The Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 –Quiet is an understatement.
Opening the box….
The ANC9 is packaged very simply, when you open the box all you see is a plastic wrapped zip up carrying case. Now when you actually open up the case you will be surprised by a sufficient amount of accessories: a AAA battery, one 1.2m detachable cable with a one button in line mic, another 1.2m detachable cable, airplane two mono jacks to one stereo adapter, and one 1/4inch audio jack adapter. I find the accessories adequate, probably more than most people need. The headphones themselves are bubble wrapped nicely, and when you pick them up the immediate impression was that they were built very well. I was surprised that despite the relatively skinny headband, and fragile consumer look, they were built as well as the M50s, if not even better. They also have a very nice matte, grippy paint job, very dark gray.
Build and aesthetics….
When taking a close look at the headphones, you really notice how well they are built. I’ve got to say probably beating out the M50 in overall build quality. The one thing that worried me was the disproportionally large ear cups, in term of width when you are wearing them. I found that they did make the headphones themselves feel just short of perfect in terms of build quality. The headphones have a pressure sensitive button on the left ear cup used to toggle through the different ANC settings, and the headphone beeps when the settings are changed. There is also a well-built switch on the same cup to turn on and off the ANC feature. The AAA battery goes in the right cup where there is a holder that slides out when you press the locking mechanism. A fairly simple design but very good. The two cables are built equally well, despite being thin; they have great strain reliefs, and the in line controls are also built very nicely. The mic quality is good, and the button control has a nice tactile click to it. The band is relatively thin, but still built very well, and the band seems to use protein leather, along with the pads, but I am not sure. The band is very flexible, and seems to have metal reinforcement. The adjustment system is reinforced by metal, but it sometimes has skips a notch because there is a decent amount of resistence.
The headphones themselves look nice, but not so much on your head. The cups are very thick and protrude from your head excessively. However, like I said they still look nice, they have a nice matte paint job that is very elegant and professional. Definitely a more professional looking headphone that the Bose QC15, in my opinion. I also love the light with different color indicators, and the beep you get when you toggle the ANC. It seems really high tech yet simple to me.
Comfort and convenience….
These headphones are extremely comfortable, easily beating out most headphones I’ve worn. Of course comfort may be different for different people, but to me these were as comfortable as the QC15s and the MS400s. The adjustment mechanism is nice, I wish it was a little smoother; but still it is positioned nicely on the corner of the headband, this mean that it will adjust to both the width and the height of your head. The padding is all memory foam, of very high quality too. They are relatively firm but create a great seal, and they distribute the pressure evenly. The pads on the top of your head do the same, and this is partly due to the large cups that protrude out of your head. The angle of the cup hinges allows the top band to distribute weight evenly, and provide very good comfort.
The headphones are also very convenient for ANC headphones; they come with a nice case and a large screw locking carabineer. This makes it easy to carry them around; however, they are large headphones so the case can only help so much. I find the QC15s a lot more convenient in this matter, their cups are smaller, and so is the case. That being said, you can also fit an mp3 player or amp in the ANC9’s case. Another plus for the ANC9 is that they play music even with the ANC feature off and when the batteries die out.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)….
The ANC9s are Audio Technica’s flagship ANC headphone, and when you use them you can see why. The ANC feature is very good. They offer three different settings, each one cancels out a different type of noise. The blue setting is rated at 95% at 200hz, the red at 95% at 300hz, and 85% at 200hz. The blue setting is meant for plane like sound, the red is meant for chatter, people talking (so like on the bus),and the green setting is meant for already quiet settings; like a library. Depending on the environment, I found that these cancel out as much noise as the QC15s, but it really does depend on the environment. I found the settings very helpful, and you can really get some good noise cancellation out of them.
W/100 hours burn in……Source : Iphone 3GS, Gigabyte UD3 on board sound card (Realtek), and 7.1 Yamaha receiver with pure direct (I consider the sound of all of them)
Now keep in mind that these headphones are ANC, and ANC headphones’ drivers are always busy cancelling the noise from the outside. That being said, these actually sound really good. However, they will not compete with other non ANC headphones in this price range in terms of SQ. Starting with the lows these headphones will captivate your typical bass lover, but they will not satisfy most bass heads. They lows have good body and power. They make decent impact, and stay relatively clean for the most part. I find them to rarely be intrusive, and they assist the music well, making songs very musical, yet exciting at the same time. The mids fit in nicely with the lows. However, they are not flat, and the mids seem to be lacking in part of the spectrum. In some songs the mids are very prominent, but in other they are very recessed. Despite the issues in the frequency response the mids are articulated pretty well, and they are position perfectly; not intimate but not out of your head, just there. The treble is a somewhat iffy area. They are by no mean lacking, in fact at time they seem overly sibilant and harsh to my ears. Granted, different ears are sensitive to different frequencies, but to me these are sibilant. The treble also could use some extending, but I don’t believe they roll off too much. They treble is very exciting and colored, making them sound slightly unnatural; but they are very enjoyable. The overall detail retrieval is really good considering they are ANC headphones. Granted you may not here the minute details such as the air coming off of the bow on a violin, but you will definitely hear every instrument. Out of the whole spectrum I find the lows and mids to be the most detailed, I believe that the main reason would be because the harshness in the treble can throw you off a little. In addition, the mids will never actually completely leave out an instrument or anything, but they can be really lacking depending on what is being played.
