Review: Denon AH-NC800 active noise canceling headphones

Frequent travelers almost always have a couple of gadgets they consider a “must have” in their technology arsenal – and noise canceling headphones are almost always high on that list. Walk through any premium class cabin, and you’ll see row after row of people blocking out the noise of air travel.

In this review, we’ll take a closer look at a pair of headphones from audio experts Denon. Their AH-NC800 noise canceling headphones also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company, making one of the oldest names in the industry.

The headphones are active noise canceling – which means they use microphones and special circuitry to listen to outside noise, and actually cancel it out with “anti-noise”. By creating an opposite audio signal, your music or other audio source is combined, and in an ideal situation, the only remaining noise is what you actually want to hear – blocking jet engines, crying babies and your husband or wife.

Before we go on – let me point out that these are by no means budget friendly headphones. With a retail price of just under $350, these are the headphones you buy when you really want to appreciate your music, and get rid of noise. If you are used to traveling with $2 headphones, you’ll either need to reconsider your needs, or keep suffering.Hardware

The AH-NC800’s come in an attractive plastic case, with plenty of mentions of the 100 year anniversary of the company. Inside the box are the headphones, a hard-shell carrying case, 2 audio cables, an airplane adapter plug and a AAA battery.

The AH-NC800’s run off a single battery, and the estimated lifespan of a single battery is about 40 hours. As can be expected from a pair of premium headphones, the AH-NC800’s will work with or without a battery, which means you don’t end up without music on a long flight if your battery dies.

The headphones fold up onto a neat little unit, flat enough to pack away in your carry-on. The carrying case has a pouch for the various cables, and enough room on the outside to store your media player.

Noise canceling comes from a system not found on most other headphones. Inside the AH-NC800’s are two microphones – one to pick up outside noise, and one that actually picks up noise from within the headphones themselves. These two technologies make it possible to block things like engine noise, but even things like vibrations from your airplane seat, and even cord vibrations.

Noise cancellation

Of course, the big question is whether these nifty technologies actually work in real life. Thankfully, they do work – just not as effective as some other products on the market. That said – all is not lost, because the AH-NC800’s excel at two things no other headphones on the market get close to – comfort and audio quality. Put simply, the Denon AH-NC800’s are the most comfortable on-ear headphones I’ve ever tested. Audio quality when used with and without the noise cancellation feature is also excellent.

On paper, the AH-NC800’s promise a 99% reduction in noise. This number is based off the combination of physical noise reduction (earpads) and active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the actual number for the noise reduction is not published anywhere.

Sound quality

When the cancellation circuit is on, there is no evidence of the “hiss” you often get on other brands. One option on the active noise cancellation feature is an audio restoration switch, but even after trying a variety of compressed and uncompressed audio, I could not notice a single difference in sound quality.

Bass is rich, and as long as the quality of the sound you feed the headphones is decent, what you hear will be excellent too.

Performance on the road

Travel with the AH-NC800’s is obviously where they’ll be in their element. The entire package of headphones, a battery and cables weighs just under 13 ounces (368 grams). With enough battery life for several long-haul flights, you really only need to worry about a single backup battery to keep you going for weeks.

The audio cable can be removed, which makes it possible to sleep on the plane with the headphones on, and since they are mighty comfortable, keeping them on for an 18 hour flight shouldn’t be a big problem. In my experience, it does help to take them off once an hour to let your ears cool down.


The MSRP for the Denon AH-NC800’s is $349.99, but you can find them online for around $300. I always have a hard time recommending products like this when the price is this high, but you really can’t go wrong with a good pair of noise canceling headphones. Even though the AH-NC800’s may lack a bit in the noise canceling department, they more than make up for this in comfort and sound quality. Ideally, when spending this much on headphones, you’ll visit your local audio dealer and take the headphones for a spin before investing in them.

Warranty on the AH-NC800’s is one year, and Denon has a global network of customer service centers. You’ll find the headphones and a list of retail stores and online dealers at

Gadling gear review – Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 noise canceling headphones

In one of the final Gadling gear reviews of 2009, I’ll show off the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 noise canceling headphones. The ATH-ANC3’s use active noise cancellation to drown out the noise around you. The exact technology behind noise cancellation is pretty complicated, but all you need to know is that these headphones use tiny microphones to listen to the sounds around you, and use something called “antinoise” to cancel out engine noise, crying babies and nagging seatmates.

The ATH-ANC3’s consist of a small control box, a regular 3.5mm headphone jack and 2 earpieces. The earpieces are slightly larger than “normal” earphones, but are extremely comfortable. Included with the package are 2 additional sets of replacement ear-gels, so you’ll always be able to find the perfect fit.

Since the earpieces are “in-ear”, they provide a very good sound seal, which is the first level of defense against unwanted noise. Even when not powered on, the headphones block out a considerable amount of sound. The control pod houses a single AAA battery (one is included in the box). The best part of the electronics is that the headphone still work when the battery dies. This means you won’t lose your music if you forget to bring a spare battery.

