I shocked Dani a couple of weeks ago by, for the first time since we met 14 years ago, getting headphones that are better than his – mine are Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones. He was so jealous I had to buy him a set of them for his birthday last week. We are both incredibly chuffed with them.
I have been interested in active noise cancelling earphones and headphones for a while. They work by having a microphone on the outside of the earpiece that detects the noise in your environment. The earpiece then generates a sound wave which is the exact inverse of the environmental noise resulting in the two wave forms cancelling each other out.
This does sound a bit like magic, being able to effectively delete environmental noise by playing the opposite noise, but the technique has been around for a few decades. It was first used to cancel out noise from industrial machinery and engines.
However, the wonderful march of progress has brought the process to all of our ears to the degree that you can get headphones that make a reasonable stab at active noise cancellation from about £40. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9’s are more expensive than this but my recent experimentation with active noise cancelling headphones, and headphones in general has shown me you get what you pay for.
The Plantronics Backbeat Pro headphones can bond to a phone or tablet by NFC and then play music by Bluetooth. They have controls for volume, moving forward and backward through tracks, answering calls and a button you could press to mute what you are listening to and stop the active noise cancellation so you could speak to people without having to take the headphones off.
Alas, they did not sound as good as I had hoped they would. As soon as you turn on the active noise cancellation there is a distinctly audible hiss from the earpieces. You can hear this if music is played at a very low volume.
Furthermore, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro reproduced sound sub-optimally. Music sounds a bit flat and somewhat lacking dynamism. The active noise cancelling aside, listening to music through them was simply not a very rewarding experience. So I looked for better.
It came to a choice between the Bose QuietComfort 25 and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9. Reviews were split about which sounded best, but all agreed that the active noise cancellation was better on the Audio Technica ATH-
ANC9. I snapped up a pair.
Compared to the Plantronics Backbeat Pro they are a little sparse on features. You get a microphone on the cable with a button to answer calls. You also have to put in one AAA battery, which provides 60 hours of noise cancellation. When the battery runs out you can still use the headphones (without noise cancellation, obviously) until you get a fresh battery.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 headphones provide three types of noise cancellation. One for when you are travelling in a train, aircraft or similar. The second mode is designed to be used in offices where there are noises of lots of different frequencies including people talking.
I find the third mode a touch confusing, but I am yet to use it in anger. It is designed to be used in quiet environments like libraries. Quite why you need noise cancellation when there is little background noise I cannot work out!
The headphones look as stylish as it is possible for over-ear headphones to look (so no, they do not come in Champagne Gold) and they are solidly built. They come with a rather nice solid case, making them safe from all but the most severe clonks.
As they are over ear headphones, with memory foam ear pads, they provide a reasonable degree of noise isolation, but the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 have incredible active noise cancellation. Whilst I have been giving them a thorough testing, Dani has walked into the room on several occasions to say something to me but I have not heard a word and carried on listening to music and writing. I will leave it up to you to decide whether silencing your partner is a good thing or not.
When I have sat next to the running washing machine and dish washer it was if they were turned off. If you want to disappear into your own little world to revel in your favourite music I cannot believe there is a better way of achieving that than with the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9.
Then there is the joyful sound quality. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 reproduces sound in a beautiful, natural manner. I have tested them with music ranging from Spinal Tap to Glenn Gould playing Beethoven’s piano concertos and they have sounded alive and dynamic Presumably because background interference is vastly reduced, they sound best with the active noise cancellation turned on.
There is no bonkers bass enhancement, as the hard of thinking seem to demand from their headphones these days – although when you listen to a bass heavy track the low frequencies seem perfectly powerful. Mid- and high-frequency sounds are all reproduced with stunning quality, so much so that I get goose bumps and a drop of emotion in the corner of my eye when listening to my favourite beautiful tracks.
There is no doubt, if you want to listen to music at the highest quality possible with as little background noise as possible, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 are other worldly in terms of performance.
If you cannot quite afford their £188 asking price and you want more gadget-y controls on your headphones by all means get some Backbeat Pro headphones. They are perfectly satisfactory, until you hear an Audio Technica ATH-ANC9, when you instantly decide you do not need to bond your headphones to your music device by NFC or play music over Bluetooth ever again.
If you are on the market for some active noise cancelling headphones but still care about high-quality sound reproduction you should be clamouring to obtain some Audio Technica ATH-ANC9’s, They will pleasure you immensely. I am so impressed with my pair that I have no hesitation of awarding these headphones The Beyond The PC Award of Excellence.
Oh, and you can answer phone calls whilst you are wearing them as well!