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Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1100B (Black) review: Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1100B (Black)

Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1100B (Black)

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

Able Planet makes a number of noise-canceling headphones, and the NC1100B is the Colorado company's highest-end mode with a retail price of $299.99.

6.7

Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1100B (Black)

The Good

The comfortable and sturdy <b>Able Planet NC1100B noise-canceling headphones</b> offer effective noise-canceling circuitry, fold for compact storage in an included carrying case, have a volume control integrated into the cord, and are usable without turning on noise cancellation.

The Bad

They're just as expensive as the Bose QuietComfort 15s but sacrifice sound quality for oversaturated bass tonality.

The Bottom Line

The Able Planet NC1100B noise-canceling headphones match up to their Bose competitors in many respects, but the sound quality falls short and the noise canceling is lacking.

Let's start with what's good about these guys. For starters, they're comfortable and appear to have a sturdy design and a nice soft-touch black finish. While the earcups aren't quite as soft as the Bose QuietComfort 15s, that they're a bit thicker and firmer doesn't hurt their comfort level and may be more appealing to some.

Aside from their black coloring, the NC1100Bs look similar to the QC15s (and QuietComfort 2s), with the same over-the-ear design and earcups that swivel and fold flat to fit in a simple black case. The resulting package is slightly bigger than a CD wallet, which makes it easier to tote, though it's still not terribly compact. As you'd expect from a set of headphones that are designed for frequent travelers, Able Planet throws in a two-prong in-flight adapter.

Like with Bose's active noise-canceling, the earcups' cushions effectively sealed off our ears from the noisy environment. Flipping on the noise cancellation dampened the noise even further. While the NC1100Bs aren't as effective at canceling out noise as the QC15s, they did noticeably muffle the sound of a very loud air conditioning that this reviewer has in his office (it isn't quiet as loud as the inside of an airline cabin, but not too far off).

With Bose's noise-canceling headphones, you have to engage the noise cancellation to listen to music, so the music dies with the battery life. Fortunately, this isn't the case with Able Planet's headphones; you can still listen without the noise canceling engaged, but you'll notice a distinct improvement in sound quality with it turned on (two AAA batteries that are housed in the left earcup power the noise-cancellation circuitry).

It's worth noting that like the Bose headphones, the headphone cord is detachable. Also, with the NC1100Bs, you get an inline volume control, which is nice.

On the downside, as we noted in our Bose review, the only problem is that because these are over-the-ear headphones that offer a tight seal, it can get a little steamy inside the cups, especially on hot days, though they "breathe" pretty well for over-the-ear headphones. On long plane rides, your skin will also get a little moist underneath the cushions, so expect to take them off for short periods and give your ears a little air.

But the bigger issue we had was with the sound quality. Though it's not bad, we found that the headphones overemphasized the bass--there was just too much of it, and it was far from tight (the words we like to use here are "boomy" and "muddy"). Also, we felt that the treble just wasn't all that detailed and had a tizzy edge to it.

If the average listener put these on in a store, he or she would likely feel satisfied with their fidelity, and we agree that they sound better than the smaller headphones that claim to suppress external noise. The problem is that these guys cost $300, and there's tough competition when you get into that price range, so we listen with a more critical ear than we would with a cheaper set.

We're always looking for well-performing noise-canceling headphones to knock Bose off its throne. The Able Planet NC1000Bs carry a strong design and sound OK, but they're not as good as the QuietComfort 15s that retail for the same price, sound better, feel more comfortable, and offer better noise cancellation.

6.7

Able Planet Clear Harmony NC1100B (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6