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Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 Review

These may not be a fit for audiophiles, but they would work famously on an airplane or subway.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Introduction

Meet the ATH-NC9s: active noise canceling, over-ear headphones from Audio-Technica. While they don’t offer stellar audio performance, they do pass with middling scores and a good level of active noise canceling. Considering that active noise cancellation is technically destructive noise, it’s actually very impressive that Audio-Technica was able to manage the performance given by the ATH-NC9s. They may not be a fit for audiophiles, but they would work famously on an airplane or subway. At an MSRP of $299, you have to be willing to pay if this type of noise canceling is what you want.

Comfort Design & Features

The ATH-NC9s try very hard to be portable; at least they succeed in being comfortable.

When you first place the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9s on your head, you’ll notice that they firmly grip your head, and the band is a little on the difficult side to adjust. Once you get past that small hurdle, these headphones form a good seal, and don’t let go of your noggin. Some discomfort was reported by those with larger heads, but for the most part, no major issues were found.

Having to rely on a battery is a terrible, but necessary evil for headphones that use active noise cancellation.

While over-ear cans are usually not that portable, the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9s come with a carrying case that is… well… not that tiny. In fact, the bulky ear cups of the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9s make them less than ideal to carry around with you, even if you find a place to stow them. Additionally, both of the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9’s 3.93 foot long cables have a 1/8th inch plug, though only one of them has an in-line remote with a mic. For those who are connectively challenged, there are also two adapters: a 1/4th inch adapter, and an airplane adapter that will allow you to sidestep the robbery that is the in-flight movie headphone rental.

Having to rely on a battery is a terrible, but necessary evil for headphones that use active noise cancellation. While the battery didn’t run down in over 28 hours of use at the lab, eventually it will die on you. As with any device that requires batteries to operate, there will be a certain upkeep cost, which should factor into your purchase.

Audio Quality

Good noise canceling, but at the cost of overall sound quality.

Overall, the frequency response of these cans is a little erratic, but for the most part they stay within our ideal limits. By throwing on the noise canceling unit, the response becomes even more erratic than when it is turned off, and some of the bass frequencies are toned down a bit. With the noise cancelling turned off, the bass frequencies are emphasized a little bit more, and some of the higher harmonic frequencies drop off a bit, but you probably won’t notice that unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.

There are a few channel shifts that you will definitely hear, and can get distracting.

Due to the fact that active noise cancellation is technically destructive noise, it’s no surprise that there’s a little bit of distortion added when you flick it on. Headphones that use active noise cancellation circuits typically perform better in many areas when they are actively canceling noise, and the same holds true with the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9s. Still, there are a few channel shifts that you will definitely hear, and can get distracting, especially in the higher end.

When you go out into the world with your music, outside noise is a huge problem that can ruin your experience. Headphones with noise-cancellation circuits like the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9s actively neutralize outside noise. Overall, these cans do a great job of canceling out noise in the low end, and attenuating noise in the high end, so outside noise won’t be quite as annoying. Good job, Audio-Technica!

Conclusion

Considering the pitfalls that commonly plague active noise cancellation headphones, these are a solid set of cans.

If you’ve been looking at active noise cancelling headphones, you’ve likely been disappointed by their poor audio quality in the past. In our testing, we haven’t found a single set of cans that balances noise cancellation and good performance, but the ATH-ANC9s do better than most. There are several reasons why, but for those of you just looking for a set of cans that will make the world around them disappear, there are inherent tradeoffs to this type of technology.

All that being said, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9s make do with their lot, and give their users a notably decent performance at their price point. Unfortunately active noise canceling technology is still a ways away from satisfying audiophiles, especially when they’re outperformed by headphones that are less than half their cost. It’s important to factor in the fact that these headphones are very good at canceling noise, but that means that they have a very specialized use.

Many people want headphones for their commute, and if there’s a bunch of outside noise you’d like to get rid of, the Audio-Technica ATH-NC9s fill that role quite nicely, and without a huge tradeoff in audio quality. Despite their scores, these are not bad headphones by any stretch: they’re great if what you’re looking for is noise cancellation, but that’s it. We’d recommend looking elsewhere if you’re more worried about raw performance.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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