Review: Able Planet NC300 True Fidelity Noise-Canceling Headphones

by Khalid Hosein on December 14, 2009

Able Planet makes a variety of audio products mainly in the headphones and earphones category that employs some of their own technology. We reviewed one of their noise-canceling headphones, the True Fidelity NC300 with their LINX AUDIO technology. Here are the results of our testing.

Introduction
The NC300 are over-the-ear headphones with an adjustable and padded headband that uses powered noise-cancellation technology that runs on a single AA battery that inserts into one of the ear pieces. While we could give a completely ‘standalone’ review, audio being such a subjective topic, we decided instead to (in many categories of testing) compare it to our favorite noise-canceling headphones, the Audio Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7.

Noise Cancellation
Noise Cancellation is probably the main reason that anyone would be interested in these headphones. Let’s start by saying right off the bat that no noise-canceling headset is ‘perfect’ – in other words, they don’t block everything out. For example, if you put on a pair on an airplane and power them up (without any music), you will still hear the hum of the airplane’s engines. The noise will be greatly reduced, but it’s still there. Of course, once you start turning up the music, you will quickly drown out any other noise. Naturally you should be careful about damaging your hearing by listening to too much excessively loud music.

My (unscientific) test was to put on both headsets with the TV on at an above average listening level, then turning up the same piece of music incrementally until I could no longer hear the TV. Both headsets hit the same volume level. Furthermore, the music was not exceptionally loud before I was able to drown out the TV. Note that this will not be true on an airplane. But I can say that any noise abatement on an airplane that you can get will certainly help your in- and post-flight tension. I make sure not to forget my headset now when flying after discovering this. I even sleep with the headset powered on without music, because even that helps.

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Comfort
I found the NC300 to be quite comfortable and was able to wear them for extended periods – over an hour. With any over-the-ear, soft rubber headset, you will find that they can make your ears quite warm, even sweaty depending on the room’s weather, and you will find yourself needing to take them off periodically. I found the ATH-ANC7 which also takes a AA battery for power, to be a tad bit lighter, but not significant. You’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference in comfort between these 2 products.

Accessories & Features
Both headsets come with 2 adapters – one for airplanes needing those older 2-pronged jacks, and one 1/4″ adapter for home stereo systems. The NC300 has a feature that I quite like which is an in-cord volume adjustment dial, which is quite convenient so you don’t need to reach for your MP3 player, audio book reader, computer, stereo, etc. to get your volume right. The NC300s come in either black or an attractive white, and come with a zippered hard shell carrying case.

Sound Quality
This is the section that is very subjective, so caveat emptor, and you may have a very different opinion from me when you try these headphones. So what’s the best noise canceling headphones out there? Ultimately, that’s up to you and your very specific likes and dislikes, particularly in the area of sound reproduction and audio fidelity.

I listened to a range of music – vocal oriented musicians like Sarah McLachlan & Hayley Westenra; progressive rock like Dream Theater & Rush; some atmospheric & synthesizer heavy material like Ozric Tentacles and Jean-Michel Jarre; and topped it off with some classical music.

While I love the frequency response my Audio Technicas provide, I found the sound on the Able Planet NC300s flat, and lacking punch when the music dynamics demanded it. While the ATH-ANCs skew to the higher frequencies (which I like because I find more interesting things happen there musically), I didn’t find that the NC300s gave me much in that range at all. Now let me keep this in perspective by bringing in another comparison. I’ve also tested out the Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones and didn’t like them either, because I’ve always found that Bose speaker products tend to skew too much to the bass end of the music. But millions of people have purchased and love Bose products, so this may mean that you may very well love the NC300s.

Conclusion
The Able Planet True Fidelity NC300s are a solid noise cancellation headset. While I did not care for its audio reproduction, you may well find them to your liking and taste. They are also about 1/3 cheaper than the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7. Able Planet also makes an extensive range of headphones and earphones and this is not their only noise-canceling product, so you may be interested in taking a look at those first. Thankfully, there are more vendors now making and advancing the field of noise-cancellation technology and Able Planet is certainly a major player.

PS> If you’re the visual type, The Gadgeteer’s review of this same product has a nice collection of photos.

(Disclaimer: Gizmos for Geeks received a complimentary review copy of this product.)