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Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b Review

DT Editor's Choice

Highs

  • Comfortable
  • well-designed ear pads; excellent noise cancellation; will play music passively; easy storage; powerful
  • well-balanced sound

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 10

Lows

  • Slightly large ear-cup size; slight emphasis on mid-bass
True audiophile quality sound and effective noise cancelling don

Summary

Audio Technica has been setting the standard in studio quality headphones since it first released the AT-700 in 1974. With the introduction of the ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint Noise-Cancelling headphones, Audio Technica has once again raised the bar for the competition. Priced at $219.99, these cans perform better, feel more comfortable and offer more features and functions than headphones costing much more. Whether you fly often, need some “space” at the office or just enjoy high-fidelity music, these headphones will offer a quiet retreat from the din around you, and immerse you in incredible sound.

Out of the Box

The QuietPoint headphones come packed in a reinforced black canvas zipper case. Opening the case reveals the headphones seated neatly atop molded pieces to help hold them in place and ease re-packing. Inside the front cover is a small mesh pouch that holds a 1/8” to ¼” adapter, an airline adapter, and a longer, 5.2-foot cable. The gold plating on the accessories is a nice touch, and hints at other thoughtful features we’ll note later on. The included 3.3-foot, detachable ATH-ANC7b Headphonescable comes already plugged into the left headphone. Also on the left side is the power switch for engaging the active noise-cancelling circuitry. The included AAA battery that is needed to power the noise-cancelling feature is housed in the right headphone and is easily accessed by sliding the outside cover back.


Features and Design

We were immediately impressed with the quality of material in the ear padding. What feels like memory foam is luxuriously covered in supple, black leather. Deeper into the earpiece, the 40mm driver is covered in black cloth, not the cheaper black foam found on lesser quality headphones. The ATH-ANC7b’s outer housing and headband is made of durable, impact-resistant plastic and is easily adjusted. The headband also offers a very comfortable pad on top, something important for headphones of this size and weight.

ATH-ANC7b HeadphonesAs we mentioned before, the cable that connects the headphones to an iPod, computer, receiver or other source is detachable. This comes in handy if you just want to use the headphones as noise blockers without listening to music. It also allows a cable of any length to be used. Though the shorter cables provided are ample for use with portable devices, you might want a longer cable for listening at longer distances from your source.

Unlike many other collapsible headphones that require Rubik’s-cube-like twisting and repositioning of the headset, packing these away is a snap. The left and right earphones rotate inward, and the raised supports in the case are a clear indication of what goes where. It’s a simple design that works extremely well.

One of the pleasantly surprising features here is that this set of headphones work passively. With many other sets of noise-cancelling headphones, when the battery peters out, so does the music. Thankfully, Audio-Technica noted the shortcomings of this approach and designed the headphones to work well, even if the battery is dead.

Performance

As soon as we put on the ATH-ANC7b’s, we noticed an immediate decrease in ambient noise. The soft, self-molding padding did an impressive job of sealing around the ear. In fact, the seal was so good that we got the impression our ears were in their own little atmosphere. When pressed against our head, pressure against the eardrum could be felt that reminded us a little of the pressure changes you experience when going up and down steep hills. It took some getting used to, but once acclimated, we hardly noticed the effect.

Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b We tested these headphones in several environments with varying levels of noise, and on several different sources. First, we tested the headphones’ noise cancelling capabilities by generating some “white noise” through a speaker at 75 db. To be sure, this isn’t quite the same as riding an Airbus 320, but it comes close, and we thought it would be an interesting experiment. The results were impressive: Though the noise was still audible, it was significantly quieter. We estimated a 15 db reduction in sound pressure level (SPL) with the QuietPoint circuit turned on. When we introduced music at a moderately high volume, the noise was almost inaudible. What we experienced was on par with Audio-Technica’s claims that the ATH-ANC7b is capable of a 20db reduction in noise.

Next, we tested the ‘phones with the ubiquitous iPod. Here, we used a mix of both compressed and uncompressed music. With compressed music, the low quality was more exposed. The raspy sibilance of the treble was more distinct than with low quality earbuds; but that is to be expected. The sound quality on the uncompressed music more than made up for it, though. Top to bottom, the QuietPoint headphones exuded authority and finesse. Highs were smooth – never shrill. The midrange was open and natural, and the bass, if just a bit heavy, was tight and tonally on point. While a little bit of EQ adjustment helped in the bass department, we didn’t have to wrangle these headphones into submission. They played nice right out of the box, and the more we listened, the more we enjoyed them.

Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b With a 109db sensitivity rating, these headphones played at very healthy volumes, even with low-powered sources. When at their loudest, the ATH-ANC7b held together with amazing integrity. Low distortion at the volumes we played with is a tough feat to pull off. It is nice to know that the extra headroom will be there when it is needed.

As we changed from receiver to laptop and, finally, a headphone amp, we noticed that the ATH-ANC7b’s sonic character changed with its source. As the source improved or changed, so did the sound. We enjoyed a huge amount of detail and separation with the ATH-ANC7b on all of the components it was tested with, and consider the soundstage depth and transparency to be on par with many audiophile solutions. Certainly, we would recommend this as an audiophile grade product for avid listeners who are frequently on-the-go.

Conclusion

True audiophile quality sound and effective noise cancelling don’t usually come in the same box, but Audio-Technica managed to do it here, and kick in some extremely thoughtful features and functionality as well. With a $200 street price, you’re still going to have to shell out a few bucks, but the return on investment is very high. Those considering noise cancelling headphones need to give the ATH-ANC7b a serious test drive. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, well-designed ear pads
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Will play music passively (no battery)
  • Easy storage
  • Powerful, well-balanced sound

Cons:

  • Slightly large ear-cup size
  • Slight emphasis on mid-bass