There's no shortage of similar looking noise cancelling headphones on the market, and the Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 QuietPoint does little to separate itself from the group visually. Sonically, these £250 headphones pack a powerful bass response, and can be used in passive mode (without noise cancellation engaged) – something that can’t be said of Bose's standard-setting QuietComfort line.
The QuietPoint also delivers distortion-free audio, even at maximum volumes. The noise cancellation circuitry in the QuietPoint is decent, but it can't match similarly priced market leaders, like the Bose QuietComfort 15.
The design and construction of the QuietPoint is anything but flashy – simple matte black plastic and memory foam cushioned ear pads make for a lightweight, comfortable fit. Adjusting the headband is a touch fiddly, but it has built-in stops that at least make it easy to precisely position and keep it in place. The ear cups swivel and fold down flat into the included hard-shell zip case.
The QuietPoint features a removable cable, and ships with two options – one with built-in phone controls and one without.
Both cables terminate in a 3.5mm connection, and a quarter inch adapter and airplane jack adapter are also included. Call clarity through the microphone was fine in my tests.
The headphones run on a single AAA battery, but we'd rather see a rechargeable option here. There are, at least, rechargeable AAA battery options available. Audio Technica rates the QuietPoint's battery life at up to 35 hours for the included Lithium AAA battery, 25 hours for an alkaline AAA battery, and 20 hours for rechargeable options.
The QuietPoint handles intense low frequencies quite well – on tracks with challenging sub-bass frequencies, like the Knife's "Silent Shout," the QuietPoint does not distort in the slightest. This is true for both passive and active modes, though the active mode (battery and noise cancellation activated) offers much more low frequency presence.
Part of the reason there's no distortion is due to the fact that the QuietPoint doesn't get quite as loud as most powerful headphones in this price range, like say, the Beats by Dr Dre Executive – therefore, the drivers can be pushed to the brink of distortion without ever budging. This is not to say the headphones are weak in terms of volume – the QuietPoint still gets very loud.
As should be expected, the difference between active and passive modes, sonically, is quite noticeable. Not just the bass response, but also the high frequencies are significantly boosted when the battery and noise cancellation are engaged. And the bass is intense. Bass lovers will enjoy the QuietPoint's sound signature, which is not exactly a flat response – it's very sculpted. I actually preferred the passive mode for listening at times – some bass-heavy music and mixes sounded a bit more toned down, less sculpted.
On vocal-driven tracks like Bill Callahan's "Drover," his baritone delivery is pleasantly laced with a treble edge when the headphones are in active mode. The percussion also jumps from the background to the forefront, with the significantly boosted bass lending some extra thunder and rumble. Luckily, the treble boost ensures things don't get too muddy, helping to add definition to the seriously enhanced low-end. In passive mode, things sound more natural and toned down – Callahan's voice has less edge to it, however, and though the drums sounds less over-the-top, the overall mix can sound a tad murky.
Passive mode is a bit more graceful with classical tracks, like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," articulating the various frequency ranges clearly. The lower register strings aren't under-represented – they still pack a nice, subtle resonance. In active mode, the track begins substantially brighter and crisper, while the large drum hits at the end of piece become seriously deep and heavy. It's a matter of taste which mode you will prefer – they are pretty dissimilar, but both offer distortion-free listening. Neither delivers the type of flat response audiophiles and purists seek out.
There are three uniquely tuned modes for the noise cancellation: Airplane, Office, and Study. We weren't able to test the pair on a plane, but each mode is designed to focus on the band of frequencies that need the most combating in those specifics environments.
Regardless of this interesting feature, the noise cancellation itself is not quite on par with similarly priced options – as we’ve already mentioned, the Bose QuietComfort 15 does a better job. Simply put, while the QuietPoint’s circuitry does a good job of eliminating wide bands of ambient noise, it also introduces a very noticeable high frequency hiss. It's not unpleasant – it sounds like tape hiss – but this is the mark of medium-grade noise cancellation, and you won't hear it on Bose QuietComfort headphones.
Also, when testing the noise cancellation circuitry in my flat, if a large truck drove by, I'd notice that the headphones' mics would occasionally pick up its low rumble and, oddly enough, send it through the in-ear mix. Noise cancellation is only effective for ambient, consistent noise – say, the whir of an air conditioning unit – it's not intended to eliminate transient noises like office chatter or the aforementioned truck, but it's certainly not meant to draw attention to them, either.
Still, if you're listening to music, you'll never notice this minor glitch – it is slight enough that it was only barely noticeable when noise cancellation was activated, but music wasn't playing.
If your priorities are noise cancellation first, and audio performance second, the QuietPoint is not for you, and your search should probably begin with the Bose line-up. If you're looking for a great sounding pair of circumaural headphones, however, that happen to include some decent noise cancellation, the QuietPoint is definitely a worthy option. However, something like the AKG K490 NC manages to be both sonically excellent and provide strong noise cancellation – for considerably less outlay.
Model and Manufacturer
Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 QuietPoint
Active Noise Cancellation