Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b Review
Top-notch isolators for less
Planes, trains, and automobiles are noisy places to be, and scooping up a set of headphones to make it all go away can be expensive. Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC7b ($199.95) offers to do the job for less—online sale prices bring these down to around $130.
If the everyday clamor is getting you down and your wallet's coming up short, these over-ears are worth a look. Just don't expect exquisite design or pro-grade sound quality. If you're a picky listener, you may want to look elsewhere.
Form & Features
Solid as a rock
The ANC7b's sport a sturdy build. Maybe too sturdy. I didn't know memory foam could be so hard. Good thing these are over-ears! The fit is quite firm too, so the headband won't bother you by sliding out of place. Personally, I think the fit is, again, a little too firm. The vice-like grip makes me feel like Frankenstein's monster, but hey, that's just me and my fat head. The main thing to keep in mind is that the ANC7b isn't a very delicate product. If you hate a snug fit, or if you're searching for plush, luxurious speaker pads to go over your entire ear, keep on shopping.
The design aspects I do like include the sturdy carry case, the easy-to-reach noise cancellation switch, and the removable cable. If you wake up one morning to find your cable riddled with evil-cat-shaped bite marks, you don't need to blow cash on a whole new rig. And not only is the cord removable, but Audio-Technica even provides you with a backup. Users won't find a mic or remote, though, and the large form factor means these aren't the most portable headphones in the world, either. But there's still plenty to like, such as the 1/4" adapter and airplane connector.
Top marks for noise cancellation and low distortion
Listeners of all sorts will appreciate the ANC7b's noise cancelling abilities. Interestingly, these over-ears block more high-end sound with the active noise cancellation (ANC) feature turned off—but if bassy, low-end sounds are plaguing you, you'll want to flip the switch back on. Just take heed: These headphones leak sound, so you may be bothering your neighbors. On the whole, the ANC7b reduces high-pitched irritants like screeching sounds by up to 1/16, and low-end rumbling noises like passing vehicles by up to 1/4.
How does it work? The ANC7b records outside noises with a small microphone. Next, an internal processor emits a signal to combats the incoming frequency—which reduces the unwanted outside noise. This process is what causes the slight pressure in your ears when you turn ANC on.
As for the accompanying sound quality, I've heard much better. Audiophiles will want to run for the hills: With ANC on, Bass is too prominent, muffling the more-delicate high mids on every instrument in the orchestra. Therefore, upper notes on many stringed and brass instruments just don't receive proper emphasis. Additionally, those same underemphasized upper mids sound louder in the right speaker than in the left, though it takes a very practiced ear to notice.
When you turn ANC off, matters worsen. The same imbalance is present across the board, but to a worse degree: Bass is even louder, so upper mids are even softer than before. That means that if the AAA battery dies on you, music will sound all the more muffled and clumsy, thanks to greater loss of detail in the upper midrange.
True, less picky listeners may not find fault with the bass-heavy soundscape. And it also helps that—with or without ANC—music is practically distortion-free. Overall, the ANC7b's time in the lab revealed great noise canceling abilities and average sound quality.
A great buy for some
Due to unimpressive overall sound quality and inferior design, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b (MSRP $199.95) is only right for one kind of buyer: the unfastidious listener in search of budget-friendly peace and quiet over raw performance and luxurious design. If that isn't you, you'd better keep browsing. For everyone else, you can't expect A+ performance on every single front, but the ANC7b does deliver great noise cancellation, distortion-free sound, and a durable package for well under $200—and that's worth a glance.
If you aren't much of a critic and you just want affordable ANC, give these Audio-Technicas a listen. With a quick search online, you can find the over-ear ATH-ANC7b for around just $130.
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