Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Noise-Canceling Headphones Page 3

The Short Form
Price $220 / audio-technica.com / 330-686-2600
Snapshot
These premium-grade noise-canceling headphones deliver accurate, detailed sound at an attractive price.
Plus
•Outstanding midrange and high-frequency clarity •Excellent spatial detail •Operates without battery power if necessary
Minus
•Could use more bass impact
Key Features
•Large-aperture 40-mm drivers with neodymium magnets •Flat-folding design for portability •Hard carry case •1.6-meter (5.2-foot) headphone cord •Adapters for airline and home component use •Runs on a single AAA battery •Weight: 7.1 oz (without cable and battery)

When I switched over to Giles and George Martin's amazing audiophile mashup of classic Beatles hits on Love, I was blown away by the detail in the guitar and percussion taps that start off the "Blackbird"/"Yesterday" medley and by the degree of intonation and detail revealed in Paul McCartney's vocals. The massed strings in the CD remix of the Mercury Living Presence recording of Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 played back with a kind of rich body that at least began to evoke the real thing - and again, with a spaciousness that gave the individual sections and instruments an extra measure of three-dimensional realism. The solo oboe had that gorgeous reedy quality that gives the instrument its signature sound but is so often lost in electronic reproduction. As an added bonus, these large headphones proved surprisingly efficient: I was able to drive them to pretty high volume, and get pretty good dynamic peaks, from a low-power flash-memory music player.

Aside from matters of comfort, about the only time I longed to return to my QC 3s was when the big timpani came in on the Hanson symphony - or, say, when I paid close attention to the lone string bass that accompanies Christy Baron's "Ain't No Sunshine" vocal on the Chesky disc. The little bump that Bose programs into the upper bass may not be accurate, but - in headphones, anyway - it massages the eardrum in a most satisfying way and adds some much-needed body to instruments in the lower register. No headphones can really be expected to produce low bass, but when I listened to the Hanson recording on the Bose phones, there was that distinct flavor of drum echo behind some lightly struck kettledrums - whereas on the A-Ts, the sound could have been mistaken for plucked string bass. And when I really was hearing plucked string bass on various jazz recordings through the Bose phones, there was extra impact and body that gave at least an illusion of deeper bass and, perhaps more important, kept me from yearning for more. Don't get me wrong: What was there in the A-Ts was extremely detailed and accurate, but it didn't have the full presence of the QC 3s.

Beyond sound quality, I found both headsets to be about equal in their ability to quash typical background noise on commuter trains and planes I traveled on. The A-Ts, with their closed-ear design, provided better passive noise-reduction - but when turned on, both sets provided an essentially quiet canvas from which the music flowed, and they're considerably better than several less expensive noise-canceling phones I've auditioned.

BOTTOM LINE Okay, all you inveterate and deep-pocketed iPod fanatics: It's time to line up and pick your Kool-Aid. Will it be the Bose QuietComforts, with their lightweight on-ear design and perhaps less detailed and revealing yet ultimately more balanced and lush sound? Or will you opt for the Audio-Technica QuietPoints, with their more highly detailed and often exhilarating, purist audiophile approach? Not to mention their considerably more attractive price tag. Don't ask me to pick for you - I could no more do that than select your lunch menu. (Will that be the corned beef or the salad, sir?) But what I can say is that if you're in the market for high-quality commuter headphones, both these models are worth your strong consideration and audition. It may come down to what feels comfortable on your head or what just feels right to your ear. But in the end, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 is a serious piece of work at a seriously good price.

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