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.

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!

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.

While the Audio Technica ATH-NC9s were by no means bad performers, we feel their raw performance could have been a lot better were it not for the destructive noise created by their noise canceling. They do a very good job at attenuating ambient noise (which will be discussed below), though their overall frequency response could stand some improvement.

The NC9s are noise cancelers by design, and they do a very solid job of it.

The attenuation of ambient noise is important in blocking out the sounds your headphones aren't creating from those that they are. Not only does this preserve the clarity of your music (or whatever audio content you're jammin' on), it keeps you from needing to crank up the volume to potentially unsafe levels in order to hear everything clearly.

With their noise canceling feature enabled, the NC9s block out between 30 and 20 dB of low frequency sound. With it off, they barely block out anything below 600Hz—so expect to hear people talking. Whether noise cancellation is on or off, the ATH-NC9s block out a decent amount of sound above 1kHz, so most middle and high frequency sounds will be successfully blocked out even with the feature disabled. Our advice? Turn it on when people are talking a lot around you, like when you're on a bus or airplane.

Not terrible, but pretty erratic

As is often the case with noise canceling headphones, the frequency response of the ATH-NC9s proved to be fairly erratic while that feature was enabled. 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.

With it on, however, the bass frequencies are not emphasized with as much power, and the frequency response drops precipitously around 800-900Hz, spiking just after 1000 and around 8kHz. The result is a frequency response that will appear to over- or under-emphasize certain elements of music (depending on what you're listening to), and is more erratic than it ought to be.

Meet the testers

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

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