The ATH-ANC40BT ($200) is Audio-Technica’s latest noise-cancelling in-ear monitor headphone. Like many of the active noise-cancelling headphones we’ve reviewed lately, these promise to reduce up to 90 percent of outside noise. The ANC40BT connects to up to two devices simultaneously using Bluetooth 3.0. We found pairing to be quick and easy. The controls, microphone, and battery reside in two pods connected by a thick cable that rests at the base of your neck. Though the “neckbuds” design looks somewhat awkward, it has its benefits: all the heaviest parts of the device are supported by your shoulders, allowing the ANC40BT to pack a larger battery while keeping the actual headphones exceptionally light. Even if we felt a little goofy wearing a gadget necklace, we appreciate the long battery life and comfortable listening experience.
Hardware controls include the standard play/pause/Siri, track change, and volume buttons that we expect. We were disappointed to see that the ANC40BT’s volume controls were not linked to our iPhone, leaving us with two separate volume settings to manage. The control buttons are very close in shape and size; we found ourselves hitting the wrong button fairly often, especially while wearing gloves. Active Noise Cancellation is activated with a relatively large switch; sliding it on reveals a green LED that we feel is superfluous given the large “on” and “off” markings on the side of the pod.
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is this headphone’s flagship feature, promising to “reduce environmental noise by up to 90 percent.” While the ANC40BT’s active noise cancelling works, the 90 percent number may be a bit misleading. Like most other ANC headphones, the ANC40BT is excellent at removing certain frequencies, but not others. The low tones of an airplane engine or subway car are eliminated, but some high frequencies from ambient noise still seem to find their way through. This makes the noise far easier to ignore, but it’s not quite perfect. That said, we were happy with the ANC40BT’s noise-cancelling performance and were happy to find that ANC could be activated without any jarring blips or volume changes. Adding to the ANC40BT’s versatility is that the ANC switch works in wired mode, when music is paused, and even when they’re not connected to a device at all.
Unlike the other noise cancelling headphones we’ve tried, activating ANC on the ANC40BT does not appear to change the sound of the music. In the past, we’ve noted that activating ANC can have the effect of cutting the low end out of your music. Normally we’d be pretty excited about this, but in our testing, we found that Audio-Technica may have made that change from the start.
We initially tested the sound quality of the ANC40BT during long walks outside, alternating between quiet streets and noisy overhead subways. During this testing, we were impressed by the clarity and detail coming out of the ANC40BT, except for a bit of sibilance at higher volumes. It became apparent that the ANC40BT invites you to listen at high volumes because, unfortunately, its sound signature is pretty anemic. When we tested these headphones against other headphones in our stable, from bassy closed-back over-ears to our most neutral IEMs, we found an undeniable lack of low-end frequency response and bass impact in the ANC40BT. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker if you’re using the ANC40BT for travel, but those looking for an general use headphone might want to think twice.
Audio-Technica includes a full complement of accessories to make the ANC40BT an excellent travel companion. A vinyl carrying case, USB charging cable, a flimsy USB analog audio cable, four different sets of ear tips, and an airplane audio adapter are all in the box. It’s worth noting here that the shape of the earbuds appears odd at first, but we found that they nested inside our ears without sticking out — you can actually rest your head against a pillow with these headphones comfortably. We suspect that the airplane accessories, noise-cancelling features, and nap-friendly earbud design signals the best intended use of this headphone — long hours in the air.
We are rarely disappointed in Audio-Technica’s headphones, and these are no exception. Though we were impressed by the overall quality of the ANC40BT, we would have very much preferred some low-end presentation, even if we had to give it up when ANC was activated. The ATH-ANC40BT may not be the best choice for an everyday headphone, but it certainly has a place in your travel bag.
Company and Price
Compatible: Bluetooth 3.0-compatible iOS devices