Controls on the pod are simple – power and monitor. The monitor button allows you to listen to the outside noise, without having to remove the headphones. This is of course perfect if you need to listen to a cabin announcement.

Audio performance from the QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 headphones is quite simply spectacular. Music sounds vibrant, with plenty of bass. When you enable the noise cancellation circuit, you obviously hear a minor reduction in sound quality, but unlike with some other headphones, this reduction is very minor. In addition to this, the ATH-ANC3’s produce virtually no background “hiss”, something many other noise canceling headphones suffer from.

The noise cancellation rating from Audio-Technica is 20dB, or up to 90%. While the ATH-ANC3’s may not kill all engine noise on your flight, they will greatly reduce it, to the point where your flight (and music) becomes much more comfortable.

The headphones come in a very nice hard carrying pouch. Included in the package is a half meter extension cable, airplane jack adapter, a AAA battery and an assortment of replacement earpieces.

Final thoughts

When you start shopping for noise canceling headphones, you need to make several choices – you can go with passive headphones (that only isolate the noise), you can pick large on-ear headphones, or in-ear ones like the ATH-ANC3’s. The advantage of in-ear headphones is that they work well for side sleepers making it possible to take a nap on your flight.

The sound quality of the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC3 headphones is fantastic, as its ability to cancel outside noise. But perhaps its best feature is the price – the MSRP (from Audio-Technica) is $169.95, but smart shoppers can often find them for as low as $50. We have regularly featured them as one of our daily deals here on Gadling.

To be honest – even at the $170 price point, these headphones are very much worth it. They are compact, run forever off a single battery, and produce exceptional noise cancellation. But when you find them at $50, you are practically stealing them.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 product page


Gadling gear review – Able Planet Clear Harmony noise canceling headphones

Regular travelers will know that a well performing pair of noise canceling headphones are an integral part of a road warrior arsenal. Good headphones block out engine noise, seatmates, crying babies and flight attendants. In recent years. the noise canceling technology inside these headphones has improved to the point where they can cancel out almost all the outside noise. Flying in peace has never been easier.

In this Gadling gear review, we’ll look at the Able Planet Clear Harmony noise canceling headphones. Able Planet may not be the largest manufacturer of headphones, but they produce a very well rated lineup of headphones, including several active noise canceling models.

The technology behind active noise cancellation

Active noise canceling technology works by listening to the noise around your head, and producing anti-noise. By canceling out the waveforms picked up by your ears, you can actually make the noise go away. If you have never worn a pair of active noise canceling headphones, your first experience with them will be awesome.

The Clear Harmony headphones are the top of the line headphones from Able Planet. They come in a very nice sturdy carrying case, and include an audio cable with volume control, dual plug adapter, 1/4″ adapter and batteries.

The headphones themselves are very comfortable – a padded leather headband and earpieces make for a really good fit. On the left earpiece, you’ll find a battery cover (the headphones take 2 AAA batteries), a power switch with green LED indicator and the 3.5mm audio input.

One of the first features I need to point out is that the headphones work when the batteries are empty or the headphones are turned off. This is perfect when you run out of power halfway over the ocean, or when you want to use them during takeoff and landing.

Audio performance

Audio is the next feature that deserves some attention – the Clear Harmony headphones sound absolutely fantastic. Able Planet clearly spent as much time on the noise cancellation as they did on making sure the audio sounded good. Even with the noise cancellation circuit turned on, bass is nice and powerful, and there is little to no “hiss” as found on older generation noise canceling headphones.

Noise cancellation

Now on to the noise cancellation itself; it is good, but not great. I compared the Clear Harmony headphones with the Bose QC2 and QC15 headphones, and the Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 active noise canceling headphones. Sadly, they did not perform as well as any of these competitors. That said – their audio quality was sufficient for me to still enjoy listening to them.

The Able Planet Clear Harmony headphones come with a $299.99 price tag. This is 4 cents more than the retail price of the newest Bose headphones, the Quiet Comfort 15’s.

Thankfully there is good news as well – the Clear Harmony headphones can be found online for as little as $210 – which
suddenly makes them a tremendous good deal.

Final thoughts

Despite the fact that their noise cancellation is weaker than the competition, the Able Planet Clear Harmony headphones make up for this shortcoming with some fantastic audio. The package itself is also great – a good study carrying case and volume control audio cable complete the package.

All in all, I’m happy to recommend the Clear Harmony headphones to anyone looking for an affordable pair of noise canceling headphones, without breaking the bank. You can read more about the Able Planet Clear Harmony headphones at the web site of the manufacturer.

Noise Cancellation Headphone Review: Bose vs. Audio-Technica (And You’ll be Surprised Who Wins!)

For a long time now, Bose has been the king of noise canceling headphones. Walk through any First Class cabin and 90% of the passengers have a Bose firmly attached to their ears, adding just one more layer of bliss to their already envious levels of comfort. For those of us stuck in Coach, this was just one more reason to hate them.

Of course, Bose headphones are the one slice of First Class comfort which those of us slumming in Coach can actually take advantage of. Ironically, they are so expensive ($299) that if one can afford a Bose, one can probably afford First Class.

