Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 Noise-Cancelling Headphones Reviewed and Compared

Posted on Amazon. **

I've finally made the transition from my Etymotic Research HF2 Earphones to a set of over-the-ear noise canceling headphones. This month I've tried the Sennheiser PXC-450, Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC9, and the tried-and-true Bose QuietComfort 15. I wanted so much to pick this set from Audio-Technica, because they're fresh and new and because I started with a bias against Bose. But of these three, the ATH-ANC9s came in a disappointing third in my order of preference. I'm sending them back. Here's how I stacked up the three products:

Noise Canceling: In a quiet environment, the ATH-ANC9 delivers a hiss that exceeds what you hear from the Bose and the Sennheiser sets under similar circumstances. Worse, the hiss and leftover noise seems to be more pronounced in one ear! I spent 16 hours on an airplane with the PXC-450s and was pleased with its ability to drown out external noise, but a great deal of that noise reduction was passive (giant cups sealing out your ears), and I was satisfied but not blown away. I wasn't able to test the ATH-ANC9s on an airplane before deciding to return them, but I did some testing with a pink/white noise generator and was underwhelmed. (I didn't bother with another reviewer's suggestion to cover the external microphones with electrical tape. Please.) In contrast, the Bose delivered the "holy crap wow" noise reduction experience one expects at this price point, both in white noise testing and just out in the world while not listening to music. Verdict: Bose wins, Sennheiser takes second place.

Audio Quality: all three sets of headphones sound brilliant. I don't hear the muddiness that people complain of in Bose products. All I heard from all three sets was gorgeous, gorgeous sound. Today I thought I heard something in the Bose set that gave them the edge, but that's probably because I had already decided that Bose was the best after all. Note that the ATH-ANC9s have simply awful sound when they're turned off or have a dead battery, but kudos to Audio-Technica for making the headphones work at all without a battery, which Bose does not. Verdict: three way tie.

Comfort: my 16 hours with the PXC-450s were very, very comfortable, but they're rather large, so after awhile it got a little hot and itchy. No discomfort whatsoever. The QC15's are lighter and at least as comfortable. I think they probably edge out the Sennheisers. The ATH-ANC9s feel unwieldy and bulky and uncomfortable by comparison. Not bad certainly, but not as good as either of the alternatives. Verdict: Bose wins, Sennheiser takes second place.

Build Quality: The ATH-ANC9s don't feel like a three hundred dollar product the way the other two do. Little things like how the battery is installed and how the headband is adjusted gave me the impression that it's not as lovingly designed as its peers. Verdict: tie between Sennheiser and Bose.

Remote: the ATH-ANC9 has a one-button remote with microphone for iPhone (and maybe Android) users. You can use the button to play/pause, skip tracks or get a voice prompt. The Sennheiser has no remote or mic. The Bose has a remote with a mic, a play/pause button, *and* volume control. Outstanding. Verdict: Bose wins, ATH-ANC9 takes second place.

Case: all three come with a reasonably tough case, which you want because you're taking this on an airplane. The ATH-ANC9's case is the biggest, despite the fact that the cans themselves are smaller than the Sennheisers (which fold in an innovative way to fit in a smaller case). The Bose has a nice small, effective case. Verdict: Bose wins, Sennheiser takes second place. Audio-Technica's free carabiner wasn't enough to lift it out of third place.

Sound leakage: yes, these leak a lot of sound. In a quiet office environment, your neighbors will thank you for not using the ATH-ANC9s. The Bose product has a similar issue. I'm not bothered by this in either case. My intuition is that the Sennheisers are quieter, but I haven't tested this. Verdict: tie/don't care. If you're in an environment quiet enough where sound leakage is an issue for your neighbors, you don't need noise canceling headphones!

Other features: the ATH-ANC9's have three modes, which didn't give me anything terribly exciting in my testing. I think these modes are too nuanced for most users, who just want something they can turn on and listen to. The Sennheisers have a button on the side that lets you hear the outside world without taking them off, which is sort of interesting but not enough to write home about. The Bose QC15s are simply great without needing to add anything beyond what I've already covered.

So in my subjective testing, there was no reason to pick anything but the Bose at this price point. I've grudgingly joined the pack and become a Bose customer.