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Noise cancelling is a feature often reserved for the upper echelon of headphones, in both features and price. Most recently, we reviewed the Audio-Technica ANC9s, a pair of over-the-ear noise cancelling cans with a AU$349.95 price tag. We like them, but we're curious about how much of this will be transferred to the cheaper ANC23.
There are very few competing headphones in this specific category, and where you find similar units, the design is pretty consistent. Audio-Technica opts for an asymmetrical in-ear gel design, directing the gel into your ear canal and achieving a decent seal in the process. There are additional pairs of differently sized gels, if the default couple don't give you a decent fit.
Along the unit's cable is the QuietPoint noise-cancelling switch box. About the size of a squat cigarette lighter, the box houses a AAA battery, it alsohas a volume control wheel and an On/Off switch for activating the noise-cancelling effect. While we have plenty of positives to say about the noise-cancelling offered here (and we will, shortly) the trade-off comes with the heft of this little box. It isn't heavy to lift or carry, but it will tug on the buds in your ears if you leave it hanging freely. To counter this, Audio-Technica have a clip on the underside of the box, allowing you to attach it to the strap of a bag or pinch onto loose clothing.
In the box with the headphones, Audio-Technica includes a carry pouch, a AAA battery and a two-prong aeroplane adapter.
Though you'll struggle to find noise-cancelling headphones under AU$100 in most major electronics retailers around the country, the standard in-ear headphone market, in the same price range, is packed full of products from the major brands in audio.
Having noise-cancelling does give these headphones an excellent head start on the rest. The effect is reasonably powerful, able to cut out a large portion of ambient sound in indoor locations, like offices or university study halls, while it also offers a decent reduction in sound in testing environments like public transport. Many of the headphones in this price range offer noise isolation, but if you're looking for quiet, you'll appreciate the noise-cancelling of the ANC23.
Audiophiles on a budget will love these headphones too, we think. As with the ANC9, the QuietPoint noise cancelling effect acts like a loudness boost, pumping up sound across the frequencies when activated. This gives the music we listened to a richness and punchiness that it lacks without the effect switched on. It is also the difference between the ANC23 and, another of our favourite sub-AU$100 in-ear 'phones, the Sennheiser CX300-IIs. Without QuietPoint, both headphones sound very similar, but flick the switch and the ANC23 leaps ahead.
Most obvious is a greater bass sound than with the CX300-IIs, and superior clarity in this frequency. It's one thing to have a booming sound, but so often we find that it obscures detail in the lower-end cheaper units. The ANC23 offers great low and mid-end delivery, driving rock and dance music in a way that you might otherwise lack.
Despite the bulk of the noise-cancelling box, the ANC23s are our new favourite pair of headphones, in this price range. You will have to replace the AAA battery every so often, but it's worth it for the excellent sound Audio-Technica's QuietPoint noise cancellation produces.