Audio-technica ATH-ANC900BT Noise Cancelling Headphones Review
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Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones
AUD $499 RRP
On a recent interstate flight with my Dad, he realised as we were boarding that his beloved Bose QC35 headphones had a flat battery, and he had no time to buy another. I loaned him Audio-technica's new ATH-ANC900BT I had on hand awaiting my review, and I was keen to hear his thoughts on them.
As a long-term Bose fan, when he asked where he could buy a pair right after the flight, this certainly piqued my interest. Last year when I took a look at the ATH-ANC700BT, they performed competitively against many others in the price bracket, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough to start converting stubborn Bose fans.
This year, however, we have a souped-up version on our hands: the ATH-ANC900BT. With a few more tasty features up its sleeve, it comes in at $499 in Australia. This pitches it directly against the likes of the B&W PX ($549 RRP), the Beats Studio 3 ($449 RRP) and Sennheiser's PXC480 ($449 RRP).
The ANC series from Audio-Technica is aiming straight at the travel market. While this has always has been a strong market, it's experiencing a significant upward trend right now. With emerging contenders like Sony XM3, B&W PX and the Sennheiser PXC series, the Bose QC35 is staring down the barrel of losing its crown as the go-to noise cancelling headphone.
How does this new release from Audio-Technica stack up?
Similar to the ATH-ANC700BT from last year, the ATH-ANC900BT features touch controls, a 2.5mm headphone jack, over-ear design and micro-USB charging port.
This time around, however, the matte-black styling has been replaced by a smooth black speckled finish, some new buttons and a few more microphones for noise cancelling, as well as a small LED for indicating the status of the headphone.
Despite being made of lightweight materials, the 263 gram ATH-ANC900BT still retains a premium feel without feeling too dense, bulky or heavy.
The ATH-ANC900BT comes with a hard carrying case, a 1.2m wired cable, an incredibly short 30cm charging cable and an airline adapter.
The memory foam earpads carry over from the younger sibling (the ATH-ANC700BT) which isn’t a bad thing; they are comfortable, even during longer flights.
Inside the headphone
While the 40mm drivers of the ATH-ANC900BT don’t share the Direct Digital Drive technology of the ATH-DSR9BT flagship wireless headphones, they do share the same Diamond Like Coating (DLC) diaphragm coating on the drivers.
Other than the driver coating and brand name, these two flagships have very few similarities. The ATH-ANC900BT boasts of having “the highest degree of ambient noise reduction of any QuietPoint® model” via the use of the proprietary Digital hybrid noise-cancelling technology. This is a very elaborate way of describing the four-microphone array that is used for ambient noise control and phone calls, which are visible on the top of each earcup.
There is also a non-removable battery which boasts an extraordinary battery life: 35 hours in wireless mode with Bluetooth on, and 60 hours when cabled with noise cancelling mode. These figures are huge; and despite using these on several flights and lengthy listening sessions over the past few weeks, I’ve only run them flat once. Very impressive!
On the codec front, the usual suspects are all present: aptX, AAC and SBC. No aptX HD here; this is seemingly only reserved for the home friendly flagship cousin, Audio-Technica's ATH-DSR9BT.
Using the headphone
In any travel oriented headphone, comfort is more important than anything else. Thankfully, the ATH-ANC900BT has thick, soft memory foam pads, as well as a thoroughly padded headband. I’ve worn these on long flights without any comfort problems, and actually, prefer the feel of these to the heavy clamp of the noise cancelling status quo from brands such as Bose or B&W.
The noise cancelling features are all adjustable using the Audio-Technica “Connect” app and are impressive. Not only are there several levels of noise cancelling to choose from on-the-fly, but you can also adjust the levels of pass-through audio as well.
The Connect app also lets you choose exactly which codec the headphones will use, instead of just letting the phone decide by itself. It appears that another headphone has finally trumped the customisation options of the B&W PX or Sennheiser PXC 550 noise cancelling headphones, and this is the first time I’ve seen this feature.
