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They may be boxy, but these headphones are very well designed.

As far as general design features go, these cans have a detachable 3.5mm cable (very important for long-term durability), an in-line remote for smartphone use, and two swappable bands for differently-sized noggins. For those of you who like to clean your headphones religiously, the ear pads are secured magnetically, so you don't have to worry about accidentally tearing or otherwise breaking them when you pop them off.

Probably the most important design feature is the active noise cancellation unit, which is pretty special: equipped with the knowledge that comes from the company's experience in manufacturing and testing units for auto interiors, Harman gave these cans a two-microphone system to boost the active destruction of outside noise. Where most noise-cancelling headphones have only one microphone on the outside of the ear cups, Harman Kardon added another microphone inside for a better recording of which sounds to actively attenuate. The result is an efficient noise cancellation unit, one that effectively eliminated a good bit of background noise from the show floor. If you're worried about your headphones cutting out when they run out of batteries, don't worry: you can still listen to your music, but just without the noise cancellation.

These should be quite effective at home or on a commute.

Harman splits its target audience of headphone buyers between three separate brands, and that allows for tailor-made frequency responses for different crowds. AKG is prized for offering flat frequency responses for musicians and producers with headphones like their K701s, JBL makes headphones for the younger crowd that prefers a frequency response more along the lines of an equal loudness contour, and the Harman Kardon headphones are "somewhere in between." And it makes sense: if the active noise-cancellation unit does get rid of a ton of outside noise, listeners will not need to crank the volume, and with their signal intensity lowered, the corresponding equal loudness contour will be flatter (i.e. all frequencies output at relatively the same volume).

While the veracity of this claim has yet to be verified, we'll have to report back when we've run these headphones through the rigors of our testing procedure for exact data. Considering the price of the unit, the sound performance should play a major role in the potential marketability of the headphones for the long term, but they should see some exposure as a more comfortable alternative to Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

A very swank and well-engineered set of high-end portable headphones,

Despite our lack of lab-collected data, the features on Harman Kardon's new noise-cancelling headphones alone should be enough to warrant a serious look. By extending the life of the headphones by adding important durability features like a removable/replaceable cable, these cans should stand the test of time with regular use.

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We'll have to get down and dirty with the details of the exact performance points once we've gotten a pair of these bad boys in the lab. However, we do feel confident in reporting that the active noise cancellation unit will probably be notable among other units in its price category.

With a slick design, comfort, and the elimination of some of the practical use problems of your garden-variety active noise canceling headphones, Harman Kardon's new NC Headphones should make a statement in 2013 as they start rolling out to stores. They are definitely geared towards the high-tech smartphone user with some cash to burn, but if the audio performance ends up fitting the price tag, this could be a smart investment for your personal use.

If you weren't already aware, Harman is the parent company of three smaller audio companies: JBL, AKG, and Harman Kardon. While most of what we've covered in the past is from the studio-oriented AKG line, CES 2013 afforded us a look at some rather plush active noise-cancelling headphones from the Harman Kardon line.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


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.

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