Summary: A solid, feature-packed, pair of headphones. I hope they fit you, and I hope they last.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones are one of the highest-rated headphones on Amazon.com. In fact, they are one of the highest-rated products I’ve ever seen. With over 1000 reviews, most of them positive, it’s safe to say that majority of buyers are happy with these. So far, I am as well.
Because of the design and features of these headphones, I can’t help but compare them to my now-deceased Sharper Image headphones. Obviously, I’m searching for a replacement, but these are the closest relative so far, but with a few key differences. With a rather large price tag, my picky self will likely grumble about the lack of an on-board volume control, for example, but as an overall offering, these are a winner.
Sophisticated, yet boring, packaging
The ATH-ANC7s can brag about a number of things. They come with all sorts of cords and adapters, and the noise cancellation is pretty exceptional. They’re stylish, but don’t take over your head. A detachable cord and semi-hard zipper case imply that these can be stored and cared for by audiophiles and travelers alike.
But I fear that these may not fit some people! When I first put these on, they didn’t find my ears on the first try, but took some wiggling and adjusting to get right. Unlike my Sharper Image heaphones, these aren’t the most padded ear cups in the world, but are comfortable, once you find the sweet spot. The lack of an on-board volume control means you’ll have your hand in your pocket constantly adjusting the volume, especially when turning on and off the active noise cancelation. But most of us can live with these quirks for a great-sounding pair of headphones that feel solid and comfortable.
Comfort: There are certainly headphones that are softer and more lusty than these. For example, the AKG 271 MkIIs seem to engulf your head in a manner that these don’t. These offer no discomfort when wearing for extended periods, but can lead to some sweaty ears on hot days — a fault of the weather more than the design, methinks.
Sound Quality: I am fully impressed by the sound. Voice and music both sound rich and full, and aren’t terribly distorted when going in and out of noise cancelation mode. Somehow, these fill you up with bass without losing the hi-end. Not the loudest set of headphones out there, but they don’t have to be.
What’s in the box: The headphones, an airplane converter, a 1/4″ converter, one batteries, a semi-hard zipper case (with smaller zipper pouch for the accessories inside) and two 1/8″ to 1/8″ audio cables (one of the cables boasts itself being “iPod compatible”, although both of them work fine with an iPod. Not sure what’s going on there.
Insulation/Noise Cancelation: The noise cancelation on these are superb. External noise is reduced and marginalised, with powerful low-end clunking reduced to some high-pitched whining, at best. The one quirk is that the requisite whoosh-and-snap first experienced when turning on noise cancelation is rather severe. The volume of the before and after states are quite different, and will require an adjustment. Like I said, this is made further inconvenient by the fact that there is no on-board volume control, as I’ve seen on other pairs. Also, the noise cancelation takes more than a second to fully kick in, which is a little odd to experience. But you’ll get used to it.
Style: Black with some silver, these aren’t terribly flamboyant. I have the feeling that the largest style consideration was how large to make these smaller, and pack all the goods into a smaller package. I’ve worn headphones that are a little bigger (and therefore, slightly more comfortable), but the designers probably made the decision to keep these subtle at the smaller size. I have the feeling that someone crunched the numbers and concluded that making them 5% smaller will save 10% on supplies, alienate 12% of buyers with large heads, but attract an extra 20% new customers who don’t want to look like a jackass with massive headphones. I can’t complain about the design or how I look when wearing them, but they aren’t exactly next season’s style accessory.
Commuting mode, with hat and glasses
The Dredg Test: Pretty good, considering I really forgot that Dredg was even playing in the background. I guess that’s a pass. With noise cancelation it’s even better.
The Subway Test: These things eat the subway for lunch. Honestly, your train ride will be nearly silent, especially while on the car. The loudest rumbles will still make -some- sound, but that’s impossible to eliminate. The one drawback of such powerful isolation is that you might miss announcements or warning bells. And you won’t hear that pushy woman behind you, who will no doubt become twice as pushy due to your non-response. Get used to feeling like a bubble head.
Does it have: A carrying case? [semi-hard zipper case] A detachable cord? [yes!] Volume adjustment? [no, sadly.] The ability to fold up? [folds flat to fit in the case].
Overall Build Quality: It’s hard to tell the long-term endurance of a product, but they don’t feel cheap, which is a big plus. While I would like to see more metal and less plastic, these do give me some confidence when adjusting the main overhead band — instead of the vague sliding, we are treated to a confident system of clicks. This also helps in remembering where your sweet spot is — 3 clicks on each side, for example. I’m glad to see that the forks attaching the headband to the earcups are designs to reduce tension. See, whenever you put on a pair of headphones, you have to stretch them slightly, but if the parts that stretch aren’t really designed to hold tension, eventually they will break. It’s called failure by fatigue, and it’s taught first year in every Engineering school in the world. I previously had a pair of headphones break at that point when a plastic peg simply snapped. Fortunately, the engineers at Audio-Technica decide to let the headband carry the tension, and everything else stays rigid or pivots on a hinge, as it’s designed to do.
Price/Value: Retailing for over $200, they’re expensive, and not for the casual user. Still, if I feel that most commuters and frequent air travelers will be happy to spend for something that finally ticks those boxes. While I’m happy with them now, the real test will come down the road. In other words, if they break in a year’s time, they will officially be the most expensive headphones I’ve ever owned.
I should also note a bit of cleverness in the design of these headphones: the battery that powers the active noise cancelation is concealed beneath the forks, and simply popped on the side of the ear cup. This helps keep everything streamline and reduces the profile of the headphones, making them slimmer and more attractive. Also, the battery slides in at an angle into a narrow channel, instead of the typical cavity with a door and those stupid springs like you find over every remote control, for example. It’s hard to explain, but trust me, it’s clever.
The jack for the detachable cord is set rather deep into the left ear cup, which means that it won’t get snagged so easily, I hope. That’s a good idea.
Overall, these are awesome. They sound great, have brilliant noise reduction, and come with a number of clever engineering features. With any luck I’ll be using these for years to come, and will be one of the thousand+ positive reviews on Amazon. However, if you have a massive head (or ears), these might not fit you. And if you’re like me, you’ll constantly be wanting more, making the lack of a volume control apparent. No one likes taking their iPod out of pocket on the subway so frequently, right?