Frequent fliers have a special challenge when it comes time to pick out headphones. Finding 'phones with a travel-friendly design, but that are also comfortable and provide great sound with some capability to block out ambient noise can be tough. Now add in a budget of $100 and you can forget about getting all those features in one package...or maybe not. Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint headphones may have an MSRP of $130, but they can be found online for $100, and they solidly address all of the above considerations.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint headphones are clearly designed with the traveler in mind; indeed, they are one of the most compact on-ear models we've come across. The adjustable metal headband is very thin and covered with flexible black plastic. You might think that the lack of padding on the band, which serves to eliminate possible bulk, would be uncomfortable, but surprisingly, that's not the case. Though they don't provide the cushiest fit possible, the headphones are not overly tight and are very lightweight. Plus, the earpieces, which are also impressively compact at 1.7-inch in diameter, are padded with a soft leatherette material. The one potential downside is that the headband doesn't seem completely sturdy.
Descending from each earpiece is a thick, flexible black cable the combines about a foot down at a Y-junction, where it becomes even thicker and more durable. Follow the cord of the ATH-NC1 another 21 inches and you'll get to the integrated noise cancellation module. We have to say that we're really happy with the placement of this feature, as it is positioned optimally for clipping to your pocket or belt as opposed to your shirt. Another cable, measuring an additional 10 inches and terminating in a gold-plated straight-plug, serves to connect to an audio device.
In addition to the noise cancellation feature-- which is a pretty simple affair with a battery compartment, on/off switch, and built-in clip--Audio-Technica includes a few other extras in the package. The ATH-ANC1 comes with one AAA battery, a 20-inch extender cable, a dual-pronged airplane adapter, and a soft-sided zippered pouch with two compartments. Plus, you can use the headphones with or without the noise cancellation activated. Not too shabby, considering the affordable street pricing.
Although the ATH-ANC1 headphones work just fine without the noise canceling turned on, sound is a bit hollow and lacking when you listen in this way, but the fact that they provide even decent audio without battery power is a plus. Still, flipping the power switch makes a huge difference. Music immediately becomes deeper, richer, and more open. Bass response is kicky without being overpowering and the mid-range has that warm, buttery quality that we crave. Even the highs are impressively detailed, given the affordable price point, though these may not be quite crisp enough for some listeners.
The ATH-ANC1 headphones' capability to block out ambient noise particularly pleased us. We tested them in a busy cafe and were happy to note a significant reduction in the endless chatter surrounding us. That being said, these 'phones aren't the most efficient we've tested; we had to have the test MP3 player turned up nearly all the way to get the volume we crave, and we don't listen to music at high levels. So if you like your music loud, these may not be satisfying for you. However, on the whole, we're impressed with the level of audio and balance offered by the ATH-ANC1 and we think they'll work well for those who enjoy a wide variety of music genres.