling function is turned off, and operate in passive mode without batteries. Noise-cancelling electronics are fully integrated in each earpiece, with no need for external modules.

We have found that these headphones to be extremely comfortable when resting over our ears. This is a “circumaural” set of headphones; that means that each ear cup covers the entire ear as opposed to sitting on top of the ears, which is considered “supra-aural.”

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As a result of the encompassing fit, a slight seal is made against the user’s head, which keeps the sound “between your ears.” I have a 7 7/8 hat size and I feel that this is the largest head size that these headphones will accommodate comfortably. We placed these on a teenager’s (6 5/8″ hat size) and he encountered absolutely no problems with fit, wobble, or comfort. To size the headphones accurately, a user simply has to collapse or extend each cup so that it clicks into place along the underlying rail of the headband. Everything about the comfortable fit of these headphones reminds me of Creative’s excellent WoW Wireless headset that we reviewed in April.

Function

There is no software included or needed with the Audio-Technica ANC7b headphones. One AAA battery is required for the noise cancellation to function and the battery installation is extremely simple. A user must slide the right ear cup’s cover to the left ninety degrees. After inserting the battery, the cover should be closed. Fortunately, the cover is not detachable so there is no chance it can be lost. On the left ear cup, there is a toggle switch that when in the “up” position activates the active noise cancelling feature. There is a blue light that remains lit to let the user know the feature is activated. The light will begin to flash continuously when the battery is running low.

There are two microphones in the ear cups of the ANC7b headphones that pick up background noises such as traffic, industrial machinery, air-conditioning, human conversations, and loud television shows in the user’s environment. The mechanism inside of the ear cups creates a “counter-wave” to those ambient sounds, that is a series of waves of opposite phase which eliminates the majority of sounds that would otherwise overwhelm what the user is listening to inside of the headphones.

One thing we found very important to note is that when the noise cancellation feature is turned off, the headphones sound very garbled and distorted. Therefore we think it is best to have a few extra batteries handy and always keep the cancellation effect on.

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Test System

  • AMD Phenom II X4 940 Processor
  • Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-UD3H motherboard (Bios version 1.08)
  • 8 Gigs Corsair PC6400 DDR2 Ram
  • Visiontek ATI Radeon 5850
  • X-FI Titanium PCI-Express Sound Card
  • Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive
  • Lite-On 24X SATA Burner/Lite-On 4X Blu-Ray reader
  • Windows 7 64 bit clean installation and patched with Windows Update

Music

For my music testing, we used our previous selection of high bitrate MP3 and FLAC tracks from Lil’ Wayne, Queen, The Eagles, Garden State Soundtrack, The Black Eyed Peas, The Best Jazz Album in the World, The Crystal Method, The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack,100-A State of Trance Tunes and lastly, Open Your Ears from HDTracks.com.

With the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 headphones, we heavily favored classic Rock, Jazz, Country, Blues and Gospel music. Open-backed headphones seem to favor those “natural sounding” genres more so than Rap, Hip-Hop, Techno and Hard Rock. With the ANC7b closed headphones I found nearly the opposite to be true. The inherent bass found in The Black Eyed Peas and Lil Wayne tracks was reproduced very nicely in these closed-back headphones. We had to use our Creative Labs EQ to emphasize high and mid frequency ranges. The narrower sound stage of a closed headphone really does dictate music choice.

Movies

We used Avatar, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, and Watchmen on Blu-Ray for testing purposes. Each movie sounded very good during heavy action sequences, but we did not feel a sense of immersion or depth. During the first space sequence in Star Trek with actor Eric Bana, we heard a really good amount of rumbling bass as his ship appeared which gave me a sense of its immense size. His dialogue was fairly clear but we could not perceive small ambient sounds (high frequency) of “outer space” that would make the entire scene seem real and natural. Avatar was the same for me. While Sam Worthington was flying on the back of a dragon, we were not hearing small sound cues to indicate a sense of being high in the sky with the wind blowing against the character. Artillery explosions throughout the movie sounded excellent though. The best benefit of these headphones is that we did not hear a single outside interruption during the course of any of these movies. It was a very peaceful and relaxing experience thanks to the extreme isolation these headphones provide.

Games

We chose Left 4 Dead 2 and the newly-released Singularity to test positional audio and immersion. In both games, we did not perceive my enemies’ prescence or position until it was too late. We had to rely solely on visual cues to pinpoint enemies and this could cost a player the game. These headphones reproduce no sense of depth whatsoever and that is because of their lack of high and mid frequencies with the noise cancelling feature activated. We do feel these headphones would be very suitable for turn-based strategy games where a player needs total concentration to determine his next move.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a great set of gaming, music and movie headphones, the ANC7b headphones are simply not for you. There are better choices for your computing and entertainment needs. You should choose the ATH-AD700 or WoW Wireless Headset instead. That said, the noise cancelling technology is tremendously responsive and can filter out a lot of the sounds from daily life. If you live in a noisy apartment, college dorm, or busy office, you will love the noise cancelling feature that will give you privacy and isolation and allow you to get some work done or even some casual strategy gaming.

Audio-Technica did an excellent job providing quality packaging and accessories, physical comfort and build quality, but the audio fidelity lost will not encourage me to adopt them for regular use with my PC.

That all said, Audio-Technica never stated that this set of headphones is the greatest set of movie watching, music listening headphones ever. And AT never once mentioned using these for gaming, so we are holding this product to some standards that it was not intended to meet. Audio-Technica is very clear on what these headphones are to be used for:

Arrive refreshed after a long flight, avoid distractions in a noisy office, or find peace & quiet in your living room…with ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint® Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones. These lightweight, compact headphones effectively reduce distracting background noise by 90% while offering the superior audio quality that has made Audio-Technica a worldwide leader in electro-acoustic technology.

Considering the intended usage for the ATH-ANC7b headphones, we think that Audio-Technica is doing a great job of it at the $112.94 price point if you are looking for noise cancelling headphones. Bose, which is the standard in the industry, can easily run a couple hundred dollars more depending on where you are purchasing. If you are looking for a great set of headphones, we still think that the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 Headphones are the way to go for a wired pair, and the Creative WoW Wireless Headset is still a standout although we would like to see a non-WoW-branded model.

If you are a heavy traveler, save some coin and get a pair of the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b headphones, you will be glad you did.

Discussion

SOURCE:http://www.hardocp.com/article/2010/08/04/audiotechnica_athanc7b_headphone_review/