I’ll be straight with you: much as I like some in-ear headphones, given the choice between listening to a set of IEMs and a pair of proper, full-sized cans, I’d choose the latter every time. However, there are times when that choice isn’t really a choice at all. When you’re travelling, for example, it’s just a non-starter. Sure, you could take your open-back Grado SR-80s or your Sennheiser HD595s on the train, but sound leaks out like crazy and – worse – sound leaks in.
This means you turn the headphones up even louder, and you’re generously sharing your taste in music with every poor soul in the vicinity. Closed-back headphones often do a better job of keeping the sound inside the headphones and attenuating outside noise, but the ones I like best – like BeyerDynamic’s DT770s – tend to be too large for use on the move. In the end, a set of IEMs is the solid, practical choice.
There is a third option, however: active noise-cancelling headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b we’re looking at today. Rather than relying on the physical construction of the headphones to shield the ear from noise, they use a built-in microphone or microphones to sample the external racket, then an integrated processor creates an equal but opposite noise which, added to the signal, cancels it out. It’s an approach that has been used with considerably success by Sennheiser with its NoiseGard line and Bose with its QuietComfort series. AudioTechnica’s QuietPoint range hasn’t been quite so prominent over here, but that’s a situation the Japanese audio specialist hopes will change with this new and improved model, which won an Innovations award at this year’s CES.
As they’re designed primarily for travel use, noise-cancelling headphones need to be compact, and the ATH-ANC7b setup is about as compact as a pair of circumaural (over the ear) cans can get. With the cups twisted downwards they fit into a square-ish rigid carrying case measuring approximately 20 x 21cm and 5.5cm deep. This takes up a spare bit of room in your backpack or hand-luggage, but at just under 500g the weight isn’t extravagant, and there’s enough spare room to cram in your PMP or MP3 player too, provided it’s around the same size as or smaller than an iPod touch.
Supplied accessories include a 6.3mm plug adaptor, airline adaptor and Velcro-ed in accessory pouch plus – as the cable is plugged rather than hard-wired in – a choice of two cables, measuring either 1m or 1.6m. Sometimes you need that extra length when using headphones with a Hi-Fi, TV or PC, but you don’t want to have to drag all that cable around when you’re listening to your PMP on the bus. This setup makes a lot of sense.