CNET would have to have an army of reviewers dedicated singly to the headphone category to get to every set available on the market today, but despite this saturation, we never tire of newcomers trying their best to break into the public awareness. Phitek Systems isn't a newcomer in the strictest sense--the company is responsible for the technology behind other companies' designs (Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC7, for example)--but the OEM is now trying its hand at its own brand with the Blackbox line of noise-cancellation headphones.
It's clear that Phitek knows what it's doing. The compact C18 earphones certainly don't fail to impress, and we're not disappointed with the company's full-size model, either. The M10 Noise Cancellation Headphones ($179) are a comfy set with solid audio quality and a fair smattering of extras. That said, they still come off as a slightly pared-down version of the ATH-ANC7 when it comes to looks and features, so pay attention to retail price when comparison shopping.
Overall, the design of the Blackbox M10 headphones is not particularly special or eye-catching, but neither is it offensive. Indeed, the set is quite comfortable, with cushy, memory-foam padding on the earcups and a padded, adjustable headband. The color-scheme is pretty plain: mostly black with some dark gray accenting. The M10 is not exceptionally compact: the earcups measure 3.6 by 2.8 inches and fold flat for storage, but the headband does not bend in. Phitek includes a nylon pouch for storing the headphones while not in use. This definitely comes off as a bit cheap next to the ATH-ANC7's hard-sided shell.
Other extras include an airplane adapter, a quarter-inch adapter, and several removable headphone audio cables with gold-plated plugs. But, of course, the main feature is the Blackbox M10's noise-canceling capability. A battery compartment in the right earcup, which can be exposed by twisting the outer shell, provides the power for this feature, while a switch on the left lets you activate it. Unlike the competition from Bose, the M10 can be used without the noise canceling turned on--always nice, since that means if you run out of juice midflight, you can still listen to music.
Even better, the sound quality through the Blackbox M10 headphones is good whether you have the noise canceling on or off, although you get a crisper response with the cancellation activated. In fact, music has a distinctly muffled quality with the feature turned off, but at least you can still listen. In general, though, you can expect clear, detailed highs, rich mids, and a tight, thumpy low-end. Our only quibbles are that music is not as enveloping as with luxury headphones, the midrange isn't as buttery, and some frantic rock songs can sound a little messy. Still, for noise-canceling headphones in this price range, the M10s do an admirable job. One warning: these cans leak a fair amount of sound, so if you prefer to keep your listening experience private, you may want to look elsewhere.