The sound stage is pretty good, it is slightly Bose-esque in that the sound stage seems a little exaggerated, but it is not. It is actually quite accurate, but seems to have some sort of unnatural airiness. It is difficult to explain, but it is nice, at times the music seems close in with no sense of dimensional space; but at others it seems very lively, and the music seems to jump around you. The staging is by no means is giant, but it has decent space, and the different frequencies play around in this space well. The lows are somewhat in your face, but not as much as most other headphones I’ve heard, and the mids is right where it needs to be; it isn’t intimate or out of your head. The treble plays around the staging nicely, but prefers to be intimate with your ears.
Music (strengths and weaknesses)....
I used my computer for this testing, and also a 7.1 channel Yamaha natural sound receiver with pure direct to match up the results, pretty much the same.
A perfectly flat and versatile headphone would be in the middle for all genres (this doesn’t necessarily mean the headphone is good, it just means that it doesn’t handle one genre better than another)
Weak Genre < - - - - - | - - - - - > Strong Genre
This should show how the articulation and frequency response of the headphones favor certain genres
< - - - - - | - - x - - > Hip Hop – The coloration on these headphones suit hip hop surprisingly well in my opinion.
Empire State of Mind (Lossless) – Jay-Z and Alicia Keys – The drums really stand out at the beginning with decent resolution. The bass holds good impact with little to no intrusion. *Bass heads be warned you will not feel the headphones shaking straight off this song without amp and eq*. Jay-z’s voice seems somewhat colored, but it doesn’t sound artificial by any means. His voice has good presence, but also seems slightly recessed; this is due to the positioning of his voice. Alicia Keys voice benefits from the ANC9’s treble, but there are peaks, or moments, of harshness which really take you away from Alicia keys sweet and melodic voice, which is how it sounds for the most part. The Piano in the background sounds slightly distance, and when compared to how it sounds on the M50s or HD25s the ANC9s kind of pushes the piano back a little bit. It sounds slightly dull, which is odd because the rest of the music sounds more lively than typical. The ANC9s imaging is pretty good in this song, but it is one of those songs where the instruments sound slightly closed in; however, Alicia Keys voice has good depth to it and sounds relatively large. Still, consider that this Hip Hop track is filled with a lot more rich music, than some other tracks, such as A Millie by Lil Wayne.
< - - - x - | - - - - - > Strings (I compare this to real string sounds, I have played the violin for 6 years) – sounds very exciting, but you want accurate when you listen to strings, especially because of the dynamics in the music itself. In addition, the minute details are lacking like I’ve mentioned.
The orchestra sounds fairly good, but there quite a few issues with the sound reproduction. For one the frequency response on the ANC9s make the violins fun to listen to, but it gets fairly annoying when you can’t distinguish all the notes. In addition, the details in the instruments are lacking, you just don’t get the same texture you get with something like the M50. Another thing is that the dynamics are suffering because of the headphones uneven mids. One thing I did like was that the sound stage accompanied the instruments relatively well, the separation could be better; but it was still nice.
< - - - - x | - - - - - > Jazz – The staging is very lively with jazz, but the mids can sometimes get muffled or sound recessed.
New York New York duet with Tony Bennett (320 kbps) – Andrea Bocelli – Similar to the M50s the ANC9s portray the instruments and crowd noise very nicely, detail is relatively lacking, but the instruments sound very nicely. For the most part the instruments are accurate except for the double bass, which sounds bloated occasionally. Andrea Bocelli’s voice is actually pretty good, recessed; but good. Same goes with Tony Bennett’s voice, which is portrayed with a fuller presentation. The staging is very lively, while it isn’t very spacious, it is very lively. For the most part everything has good synergy, but I would also like a touch more transparency in the mid-range and the lows. The treble is very transparent and exciting, not too harsh in this song.
< - - - - - | x - - - - > Rock – While still not amazing, rock plays well on the ANC9s
The Unwinding Cable Car (320 kbps) – Anberlin – The guitar strumming at the beginning is pretty good, unfortunately the detail is really lacking, but the articulation is great. These headphones take an ode approach to this song. The M50s took an unexpected articulated approach to this song, but the ANC9s seem to be smoother, but still surprisingly clean. The treble is very sweet and soothing. While the mids are again slightly recessed, they are also very sweet and airy. I find the vocals to actually be very good in this song, granted they are recessed; but with some eq they could easily be improved. The drums are in the background here and are definitely not in your face, but they still make their presence heard. It truly is a very musical headphone. The ANC9s actually portray the guitar pretty well, and it has good synergy with the vocals. The detail retrieval could be better, but the staging helps a lot.
