Unlike Bose's noise cancellation headphones, the Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050 will play audio whether they're switched on or not. However, the sound quality when cancellation is off demonstrates why Bose cuts out the signal. It's extremely dull, sounding as though someone's put a thick duvet over a speaker. Volume also diminishes significantly without the power of the AAA batteries to work with.
Flick the switch on and the NC1050 come to life in more than one sense. Volume and clarity increase hugely, resulting in a sound that's lively and dynamic. Top-end punch and presence is particularly impressive, making the Bose QuietComfort 15 sound a little flat and staid in comparison. This energetic treble also avoids sibilance and harshness that bright headphones often suffer from.
This may be in part down to what Able Planet calls its Linx Audio system. Linx Audio "creates high frequency harmonics" to increase clarity, while reducing the distortion effect produced by clipping sources. It's a technology intended for use in hearing aids, but if it brings smoother, more insightful treble to headphones it's more than welcome. Seemingly able to smooth-out challenging sources, like Junior Boys's "ess"-tastic It's All True album, top-end performance like this deserves a clap - given we're dealing with noise cancelling headphones. They're real sibilance-busters.
There are issues, however. Bass is overblown, distracting from the good treble performance and spoiling sonic balance. The Clear Harmony NC1050 are more refined and detailed than the Bose QuietComfort 15 in most respects, but bass bloat means the sound signature is less balanced. More exciting and dynamic, sure, but in the end just as problematic. When the archetype buyer of these headphones is someone looking to relax on a long plane flight, this aggressive bass seems all the more out of place.
And, as such, these headphones are subject to the same comment we have to make about almost all noise cancelling headphones - if you don't need cancellation, better sound is available for less money.
They may be some of the best-sounding noise cancelling headphones we've tried, but a trio of significant issues team up to spoil their chances. Noise cancellation doesn't stand up to Bose's similarly-priced options, the bass is that little bit too keen and - worst of all - they are not protected from mobile phone interference.
The Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1050 demonstrate greater clarity than many rival noise cancelling pairs, suggesting the Linx Audio technology inside isn't pure marketing spiel. However, given their hefty price, these headphones make too many mistakes to earn our recommendation. Cancellation is decent, but doesn't match the best, bass is overblown and mobile interference encroaches upon the sound.