We’ll be covering an important, but neglected, section of portable audio, active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones. We’ve already covered in detail the different types of noise reduction implemented in consumer audio headphones and the differences between active noise cancellation and passive sound isolation, so you may want to read our primer here first.
In simple terms, sound isolation works by stopping sound from reaching your eardrum through soundproofing, while noise cancellation through special circuitry which create a noise-cancelling sound wave. I’m more in favor of the latter kind, simply because they offer the most comfortable experience and are more effective in cutting out constant frequency noise. Most ANC headphones offer noise isolation as well, and when you load-up your music, turn the ANC circuit on and cut-out the outside noise you are transported to a different world.
If you use any form of public transportation, or frequent any public place you cannot appreciate how much ambient noise there really is until you cut it out.
We’ll look at three different ANC earbuds: first, in this review, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23, then in follow-up reviews, the Sony MDR-NC300D and finally the Panasonic RP-HC55-S. This group test only deals with the more portable in-ear earbuds/earphones; if you read Stuff-Review you will know how much we appreciate portability and I wouldn’t imagine adding bulky headphones to my daily load.