Active noise-canceling headphones can be a sanity saver in noisy planes, trains, or offices, but their high price has kept them out of reach for many of us. The iTouchless Pure-Ear active noise-canceling headphones ($129) offer an affordable active noise-canceling headphone option for those seeking sonic refuge on a budget.
Cosmetically, the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones look and feel like average over-ear headphones that aspire to pass for a pair of Bose QuietComfort 2. The small earcups and shallow padding on the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones make them more of an on-ear design, offering less passive sound isolation than true over-ear headphones, such as the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint. We like how the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones can fold up into a compact ball for easy storage, although many competitors opt for a flat-folding design.
The iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones include such niceties as a removable headphone cable, iPhone cable adapter, and on-ear volume control, that are great to have. The ability to operate the iTouchless Pure-Ear's active noise-canceling feature without a cumbersome headphone cable connected is a notable advantage if you're just looking for a way to block out background noise.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sound quality or effectiveness of sound isolation, the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones come up short on both counts. The 40mm neodymium drivers concealed within each earcup of the headphones offer a double serving of low-end thump, but skimp on high-frequency detail. Bass-heavy electronic music such as hip-hop and techno shine, while music requiring acoustic detail--such as rock, jazz, folk, and classical--come off as muffled and lackluster.
When it comes to evaluating active noise-canceling headphones, sound isolation performance is where the tire meets the road. Unfortunately, the overall sound isolation of the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones isn't worth the price. Blame it on the poor passive isolation of the on-ear design, or the fact that the microphone used to monitor external noise is buried beneath the plastic outer earcup, but the sound isolation left us disappointed. To be fair, the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones did an adequate job blocking out the constant sub-200MHz ambient rumble common to offices, but sonically complicated environments such as subways and buses were better handled by the passive isolation of in-ear headphones such as the Shure SE110.
The noise-cancellation circuitry of the iTouchless Pure-Ear headphones is rated at 70 hours of continuous performance from a single AAA battery placed in the right earcup. Should your battery die, the Pure-Ear headphones can still be used in passive mode for listening to music.
Ultimately, the iTouchless Pure-Ear active noise-canceling headphones offer an adequate solution for those attempting to escape the noise of everyday life, but for just a little more money, there are several other headphones that outshine them.