Noise-Cancelling Headphone Review: Audio-Technica ATH ANC23, Phiaton PS 20 NC, Sennheiser CXC 700 Page 2

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23

($99, audio-technica.com)

Listing for less than $100 and currently selling for about $55 on Amazon, the ATH-ANC23 seems like an incredible bargain in a noise-cancelling headphone. That said, it’s the least technically or stylistically interesting of the three. The NC electronics are packed in a little rectangular box with just an on/off switch, and an LED that tells you when the noise cancelling is on. The ATH-ANC23 comes with three sizes of rubber tips as well as Comply foam tips, and it’s available in black or white.

Despite its low cost, the ATH-ANC23 turned out to be the panelists’ overall favorite. Even though Geoff found all the tips too large, he still felt that the ATH-ANC23 delivered “good bass and somewhat coarse but not objectionable treble.” Lauren was similarly positive overall, complaining about a “recessed midrange” but liking the lows and highs.

In my longer listening sessions, I ended up agreeing with Geoff’s assessment of the treble, finding it overly crisp and rather unrefined. I got full-sounding yet well-controlled bass, although I had to use the biggest of the rubber tips and stuff them firmly into my ears to get good bass response. With that done, the bass-to-mids-to-treble balance sounded just right and voices of all sorts sounded very smooth.

The added isolation from the noise-cancelling circuit was clearly perceptible. It even made light acoustic guitar recordings such as Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine’s Twin House quite listenable, which they generally aren’t through standard IEMs. My measurements showed that the NC delivered an improvement of -3 to -6 dB from about 100 Hz to 1 kHz and -5 to -17 dB from 1 to 1.7 kHz. (That big reduction at 5.5 kHz is a measurement anomaly — noise-cancellation technology typically doesn’t work at such high frequencies.)

The ATH-ANC23’s frequency response measurement is pretty flat for an IEM. Most of the midrange and treble (1 to 8 kHz) is shelved down about -10 dB from the bass, with little of the rise in response between about 2.5 and 6 kHz that most headphones exhibit. This would suggest that the ATH-ANC23 might sound a little dull, but none of the panelists’ subjective impressions squared with that interpretation.

Distortion is very low, typically 0.4% total harmonic distortion (THD) at 100 dB above 70 Hz, rising to 3.1% at 20 Hz. Impedance is essentially flat at all frequencies: 155 ohms with NC active, 34 ohms with NC off. Average sensitivity from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179 volts RMS signal is good: 105.3.0 dB with NC on, 103.2 dB with NC off.

With its low price, good sound, and effective noise reduction, the ATH-ANC23 is hard to criticize. If you want an affordable IEM to take on your plane trips, this is it.

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