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Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 review: Bluetooth, noise canceling at too high a price

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If you’re a frequent flier, you know that a quality pair of headphones is an essential travel tool. Denon recognizes this fact and has built its new $499.99 Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 to target the top tier of highly mobile traveler. The pricey gadget is one of the rare stereo Bluetooth devices to also feature active noise canceling. Unfortunately for this amount of cash, I expect to be treated to a truly awesome audio experience, which the Globe Cruisers don't deliver.

Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 - headset
6.7

Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500

The Good

The <b>Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500</b> headphones stream audio and answer calls over Bluetooth. They’re also comfortable and provide lots of bass.

The Bad

The Globe Cruisers are expensive, bulky, and have unimpressive audio and weak active noise canceling.

The Bottom Line

Noise canceling and Bluetooth help the $499.99 Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 stand out, but other devices sound much better and cost less.

Design
Aside from its sober black paint job and fat faux-leather earpads, the only other clue that the Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 is a luxury model is its large size and cushioned headband. Everything else, other than the metal headband rail, is constructed from lightweight plastic. That said, the device weighs 9.5 ounces.

I was also able to twist the Globe Cruiser’s frame easily in my hands, which also creaks disconcertingly. Compared with the Parrot Zik’s sturdy and more premium metal construction, the Globe Cruiser feels downright cheap. That’s mystifying to me considering that the Zik costs $100 less.

The Globe Cruiser sports a plastic design and two large dials. Sarah Tew/CNET

I do like the feel of the Globe Crusier’s pentagonally shaped earpads. While the pads rest against your ears instead of over them, they’re soft, cushiony, and quite comfortable. The earpads also swivel within the headphone’s housing to absorb excess pressure, almost like a car shock absorber.

Denon's pricey, feature-packed Globe Cruiser (pictures)

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Over each earpiece are large, flat circular dials that serve more than to create visual impact. The right-hand dial functions as a volume control; twisting its serrated edge clockwise pumps up the loudness, and cranking counterclockwise achieves the opposite. Tapping the center of the right dial will pause or begin audio playback. Performing the same action on the left dial either answers or ends phone calls, or activates your phone’s voice command feature, depending on the situation.

Tap the dial's center button to answer calls. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sadly, though serviceable, these controls felt crude to me, especially when stacked against the Parrot Zik’s slick gesture interface. I also couldn’t get the Globe Cruiser to skip tracks, only pause (not resume) playback when paired with my Samsung Galaxy S III test unit.

Underneath the left earcup is a tiny switch to turn on noise cancellation along with a 2.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom of the right earphone is a Micro-USB port hidden under a rubber flap and a miniscule square power key.

Under the right earpiece sits a Micro-USB port and a small power button. Sarah Tew/CNET

Denon also includes a handsome carrying case that the Globe Cruisers neatly fit into when folded flat. In a pouch on the case’s left side are a few extras such as an audio cable to use the headphones without Bluetooth, a USB cable for charging, and a dual-pronged adapter.

Features and performance
The concept of the Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 is straightforward. It’s designed to insulate frequent travelers, whether on planes, trains, or in other noisy locations, from distracting background din. As an added convenience, you can link the Globe Cruisers to smartphones via wireless stereo Bluetooth connection. Additionally, the headphones double as a hands-free Bluetooth headset for making and receiving calls on the go.

For audiophiles who shun the compression of Bluetooth audio or in the air when wireless radios are a no no, just plug the bundled audio cable in the Globe Cruiser’s input. Unfortunately don’t expect an incredible audio experience from these headphones. Even through a wired connection, music sounded muffled and overly bass heavy. Highs and mids were also crushed underneath a hefty helping of low-end frequencies.

Each earpiece is housed in a frame that lets it pivot for maximum comfort. Sarah Tew/CNET

I was able to improve things a bit by downloading the Denon Travel app (available for both Android and iOS), which offers many preset equalizer profiles. You can also create your own profiles for personal use or even share them with friends. No matter what tinkering I did, though, I couldn’t create a similarly open and expansive sound field that I enjoyed on competing over-ear headphones. The Parrot Zik sounded particularly impressive, serving up much clearer detailed audio.

Another complaint I have with the Globe Cruiser is its weak, almost ineffective active noise canceling. In fact I had to flip the switch multiple times and strain my ears to tell if the function was on or off.

Flip a switch to activate noise canceling. Sarah Tew/CNET

Two performance bright spots, however, are the Globe Cruiser’s long battery life. Denon rates the headphone to provide up to 10 hours of playback on a single charge. Indeed I repeatedly managed to go about one to two days without needing to hunt down a power source, and that’s with noise canceling activated. The Parrot Zik by contrast manages a shorter 6 hours.

Phone calls I made with the Globe Cruiser were also of higher audio quality than I expected. Callers didn’t immediately complain that I was on a speakerphone, though they did say I sounded farther away than they would prefer. On my end, voices were rich and had a pleasing amount of richness.

Conclusion
I’ve been on a quest for Bluetooth stereo headphones that not only pump out excellent audio but can wrap me in a comfortable cloak of active noise cancellation. Now if this dream device could also handle hands-free calls well, I’d be over the moon. Unfortunately, while the Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 is comfortable to wear, it just doesn’t offer the other parts of the equation. At its steep $499.99 price especially, its weak noise canceling and muddy audio quality are tough to forgive. A much smarter luxury stereo Bluetooth buy is the $399.99 Parrot Zik. It has better audio quality, stronger noise cancellation, a higher-end design, not to mention intuitive touch-sensitive controls.

Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500 - headset
6.7

Denon Globe Cruiser AH-NCW500

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 6