The headphones have a symmetrical 'Y' design. This means the cord runs from the plug up to a neck split, then forks off into equal lengths, ending in the ear buds. The headphones feature three different sizes of gray, soft plastic sleeves.
The control pendant is a few inches from the plug, and will safely reach your front pocket if you want to tuck it away. The pendant will let you turn the active noise cancellation feature on and off. When cancellation is on, the LED next to the power switch will glow red.
The cord ends in a standard 1/8-inch plug. The plug has a substantial cord guard and the thick cord should resist wear and tear better than thinner cords.
Inside the ATH-ANC3 box, you'll find the headphones, a AA battery, an airplane adapter, two extra pairs of sleeves, and an extension cord.
While there are a few areas on the ATH-ANC3 headphones that could become durability issues, for the most part they seem solid. One of the main areas we see problems in other headphones is where the cord connects to the plug (the cord can bend sharply at that junction if the headphones don't have some kind of guard.
There isn't much about the ATH-ANC3 headphones that are noteworthy in terms of aesthetics. First of all, there's never much space on in-ear headphones to do anything particularly eye-catchingly beautiful. The ATH-ANC3 headphones come in white and black, but we'd actually recommend the black ones for optimal aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, thanks to Apple, white in-ear headphones are all being lumped into a 'standard headphones' label. While this means you'll be following a mainstream aesthetic, it also means everyone will assume you're wearing packed-in iPod headphones and no one will give your brand new $170 headphones a second glance. Again, however, this phenomena is something all in-ear headphones have to suffer through, since they're too small to make any real aesthetic statement.
The one (potential) aesthetic issue with the ATH-ANC3 headphones is the noise cancellation control pendant. At best, you just plop it in your pocket, which is the optimal route. At worst, you have a bulky control pendant clipped to your lapel or -- heaven forbid -- you walk around with a bit of plastic thumping against your leg. Although it's a bit big, to be fair, we really can't see the pendant shrinking much while maintaining its functionality or space for the battery. Chances are, however, the pendant will find its way safely into your pocket, leaving you with an attractive, clean-looking pair of in-ears.The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones prove that combining two good things often isn't the best idea. By pairing the in-ear design with active cancellation, the headphones actually perform worse than either a typical active-canceller or in-ear headphone. Despite this and some other audio performance issues, we think the ATH-ANC3s might be good for drum fans, or people that like a deep, slightly tubby bass. The ATH-ANC3 headphones currrently retail for $170. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones didn't have the best frequency response score. As you can see, the bass is a bit over-emphasized. While listening, we found the bass often came close to sounding muddy, but never quite got there. Also, it looks like there's another significant peak around 7kHz, which is the attack (the initial sound of impact) of most drums. While we didn't particularly mind this boost, we can see how some would think the drums sound a bit too loud. After the 7kHz range, the graph drops off sharply, only to hike back up again in the 15kHz range, which should give a boost to cymbals.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones certainly can't be accused of having a flat response curve. Unlike many of the other headphones below, the over-emphasized frequencies seem to be deliberate. That being said, the boosts are a bit over-zealous. We tend to favor a flat response curve, since it provides listeners with the closest representation of their music (it also doesn't assume the type of music you prefer listening to). If you like drums & bass music, the ATH-ANC3 headphones are good headphones for you.
If you want a flatter response, check out the 6isolators, which had a good score for a pair of in-ears. The Sennheiser MM 50 iPs feature a similar response curve to the ATH-ANC3 headphones, but don't emphasize the 7kHz range as much.
Bearing in mind that anything above 3% is noticeable, and that many good headphones hover very close to the zero line, it's clear the ATH-ANC3 headphones have a bit of a distortion problem. The majority of distortion is present for frequencies above the 1kHz mark. Given the over-emphasized bass, we're surprised to see the lower end is home to the lowest distortion levels.
This isnt' necessarily surprising; out of all the headphones we've tested, active-cancellers have a disproportionately higher chance of having issues with distortion. This makes sense when you consider that active cancellation works by playing back sound that has nothing to do with the music. Active cancellation can do a lot of things to mess with how your music sounds.
Being the curious cats we are, we also tested the ATH-ANC3 headphones with their active cancellation turned off. While there's significantly less distortion, there's still more than we typically see.
Given its poor performance, it's evident the ATH-ANC3 headphones don't compare well on this test. The Sennheiser MM 50 iP headphones are almost immaculate when it comes to distortion, and is currently the site leader on low distortion. Other active noise cancellers, like the Bose QC2 and Aurvana X-Fi headphones also had good distortion scores.
The ATH-ANC3 headphones had pretty good tracking. As you can see, other than a few dips and peaks in the mid that are on the magnitude of a few decibels each, the line stays reasonably straight the entire time. Towards the end the graph gets a bit jagged, which is typical. Overall, the ATH-ANC3s are well balanced, but not perfect.
The ATH-ANC3 headphones scored in the middle of the pack here, but they're still in good shape in terms of usability. If you're looking for really top-of-the-line tracking, the 6isolators are about as close to balanced as you can get.
We were able to squeeze 113dB from the ATH-ANC3 headphones before the sound became a questionable quality. This is a fine output level. We typically award maximum points to headphones capable of 120 dB, but any more than that is overkill unless you have/want a hearing problem.
We found that flipping noise cancellation on and off doesn't make a significant difference in the amount of sound blocked out. The place where you'll see the biggest improvement is with lower frequencies, with no real noticeable difference towards the high end.
