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Headphones

NAD’s Bluetooth Viso HP70: Ready for audiophile prime time?

NAD comes late to Bluetooth and noise-canceling headphones -- was it worth the wait?

NAD Viso HP70 headphones

NAD Electronics

I rarely cover Bluetooth headphones, mostly because their wired counterparts usually sound better for less money. Still, it's hard to ignore Bluetooth 'phones booming popularity, so when NAD offered a sample of its Viso HP70 noise-canceling Bluetooth headphone, I agreed to take a listen. After all, its Viso HP50 headphone sounds awfully good; it's really one of the best wired headphones I've heard for $249. How would the HP70 compare? It retails for $399 in the US, £299 in the UK, and AU$599 in Australia.

The two headphones look similar, but the HP70's matte-finished ear cups lend an elegant air to the design, and the HP70's headband is slightly more amply padded. It's a full-size, over-the-ear headphone with 40mm drivers; a solidly built piece of work. Both NAD headphones are nice and comfy, but the HP50 is lighter, just 8 ounces (226 grams), compared with the 11.3-ounce (320g) HP70. It's a difference you can feel on your head.

HP70 features Bluetooth aptX, upping the potential for truly high sound quality over a wireless connection, but sadly, Apple doesn't include aptX on iPhones. NAD claims a fully charged HP70 will play for about 15 hours. After that, the HP70 can be used as a wired headphone, if your smartphone has a 3.5mm headphone jack!

Even without turning on the noise-canceling, the HP70s' plush ear pads block out a good amount of noise. I like that the inside of the ear cups are labeled with a large "R" or "L," so it's easy to tell the right from the left channels, even in low light.

The HP70's "listen-through mode" allows the user to listen to the outside world or answer a call. The headphones fold flat for storage in their zippered faux-leather carry case.

NAD HP70 (left), HP50 (right).

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Listening

The HP70 is a rather full-sounding headphone, and maybe a little too rich for my taste. The HP50 sounds more neutral, while the HP70 pumps out more bass, and its midrange sounded veiled by comparison on Andrew Bird's Are You Serious? album. The HP50 is a higher energy, more alive sounding headphone, but then I literally felt the HP70's ear-massaging deep bass with electronica wizard Aphex Twin's new Collapse EP. The HP70's visceral punch was much appreciated with this music; the HP50 was nowhere as powerful. The HP70's stereo imaging was average for a closed-back headphone.

Since my iPhone 6S doesn't have aptX, I was concerned I wasn't hearing the HP70 at its best, so I also listened via the wired connection to "bypass" the Bluetooth and heard just a little difference between wired and wireless sound quality.

Continuing with the HP50 and HP70 comparisons, I came to feel the HP50 was clearer and more transparent. Even when I used both as wired headphones plugged into my iPhone 6S' headphone jack, I still preferred the HP50's smoother, less bass emphasized tonal balance.

I put the HP70's noise-canceling talents to the test in the New York City subway and was impressed with its ability to keep the din at bay.

So I came away with mixed feelings about the NAD Viso HP70, mostly because the sound was just too rich for my taste -- I prefer the HP50's leaner and clearer presentation, and it's significantly less expensive. As for the HP70's Bluetooth and noise-canceling, they worked well, no problems there. Too bad I didn't have a Bose QuietComfort QC35 II noise-canceling Bluetooth headphone on hand for comparison; it's the one to beat for noise abatement.