Able Planet's Clear Harmony active noise-canceling headphones aim to compete with the well-known and expensive Bose Quiet Comfort series. The Clear Harmony headphones improve upon some of the design flaws of the Quiet Comfort (such as the inability to listen to music after the batteries have died), but the product is still pricey at just under $300.
As a competitor to a well-established luxury product (the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 and Quiet Comfort 3), Able Planet's Clear Harmony headphones have an equally luxurious quality. At a distance, the Able Planet Clear Harmony headphones easily could be mistaken for the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. The soft, padded black leather on the headband and the earcups feels comfortable and hugs the head with an easy pressure. The cups fold down flat for storage, and the removable 5-foot cable lets you easily swap in a replacement or use the headphones strictly for shutting out noise. The included carrying case comes with a 0.25-inch jack and two-prong airplane adapters. The case also includes a molded compartment that perfectly fits a full-size Apple iPod and would be suitable for other types of MP3 players as well.
Noise cancellation is where the Able Planet's Clear Harmony headphones really excel -- reducing noise by an unprecedented 18dB. We could detect a subtle white noise created by the noise cancellation, but that's a fine trade-off for how much background noise the headphones eliminate. The active noise cancellation can be turned on and off using a switch that can be accessed on the rear edge of the left earcup. Even with the noise cancellation switched off (or if the two AAA batteries that power it are removed), the Clear Harmony headphones still can be used to play music (unlike the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 and Quiet Comfort 3, which need to be powered to work).
In addition to the active noise cancellation, the Clear Harmony headphones take advantage of a patented sound enhancement technology called Linx Audio, which was developed to increase speech clarity in hearing aids but has the added advantage of enhancing musical harmonics as well. We thought the sound enhancement worked well, but with so much technology involved in active noise cancellation headphones, it's hard for music not to sound a little tainted by the process. In spite of this, we believe the Clear Harmony headphones do a commendable job presenting a balance of rich bass and crisp highs in the face of a variety of noisy situations. If significant noise reduction is not a priority, we prefer the more spacious sound of the Ultrasone HFI-650 headphones.
The Able Planet Clear Harmony active noise-cancelling headphones are a great choice for travelers or anyone looking to bring some more peace and quiet into their lives. It's worth noting that Able Planet claims Clear Harmony can be worn with hearing aids without causing electromagnetic interference. We noticed, however, that the headphones did pick up cell phone interference caused by incoming calls. As an alternative to the Bose Quiet Comfort series, the Clear Harmony offers functional improvements of increased noise reduction and the ability to operate the headphones without power. Unfortunately, without Bose's brand recognition and dependable track record, Clear Harmony likely will be a tough sell considering the luxury price tag.