Ultraportable earphones with active noise cancellation aren't terribly prolific; you're much more likely to find larger, over-the-ear models with this feature. But considering the fact that these 'phones are best suited to drown out the sounds associated with commuting and other travel, it follows that a compact design makes good sense here--the more portable, the better. Audio-Technica seems to want to capitalize on this idea with its latest QuietPoint headphones, the ATH-ANC3. These toteable earbuds feature a super compact design, a built-in noise-cancellation module, and useful travel accessories. The $170 price tag may be hard for some potential buyers to swallow, though, considering the earphones' cheap-feeling plastic build and failure to serve up truly stellar sound.
The ATH-ANC3's earbuds might be hard plastic, but they are impressively small, which makes for a nice, low-profile design when worn. We also noticed no discomfort after wearing them for more than an hour, so we give points for that. However, keep in mind that your comfort level will depend on the size and shape of your ear. A Y-cable measuring approximately 13 inches long descends from the earpieces. It joins and continues for another 16 inches or so to the plastic noise-cancellation module. Here, you will find several attributes of note.
First, on the rear, there is a compartment for the single AAA battery (included) as well as a built-in clip for attaching the unit onto yourself. It doesn't seem to be the most durable clip we've come across, but it gets the job done. On the front of the module, there is a switch for controlling the power of the noise cancellation feature and an indicator light that glows red when it's activated. There's also a monitor button, which lets you quickly mute your music and the noise-canceling circuitry to hear what's going on around you. It's handy, but take note that the module must be switched on for the mute function to work.
Coming out of the other end of the ATH-ANC3's noise-canceling module is about an additional 8 inches of cable that terminates in a 3.5mm straight gold-plated plug. All these wires amount to a fair amount of tangling, but Audio-Technica includes a nice, zippered hard-shell case for storing the earphones and managing the cords. The case has a variety of built-in compartments for the other extras that are included in the package. There's an extension cable, which can add about 18 more inches of give to the setup. You also get an airplane plug adapter and a set of three (small, medium, large) silicone eartips.
The ATH-ANC3 QuietPoint earphones are reasonable little performers. The noise-cancellation feature works very well, sufficiently quieting the hum of our over-active air conditioner. If you're able to get a good seal with your ear with the provided silicone fittings, you'll be rewarded with some passive noise blocking as well. This same seal is infinitely important if you want to experience the bass that the earphones have to offer, which is not super thumping, but still quite present. High-end detail was also well-represented, and the mids came through warm and clear. Overall, while music did not sound quite stellar in our tests, audio quality was definitely solid.