The ATH-ANC3 headphones actually did worse on isolation that the other comparison headphones. Judging from our test results so far, active noise cancellation is great for over-ear or on-ear headphones. Active cancellation is inferior, however, to a good set of in-ears. Apparently the best way to block out noise at the moment is by plugging your ears.
It seems that, by employing active cancellation, the ATH-ANC3s have sacrificed some of the isolation that comes from solidly plugging up the ear. If you're looking for good active cancellation, stick to over-ear headphones with non-cloth ear cup pads. The non-cloth cup pads will provide a good seal with your head, provide a larger sound stage, and the active cancellation will often have a significant impact. If you're looking for the best isolation possible, go for in-ears with multi-flanged sleeves (triple-flanged will have the silhouette of a Christmas tree).
The ATH-ANC3 headphones aren't the best headphones for keeping your music to yourself. They actually scored lower than the other in-ears we've reviewed, but above the typical pair of on-ears or over-ears. They aren't terrible at controlling leakage, however. If you were sitting next to someone on a bus or train, chances are the ambiance will drown out most of the playback that does escape. If you're in a quiet place like a library or museum, chances are you'll be leaking more sound than you'd like.
For this and the following score, we customize the headphones to best suit our heads, then give them a wear. We highly recommend wearing any set of headphones for at least an hour, if not the entire duration of a typical listening session, before you decide to keep them.
In general, the ATH-ANC3 headphones felt about as comfortable as the average, soft-plastic-sleeve-having set of in-ears. The sleeves themselves aren't particularly rigid, so they didn't create much pressure, and the three sizes should help quite a few people get a good fit.
Also, joggers will rejoice to find out that these headphones will stay in while they train for their marathon, but they might find the control pendant to be annoying. Actually, we think the ATH-ANC3 headphones are actually better for joggers than typical in-ears: if you leave active cancellation off, If you do plan on wearing noise-cancelling, in-ear headphones while you're out on the street, be sure to be careful the world outside is filled with dangerous cars, murderous trains, and Lovecraftian horrors waiting to spring on the headphone-wearing unfortunate.
After six-hour session, our opinions towards the ATH-ANC3 headphones didn't change much. Typically in-ear headphones with soft plastic sleeves are simply not hard enough to make you feel overly uncomfortable (above and beyond the 'I have stuff in my ears' discomfort).
The ATH-ANC3 headphones measure about 3 feet, 9 and 3/8 inches (1.15m) from cord guard to cord guard. This is a good length for a set of in-ears, and should be enough to reach your jeans pocket, even if you have a particularly long torso. Attach the included extension cord and suddenly you've got a full 5 feet, 8 and 9/16 inches (1.74m). This is one of the longest cords we've seen on a pair of in-ears.
The ATH-ANC3 headphones aren't the most customizable headphones we've come across. Typically in-ear headphones can get a good score here by adding a decent selection of sleeves. The ATH-ANC3 has a set of small, medium, and large sleeves, which should provide a good chunk of users with a fit. Some other headphones, however, like the Etymotic Research ER6is, or Shure SE210s came with quite a few sleeves of different shapes and sizes.
As a set of in-ear headphones, the ATH-ANC3s are far more portable than the average pair of over-ears or on-ears. They aren't, however, more portable then one of their more typical in-ear brethren. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the control pendant is a bit bulky. If we were to measure the portability of each pair of headphones based solely on volume, the ATH-ANC3s' pendant would half their score. As it is, even though they're one of the lesser-portable sets of in-ears, they're still really portable.
The ATH-ANC3 headphones don't provide users with many tools or options for cleaning or maintenance. We've seen some in-ears come with cleaning tools, or replaceable nozzle guards (a wax insert to keep your own, grosser version out of there). The only option you have is to remove the sleeves, which is a standard feature on in-ears.
While the active noise cancellation feature requires a single AAA battery to operate, the headphones will work as headphones even if there's no battery inserted. This is far, far preferable to Bose or Sony offerings, which won't play back music without the battery.
Active Noise Cancellation
The ATH-ANC3 headphones' most interesting feature is their noise cancellation. Typically active noise cancellation has been the territory of over-ear or on-ear headphones since they have inferior passive noise cancellation (they don't plug your ears). The active cancellation is controlled via the in-line pendant. Unlike many other active-cancellers, the ATH-ANC3 headphones can switch their cancellation feature on and off via the appropriately labeled switch. To the power switch's right is an LED that will glow red when cancellation is turned on. To the power switch's left is the MONITOR button, which, contrary to its all-caps spelling would indicate, will quiet your music and turn off active cancellation for the duration its pressed.
At $170, the ATH-ANC3 headphones are a bit on the pricey side. We wouldn't necessarily recommend the ATH-ANC3 headphones to people who are looking for active cancellation, since the feature honestly doesn't do much. We would, however, recommend anyone who likes drum-and-bass-heavy music to at least give these a shot.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones are an interesting set of in-ears. They didn't sparkle on our audio tests, they're more versatile than the average set of in-ears, and they'd probably be better off without their main feature. Though they're far from perfect, the ATH-ANC3 headphones are by no means a pair of headphones you should totally discount when you're looking for a new set of in-ears. We've said it a few times in the review, but we can really see the ATH-ANC3s being enjoyed by fans of drums & bass, or other genres that focus on those instruments. Regardless, we think they're worth a listen. Also, if you're a jogger but want to hear those oncoming trucks and trains, the ATH-ANC3s are a pair of in-ears that won't fall out easily but will still let you hear a great deal of outside noise.
Meet the tester
Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.
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