< - - - - - | - x - - - > EDM – Good bass impact and speed, could possibly use a touch more power and times, but ultimately really lively and exciting.
Juggernauts (Nero Remix) (320 kbps) – Enter Shikari – The ANC9s are actually very lively and this can truly be heard in this song. I like using this song because it really puts the bass of the headphones to the test. The ANC9s truly keep up, while I have thought them to be muddy at times, with EDM, I actually find the lows fast. Maybe not HD25 pace, but they are definitely clean and never miss a beat. Still, I would have a liked a little more power in the bass, but that might have made it less clean. I also love the positioning of the vocals; it isn’t as distance as it was on the M50s. Although it may not be completely accurate I actually found that it made the song very exciting. The other instruments are also thriving in both clarity and energy. One thing that bothered me was that the instruments were slightly uneven, and I thought it could have been a little more transparent; otherwise, I found that the ANC9s handles this song very well.
< - - - - - | - - x - - > Dubstep – relatively good with the ANC9s, everything is nice and the drop is relatively powerful. The music works well in the staging provided.
Strange behavior (320 kbps) – Feed Me – The song isn’t super colored or anything, but the ANC9s actually makes it sound so; but it fits the music well, and is surprisingly enjoyable, without actually hurting the fidelity. The vocals were surprisingly good, nice and sweet. Granted, they were a touch recessed still, but they were spacious. The other “instruments” and sounds played very well in the staging, and they never actually interfered with one another. Granted the song sounded very warm and bassy, but the ANC9s bass was a touch week on the drops, but that kept it surprisingly unobtrusive. I did find a bit of the treble to be slightly harsh, but that was only at very loud listening levels. Ultimately I thought that the coloration was done very nicely, and didn’t detract from the actual fidelity at all.
< - - - x - | - - - - - > Natural Pop (E.G. The Prayer with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli)
< - - - - - x - - - - - > Pop with auto tune
< - - - - - | x - - - - > Modern Pop without auto tune
– I really can’t specify too much with pop because there are so many different kinds. For more natural sounding pop, like the Prayer with Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, the ANC9s sound pretty good, but experience problems similar to those found in Jazz. Now these headphones are relatively smooth sounding so they were a little more forgiving of auto tune, but still I didn’t find it to be completely smooth especially the highs. For other types of pop I loved the coloration, but again the treble was found to be harsh at loud levels, and the vocals in some songs were recessed. It really varies based on the song; I couldn’t find a song that was a good representation of different types of pop. Something like Korean Pop, these headphones would probably sound really good, seeing that they have good bass body, and the exciting treble would really lighten up the mood.
Wrap up, are they worth it?
I honestly think it depends on what you want from you headphones. When compared to the QC15s or the Able Planet Pure Harmony headphones, these do put up a good fight. In terms of SQ I find them to be better than the Pure Harmony headphones and comparable to the QC15s. The only reason I don’t believe these trump the QC15s in terms of SQ is because of the uneven mids and slightly harsh treble. If these were eq’ed I’m sure they would easily surpass the QC15s. In terms of build, I find these to be one of the best built plastic headphones I have tried, almost as well as the HD25s. Keep in mind the ANC9s are also have a more complicated build, which goes to show how much precision and quality goes into these headphones from Audio Technica. The comfort is also great, maybe right below the QC15s, depending on the person. Ultimately if the ANC9s are a headphone with a sound signature that you prefer, then these are probably the best ANC headphones for you for ~300$. However, if you want something with a lower profile, consider the ANC7s, the QC15s, or even Bose’s QC3s (but the SQ is subpar). If you want a lot of noise isolation and you will pass on IEMs and on ear headphones, then you should consider ANC headphones, and the ANC9s should be at the top of your list, just make sure that the sound is in your favor. Another plus is that the ANC9s have 3 ANC settings, which some people might find very helpful. That being said, I believe it really depends on the person to make the best call for themself. On my part, I can tell you that you should definitely consider these headphones when looking at ANC headphones in this price range, but don’t expect the SQ to be up to par with non ANC headphones anywhere near this price range.
Build and aesthetics – 9.5/10
Comfort and Convenience – 9/10
Isolation – 8.5/10 passive isolation 9.5-10/10 with different ANC settings
Sound and presentation – 7.75/10
Versatility – 4/5
Value – 8/10 – really depends if you want ANC or not and if you like the coloration, if you are comparing this with other ANC headphones the value would probably be more like 9/10, if you were comparing for just SQ the value would probably be more like 7/10
Edited by WakiDabeast - 4/27/13 at 8:10pm