The audio pass-through feature isn’t only enabled just by the app, but also has a dedicated button on the left earcup as well. Pressing it will instantly turn your music down to a whisper and will allow outside audio to filter through to the drivers. This is a real game changer for travelling, as you can use this feature when someone speaks to you, or if you hear an announcement coming through. Pressing the button once more will resume your old noise cancelling settings again, and will bring your music back to the desired volume level.
I seem to struggle with the touch controls of the ATH-ANC900BT just as much as I did with it’s younger ATH-ANC700BT sibling. Eventually, I just went back to using my phone for control. I just never seemed to get consistent registers with my taps and swipes to achieve the result I wanted; attempting to pause a track would turn the volume up, and vice versa.
Special mention goes to the inclusion of Bluetooth 5 in the ATH-ANC900BT. I am happily able to leave my phone in one room of the house and can be in a completely different room with a stable connection and no problems. Very impressive!
The noise cancelling of these headphones is downright excellent. When I’m listening to them at home, I have to dial the noise cancelling down a notch; otherwise, it’s creating too much of a lonely vacuum for me to sit in. During flights, this noise cancelling does a perfect job of drowning out engine noise, and caused no strange ringing or buzzing. The effect is distinctly more pronounced than with the ATH-ANC900BT.
Thankfully these aren’t tricky to fold and store; with swivel cups that collapse inward, they are relatively intuitive to stow away quickly if required. The hard case takes up slightly more room than a soft pouch would, but not enough to be a bother.
Whenever I test a pair of Audio-Technica headphones, I’m always very eager to put the dynamic range to the test. It’s always one facet that this brand exceeds in, and it’s always done tastefully. A great example of this is when listening to The Melody by Carl Craig. The ATH-ANC900BT cheerfully brings plenty of punch to the driving kickdrums and bumpy basslines, but without providing too much emphasis or attention to it. The violins that start seeping in at around the 1:02 mark are reproduced gently, without any ringing or sibilance; but are still distinct, without being outshined by the bopping bassline poking through underneath them.
For something a little more challenging, I put the ATH-ANC900BT through its paces by throwing Avril 14th by Daniel Hope at it. Often when using a Bluetooth noise cancelling headphone, delicate and intricate pieces like this can become a bit of a smear, losing all feelings of nuance and detail.
This wasn’t the case here. Even with noise cancelling switched on, each instrument is easily identifiable, and its place in the mix is easily discernible. The Bose QC35II struggles with this piece with its apparent U-shaped sound signature leaving a gap in the lower mids; whereas the ANH-ANC900BT gives plenty of body in this area, doing plenty of justice to the lower piano and cello notes.
One interesting thing to note: with the “airplane” noise cancelling setting switched on, I found the Audio-technica house sound tended to melt away a little bit, forming a slightly warmer, bassier signature. While I initially found this a little puzzling, once I stepped on a flight with them I quickly realised what was happening: the boffins at Audio-technica have found a way to tune this headphone to actually sound good during flights, not just passable. Funnily enough, I found them to sound good on the ground, but even better on an airplane!
While a pair of AT's latest might cost $100 more than the Bose QC35, the added features such as customisable audio pass-through, 35-hour battery life, and the dedicated listening button, the ATH-ANC900BT is unquestionably worth the few extra bob to be your new travel headphone.
With a healthy dollop of bass that doesn’t detract from the excellent Audio-technica house sound, and noise cancelling that competes and exceed the performance of the big boys, ATH-ANC900BT deserves a StereoNET 5-Star Applause Award.
WIN WITH STEREONET AND AUDIO-TECHNICA
Audio-technica has generously provided THREE pairs of the StereoNET Applause-Award winning ATH-ANC900BT headphones to give away to lucky readers. All you have to do to be in the running is head over here and submit your details to be in with a chance.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.