ATH-ANC7b Review from Technology Spectator

The droning sounds of aircraft engines and chatter of passengers during business flights are tiring and distracting, but there are solutions to the problem. We conducted extensive in-flight tests of three options to block out these noises.

We tested Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint Active Noise-cancelling Headphones, Logitech’s Ultimate Ears 700 Noise-Isolating Earphones and 3M’s 1100 model Foam Ear Plugs during recent flights between Australia, Japan and South Africa.

An aircraft environment exposes travellers to noise from many sources including other passengers, propulsion systems such as engines, aerodynamic noise from air passing around the aircraft and in-flight announcements.

The following are not audiophile reviews but comparative practical reviews of how well each option stacks up for use by frequent business travellers.

Our test MP3 audio files were from an ABC Classic FM CD, Chillout music CD and Terry Pratchett Audiobooks

Audio-Technica ATH ANC7b QuietPoint Active Noise-cancelling Headphones

Unlike Bose QC15’s these continue to work as normal passive noise blocking over ear headphones when the battery goes flat. They were completely comfortable to wear for long periods such as a 7 hour flight between Cairns and Osaka without being uncomfortable, hot or sweaty.

Noise cancelling is turned on and off via a small switch on the left earpiece. A light next to the switch turns blue to notify flight attendants that is turned on, and so you remember to turn it off when packing it away. Good design means only one AAA battery is required and it slots into the right ear piece.

All of the electronics and noise cancelling circuitry is inside the frame and ear pieces, so a separate bulky attachment isn’t required along the cord.

The over ear design is effective at blocking noise passively. However it means that sleeping is only easy with your head facing forwards. Trying to sleep with your head tilted to the left or right would mean the ear piece would be between your head and the seat.

Logitech’s Ultimate Ears 700 Noise-Isolating Earphones

These have the edge over active noise-cancelling headphones in terms of audio quality. In essence active noise cancelling works by measuring external noise and generating a sound wave to cancel it out. This inevitably leads to slightly less audio quality.

They were just as comfortable to place in our ears for many hours as the foam ear plugs. Being in-ear they can be used to comfortably listen to music, audiobooks or podcasts while your head is resting sideways to nap.

Other benefits include not requiring batteries, light weight, taking up little space in your jacket and a sturdy case to store them in when not being used.

Some noise was blocked effectively due to the passive in-ear design but not the continuously changing whooshing sound of the plane cutting through the atmosphere and engine noise could still be heard.

Earphones such as these are more finicky to take on and off than headphones when other passengers talk to you, or the flight attendant asks you a question about what meal you want.

Accessories and value for money

Since the Audio-Technicas are rigid over the ear headphones they are clearly more bulky and have a case that requires a lot more space than the Ultimate Ears which can fit in a pocket with ease.

While both have a recommended retail price of $249.95, the Audio-Technica box includes a two-prong airline seat socket adaptor whereas the Ultimate Ears do not. The Audio-Technicas include two cable lengths to choose from while the Ultimate Ears offer a plethora of foam tips or silicon ear cushions to help ensure comfort.

Overall the Audio-Technicas are the best choice for frequent travellers who want to listen to audio onboard their flights and block a lot of the noise.

The Ultimate Ears are a better option for less frequent travellers who are likely to use them in-flight as well as often in everyday life, due to their higher audio quality.

Last but not least, dollar for dollar the best in-flight value noise cancelling option is the orange 3M 1100 model Foam Ear Plugs sold at chemists and hardware stores for a $1, or less in bulk.

When we used the foam earplugs in conjunction with the Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphones turned on and not plugged into any audio source they blocked out almost all the noise so we could sleep in peace.