REVIEW: NAD ELECTRONICS HP70 NOISE CANCELLING BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES
What better way to test noise-cancelling, Bluetooth over-ear headphones than on a flight? Read on for this real-world test of the flagship HP70 headphones from NAD Electronics.
Noise Cancelling Bluetooth over-ear headphones
A few weeks ago, I flew on an overseas trip with 23 or so colleagues, and naturally as the 'headphone guy' many of them asked me for some headphones. As I was lucky enough to have access to quite a few pairs of noise-cancelling headphones at the time, I was more than happy to oblige.
The only problem was I let one of the said colleagues use the HP70 from NAD Electronics that were in for a review. He enjoyed them so much that it took over a week to pry them away from his vice grip.
His enthusiasm sparked my curiosity though. Why did these headphones leave such a big impression?
NAD is an abbreviation for New Acoustic Dimension, a Canadian brand and part of the Lenbrook stable which includes PSB Speakers and Bluesound. While it's undoubtedly one of the more famous names in the Hi-Fi market, what they aren't necessarily known for though is headphones. So my exposure to this brand has been limited until now.
The HP70 is NAD’s flagship headphone, leading the pack in front of the wired over-ear HP50, the portable HP30, and the in-ear HP20.
The HP70 boasts some solid features, such as Active Noise Cancelling, aptX-HD over Bluetooth, RoomFeel and NFC connectivity. Coming in at $599 AUD, this flagship wireless release is locking horns with the Sony WH-1000XM2 ($499 AUD), the B&O BeoPlay H8 ($599 AUD), the Sennheiser PXC 550 ($499 AUD) and the B&W PX ($549 AUD).
There are seemingly more portable headphone choices in this price bracket than there are pizzas on the menu at my local Italian restaurant. Does NAD have the right toppings on this slice to become the new favourite?
Once you peel away the soft leatherette case and remove the cans from their snug storage position, one thing becomes immediately apparent: these headphones are completely different from anything else in this price bracket.
Seeing the feature list and the pricing, I expected a small, elegant, compact offering, with tiny lashings of supple materials, and a fine string of a headband connecting the two ear cups. But this is not what the HP70 is all about.
Instead, what we get is a 320-gram beast, with big apparent buttons on the side, large soft padding on the ear cups, and high-quality, sturdy materials covering a thick headband. It's a wireless headphone that means business and isn’t here to screw around. It’s huge.
There are no fiddly touch panels for controls here, and no learning curve to using these headphones.
But just because these are enormous and intuitively designed, it doesn’t mean they are ugly. Each cup is attached to the headband with sizeable polished metal arms, the headband is lashed with stitched faux leather, and the entire headphone keeps a consistent yet professional black and silver colour scheme.
At 320 grams, they are just shy of the weighty B&W PX (335 grams) and considerably heavier than the featherweight Sennheiser PXC 550 (225 grams).
Immediately, I loved the look and feel of these headphones. They are unique; chunky and intuitive, but still elegant and sleek.
Inside the closed-back enclosures are 40mm dynamic drivers, with an impedance of 32ohms when wired. When listening wirelessly, they are powered by portable internal amplifiers, with a THD of 0.25% (which goes up to 0.5% with noise-cancelling switched on).
Where the HP70 shines though is in the internal software. Bluetooth aptX-HD is a wireless codec that is often reserved for high-end wireless flagships (such as the Audio-Technica ATH DSR9BT) and is surprisingly included here as well. Paired with VISO’s own “RoomFeel” technology, no software features are being missed here.
On phone call duties, there are two “beam-forming” microphones which are used exclusively for voice calls (which they do an excellent job of). There are separate microphones just for the active noise cancelling.
It may sound ridiculous, but I must commend the fact that these headphones still contain a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s sadly becoming rare on wireless headphones, and it would be remiss of me not to mention this inclusion.
Powered by Micro USB, the rechargeable battery is rated to last fifteen hours on a single charge. My tests roughly matched this rating, with the bonus of “passive” mode (allowing you to switch the battery off entirely and use the 3.5mm headphone jack like a regular pair of headphones).
