If you’ve been on a plane flight in the last decade, you’ve doubtless seen people with huge headphones on their ears from Bose, headphones that would cut out most of the background noise even if they weren’t using noise-canceling technology. It’s not rocket science, big headphones can reduce background noise. But can little in-ear “ear bud” headphones prove effective in noisy environments too?
To find out, I review the Audio-Technica active noise-canceling QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 headphones.
I have to admit right up front that when I travel I don’t have a pair of those bulky Bose headphones but instead a wonderful pair of Sennheiser PXC-300 folding noise-canceling headphones, and I wouldn’t part with them for the world. They are a beautiful balance between highly effective noise reducing technology and small, portable folding headphones. They’re also not cheap, about $150 (they were $300 when I got them. One thing you can count on with technology is that the price goes down as time passes!)
Nonetheless, when I’m just working in local cafés and taking the bus, in-ear “bud” headphones are even more convenient because they’re low profile, small enough to slip in a pocket, and discrete. But can they also be effective noise reducing headphones?
Audio-Technica has been in the audio field for a long time: I remember drooling over their high-end turntables back when I was an undergraduate (no cracks about how old that must make me, thank you very much!). But the basic technology behind noise-canceling systems is clearly not protected by any aggressive patents as dozens of companies now make these devices that also sample the ambient background noise and eliminate it by adding in the exact opposite waveform in the audio you hear.
I contacted Audio-Technica and asked them to send along a review pair of QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 headphones. Here’s what they look like:
Nice, small, and the bulkiest part, the audio sampler gizmo, is about 2″ x 0.75″ x 0.20″ thick. Smaller than a cigarette lighter, that’s for sure, and it’d probably be even smaller if they didn’t need a AAA battery therein to power the noise canceling circuitry.
They’re interesting ear-buds because unlike the devices included with Apple iPods and such, the ear piece is actually at about a 30-degree angle from the base. I looked askance at this when I first got them, but they’re actually quite comfortable and with the different size ear pieces included, sure to fit in your ear well too.
The real test, however, is sound. Audio-Technical claims that these reduce 85% of the ambient noise, which is darn hard to measure, but I will say that when I tested them in a noisy café plugged into my laptop I could easily listen to my own music without external sound being noticeable at 30% volume. In fact, with some songs, I had to lower the volume before my ears started bleeding (just kidding on that last bit. I mean, they warn you, but do you know anyone who has ever listened to headphones at a sufficient volume to make their ears bleed??)
The big difference I noticed between the Sennheiser and the Audio-Technica is that when there’s no music, no audio source, the Sennheiser still do a splendid job of eliminating almost all of the ambient noise (it’s startling the first time you use them on an airplane), while the Audio-Technica just doesn’t cut it as a passive noise-reducing device.
Add music, though, and I have to say that ATH-ANC3 do a very good job of eliminating ambient noise and let you enjoy your music or other audio programming as if you have big headphones on.
To me the great benefit of the Audio-Technica headphones are their size: they’re tiny. And yet, the company ships them with a semi-hard case that’s bigger than an Apple iPhone. My advice: skip the case, slip them in your pocket and enjoy.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 have a recommended retail price of $169 but the street price is about $100 for the entire setup, including various adapters for airplane and other uses.
Disclosure: Yes, they sent me these headphones. That’s kind of how reviews work in the biz.