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These versatile cans are only comfortable if you have a small head.

The Clear Harmony NC1050s’ cable is the standard 3.93 foot long affair that is punctuated by a volume dial, with a 1/8th inch termination, but the best part about is that you can swap out 1/8th inch male-to-male cables at will, making the cost of maintenance low, and the chances your headphones will last high. If you elect to use them, the Clear Harmony NC1050s come packaged with an 1/4th inch adapter, and an airplane adapter, allowing a wide range of options for device connectivity. In addition to being able to swap out your cable should it break (or you want a better one), included in the packaging is a 1/4th inch adapter to use these headphones with your home setup though you won't need that much power to drive these cans, and an airplane adapter if you want to use them on a flight. Other than that, there’s really not much else you can do to customize your cans.

These cans are somewhat bulky compared to on-ears, so your mileage may vary.

These cans gently caress your skull if you have a smaller head, but they are rather problematic for listeners with larger noggins. The band does not extend far enough to accommodate heads of larger than average size. This was a common complaint in the office, and we’d advise you to pay special attention to this if you’re aware of having copious amounts of cranium, as the NC1050s will probably not fit you.

Despite the Clear Harmony NC1050s being over-ear cans, they’re somewhat portable, as they come with a carrying case that effectively contains the headphones, their adapters, and cable. Still, these cans are somewhat bulky compared to on-ears, so your mileage may vary.

The NC1050s were decent isolators, but had some issues with frequency response and tracking.

While the packaging heralds an award-winning type of audio technology, we’d like to point out that people listing to vocal or guitar-heavy music will notice a substantial drop in volume of the mid range and high mid range (or the last third of a standard 88 key piano). Simply put, these headphones do not offer the best frequency response for music listening without the noise cancellation enabled, as many of the high notes are muffled to an inappropriate degree. Both mids and high notes are quieted in comparison to the low end if the noise canceling is turned off, and it does so to a degree that goes well outside of our ideal limits.

Simply put, these headphones do not offer the best frequency response for music listening.

With the active noise canceling turned off, there’s a low level of general distortion, and a spike which might be barely audible if you know what you’re looking for. The level of distortion actually improves with the noise canceling turned on. That's right: the distortion is so high that the unit actually cancels some of its own generated noise.

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As for tracking, the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s shift wildly in channel preference all over the full range of frequencies, and it’s to the point where the headphones’ shortcomings are fairly audible. However, it's not all bad: even without turning on the active noise cancellation, the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s block out a fairly high amount of noise for headphones of their type. Turning on the unit will afford you about 10dB more attenuation throughout the low end, which is an entire order of magnitude. Not bad, Able Planet!

The Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s are overpriced headphones.

Despite the marketing surrounding the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s (MSRP $299) having “award winning audio,” we’re not exactly sure for what. With a mediocre-at-best frequency response, disappointing isolation for an active noise cancellation unit, terrible tracking, and high cost, the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s lag far behind even some more budget active noise canceling options.

To their credit, these headphones are not even close to the worst we’ve ever reviewed, as they do offer a relatively low level of distortion, and a merely bad frequency response when the noise canceling is enabled. What makes this especially hard to swallow for prospective buyers is the fact that the sticker price is too high, but that there are loads of headphones that perform better in every category for less money.

But who knows? Maybe you find the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s on sale somewhere, and you’re going on a flight soon, and active noise canceling headphones are a necessity. If you’ve read the review and are fine with their shortcomings, they are certainly better in some aspects than iPod earbuds.

For their price point, the supposed "award-winning" Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050 noise-canceling headphones are grossly overpriced for the kind of performance they offer. While their noise canceling feature should be an optional engagement for listening in noisy environments, it is instead necessary to get performance out of these cans that approaches acceptable. For $299, this should not be the case. The science page is here to explain what the NC1050s do well, and how they fall short.

Could be worse, could be better.

We tested the frequency response of the NC1050s with their noise cancellation feature enabled and disabled. Our frequency response test is the measure of whether a set of headphones over or under-emphasizes any frequencies along the range of audible sound it should be able to comfortably produce.

The Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s struggled to produce a tenable frequency response. Whether or not you are making use of their noise cancelling, they struggle to reproduce an important mid-range of frequencies from around 2kHz to around 6kHz, so music that leans heavily on electric guitar or cymbals will lose 15-25dB of emphasis and sound wrong. Both mids and high notes are quieted in comparison to the low end if the noise canceling is turned off, and it does so to a degree that goes well outside of our ideal limits.

The NC1050s showed off considerable problems with tracking.

Our tracking test reveals the channel preference of a particular set of headphones. Each pair of headphones, be they in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear have two channels: right and left, for each ear. Ideally, they should not have a preference to any channel, but balance sound equally between the two.

The Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050s shift wildly in channel preference all over the full range of frequencies, and it’s to the point where the headphones’ shortcomings are fairly audible (anything above 3dB). While turning on the noise cancellation helps a tiny bit, it doesn’t solve all its problems.

Super-secret scientific tests to follow.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging

@cthomas8888

A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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