This is no longer the case.

Whereas Bose was once the only headphones to consider, other manufacturers have finally caught up with the technology and now promise comparable products at cheaper prices.

But can they compete with the Bose legacy?

I was determined to find out. And so, I recently took to the air with $500 of noise canceling headphones in my carryon; a $299 Bose QuietComfort 2 and a $199 Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7.

I had picked the Bose QuietComfort 2 instead of the more recently released QuietComfort 3 because of numerous reviews I had read stating that the QuietComfort 2 was actually a better product than its successor–a headphone which doesn’t completely cover the ears.

I had chosen the Audio-Technica based upon an article in Wired Magazine promising how they had outperformed the Bose QuietComfort 2–a practically sacrilegious statement in the world of noise canceling headphones!

A few weeks ago, I boarded a flight to Washington D.C. and tried them both out, quickly becoming the envy of my fellow Coach passengers as I proceeded to alternate wearing them throughout the flight.

At first glance, both headphones appear almost exactly alike. Both come with a sturdy carrying case, a gold-plated airline adapter, a gold-plated stereo adapter, a 1.6 m connector cable, and a mesh pocket Velcroed into the interior of the carrying case. It was actually very odd how remarkably similar both packages are. The only difference is that the Bose includes an extension cord and a strap for the carrying case. Otherwise, if I’m not careful I might accidentally take my girlfriend’s Bose on my next trip thinking it was my Audio-Technica.

The actual design of the headphones is very similar as well. Both cover the entire ear and both fold nice and flat for storage. The Bose is just slightly lighter at 6.9 oz. versus 7.1 oz. for the Audio-Technica. Although this is hardly enough to make a difference, the Bose does sit a little lighter on my head and is a little more comfortable than the Audio-Technica. The real difference, however, is the leather-covered ear cap cushions. The leather is soft and nice on the Audio-Technica, but somehow crosses into the realm of sublime and caressing with the Bose. I don’t know how they treat their leather over at the Bose factory, but baby is it smooth!

At this point, before actually flipping the switch on the headphones, the Bose had a slight edge over the Audio-Technica. Things started to change, however, once I turned on the headphones. While Bose has a great reputation for sound, the heritage of Audio-Technica is in professional recording studios where the world’s most talented musicians regularly use their products. This reputation for quality sound was quickly evident the moment I plugged the headphones into my stereo at home. I decided to test them out with Dave Brubeck’s seminal work, Time Out–the best selling jazz album of all time. The sound was amazing. The sax floated ever so gently through the headphones while the snare drums and percussion barreled in sharp and clear.

The Bose were just a slight step behind, not quite as tight, a little too much boom and bass, but still a rather good performance. There was, however, a much larger difference in sound quality when I plugged in something a little harder: Irish punk band, Flogging Molly. The Audio-Technica remained exceptional, capturing the swinging shifts between Irish instrumental and punk rock cacophony. The Bose, however, tended to mute the shifts and produced a booming irritance which overwhelmed the notes and made the CD sound like it was mixed in a garage somewhere.

With such extreme notes and more powerful music, the Audio-Technica clearly dominated the Bose. Much of this edge, however, nearly disappeared when I plugged into my iPod where MP3 music files are of lesser quality than CDs. The Audio-Technica was still superior interpreting the MP3 files, but the Bose wasn’t too far behind.

Well, this is all great, but the real reason most people buy noise cancellation headphones is to simply cancel noise. Before I get into this aspect of the headphones, however, let’s spend a moment discussing what, exactly, “noise cancellation” means.

Many people assume that such a device completely cancels all surrounding sound as though the headphone user has suddenly found himself in the vacuum of outer space. This is not the case. Noise cancellation is based upon the theory that sound can be cancelled by creating a sound wave exactly opposite of the one being heard. The new sound wave simply cancels out the existing one. This is exactly what noise cancellation headphones do. A small microphone picks up incoming noise and then cancels it out by generating an opposite sound wave.

The problem is that a pair of headphones, no matter how advanced, cannot predict the next sound wave coming its way. As a result, the canceling sound wave is always a fraction behind the actual noise itself. Constant noise that doesn’t change pitch, however, can be negated much easier since the wave remains the same for extended periods of time–like a plane engine, for example.

So what this means is that noise cancellation headphones do not remove all sounds, just constant ones like the humming of an airplane engine while in flight. You’ll still hear that crying baby and the flight attendant taking drink orders, but these sounds will be greatly muffled. Turn on some music (Flogging Molly!), however, and it all disappears.

And so, I spent most of my flight to Washington DC taking off one pair of headphones and putting on the other. It didn’t take me long, however, to determine which pair knocked out the most ambient noise. Yes folks, it was the Audio-Technica. Not only do these little wonders provide superior sound quality but they also kicked some Bose butt in the noise cancellation category. And as if this wasn’t enough, the Audio-Technicas are also $100 cheaper.

Sorry Bose, but you’ve been dethroned!