In fact, the design as a whole works brilliantly. I suspect that people with larger ears might find the pads impinging on their earlobes, but I found the ATH-ANC7bs a very comfortable fit, with the single extending metal headband maintaining a secure grip on the head, and the pivoting joints offering enough flexibility to cope with a range of different head shapes. The ear-cups are generously padded, but not mobile ear-saunas, as some closed-back headphones can become. At around 200g the headphones don’t feel at all heavy, and I could happily wear them for three or four hours at a time without any issues with skull-ache or sweaty ears. I wouldn’t have any concerns about taking the ATH-ANC7bs on a transatlantic flight.
The headphones are powered by a single AAA battery, which hides beneath a swivelling cover on the right ear-cup, while you can switch the noise-cancelling effect on and off using a switch on the left. Up to a point, the noise cancelling works even without any music playing through – you can remove the cable altogether if you like – and the headphones will work in passive mode even should the battery run down, though to be honest the drop in volume level is significant enough to make this little more than a last-ditch measure. Hopefully, it’s not one you’ll have to take. Audio-Technica rates the battery life at approximately 40 hours, and I certainly failed to run it down over two four-hour train trips, a three-hour flight and a few hours of listening in-between.
First the good news: the noise cancelling effect is very good. During the flights I had the misfortune to be parked right behind the wing, and with noise-cancelling switched off there was precious little chance of hearing anything worth listening to even with my source switched up to full. Admittedly, this wasn’t totally the fault of the noise level or the isolating characteristics of the physical design. The ATH-ANC7bs have a high impedance of 300 ohms, making them difficult to drive without the amplification provided when you flick the switch to on. With said switch duly flicked, the situation was very different.
The jet noise was mostly cancelled out, and while some vestigial rumble and outside chatter came through, it was reduced to a very manageable, quiet background hum. In fact, I was able to listen to quiet orchestral passages from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde without any difficulty – always a good sign. Well-fitted IEMs might give you slightly more isolation, but not much, and I’d put the ATH-ANC7bs right up there with similar models I’ve tried from Sennheiser and Bose (though to be fair I’ve never given either brand the same sort of rigorous real-world testing).