Using the headphone
With a firm grip on the head that doesn’t make life too unpleasant, the HP70 is a headphone that immediately lets you know it means business the second you wear them.
Despite the larger size, they're certainly not uncomfortable, but you’ll most definitely be aware of their presence. Some people (myself included) prefer the feel of a large headphone, compared to something small and flimsy.
There is a myriad of choices for inputs, including the (seemingly undocumented) USB audio input. Using the latter method allowed me to use these with an empty battery on any PC, just by plugging them into the USB port. No extra drivers or programs need to be installed.
The noise cancellation is effective at eliminating low frequencies outside the headphone but leaves the rest of the frequency spectrum mostly untouched. It does come at the cost of some midbass response, however.
Without noise cancelling, these headphones do a great job of passive isolation (roughly on par with the Audio-Technica ATH M50X). The inclusion of noise-cancelling is lovely, but it should be pointed out that they do such a great job even when switched off.
These are easily the simplest to use Bluetooth headphones I’ve come across. Even my tech-impaired friends can understand and use these headphones instantly, without using the instruction manual.
Just remember to them off after you’re done using them, however. Unsurprisingly, leaving them switched on will drain the battery entirely over time.
The strong passive isolation of the HP70 sets the stage early in the piece; a dead silent and black background create a blank canvas in which the 40mm drivers can use to paint the sound, without having to struggle or fight with any neighbouring noise.
The dynamic range is the first thing that reaches out and grabs you. Soft and gentle violin passages are neatly tucked away in the mix, and booming bass lines are right out in front where they are intended to sit.
Sporting an exciting sound signature, the HP70 showcases some impressive abilities with dance and bass heavy music, while retaining some civility through its expansive soundstage and charming dynamics. The distance between the ear and the drivers give a big helping hand in providing pinpoint imaging and an immense feeling of space between the ears.
If you’re thirsty for something loud, the HP70 has bucketloads of headroom to play with. Seriously, I would say it’s almost too much. Surely no one requires this kind of volume, and if you do, I feel sorry for your hearing. Still, loud volume is there by the barrel full if you want it.
The extended bass and treble sound signature doesn’t entirely discard the midrange; instead, it compliments it favourably by adding some warmth to it with generous levels of coherent midbass. Still, the headphone does lend itself towards bass-laden music, rather than classical or orchestral music.
The refined sound signature of the similarly priced PX is far more subdued than the HP70, giving preference to the midrange. The bass on the HP70 is a lot more exciting and impactful, giving a bit more punch to the midbass and some more rumble down low.
Where the PX might be lacking in bass, however, it makes up for it with award-winning design. Despite being a smaller package, the B&W offering feels a lot more solid and sturdy, utilising sleek metals and cleverly placed leather instead of the HP70’s plastic and faux leather mix.
The PX is roughly on-par when it comes to comfort, but the size of the HP70 might take some getting used to if you’re not quite ready for it.
While being in a price bracket below the HP70, the ATH-ANC700BT is regularly able to fight in weight divisions above its own. When going head to head with the HP70, it’s complicated touch panel system instantly made me miss the HP70’s “even grandpa could use them” controls.
After wrestling with the UI, the ATH-ANC700BT reminded me of its stellar noise-cancelling ability, which outclasses many in its price range. This time around, however, the noise cancelling is no match for the HP70’s superior silencing abilities.
Even when switched off, the HP70 still puts up a fair fight against the noise cancelling of the Audio-Technica offering
When it comes to playback, the ANC700BT comes off feeling a bright and dry, whereas the HP70 feels a little more capable and full range in comparison, with more weight being given to the low end.
Both are a supremely enjoyable listen, and I’d be hard pressed to find favour with either.
The NAD VISO HP70 is a very capable Bluetooth offering, with a full range response with strong, yet dynamic bass, and ludicrously intuitive controls.
Its large size might take some getting used to, but if you’re looking for an involving and isolating listening experience for on-the-go, you may have just found it.
For more information visit NAD Electronics.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.