Editors' Note: As of August 2009, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones reviewed below have been replaced by the ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint headphones.
The latest export from Audio-Technica are the ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones. They are a noise-canceling headphone set with comfortable earpads and a detachable cable. Although they suffer from a few sound issues and can't really be used without the noise-cancellation feature, these headphones are a reasonable choice for frequent-fliers looking for new cans in the $100 to $200 range.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones aren't what you might consider the most portable headphones on the block, with earcups that measure roughly 3.7 inches by 3 inches. However, these do fold flat for storage, and you get a hard shell case to transport them in. The package also includes an airplane adapter, which adds to their travel-friendliness. Although Audio-Technica asserts that the ATH-ANC7s are closed-back headphones, we find that a fair amount of sound leaks through thanks to a small pass-through speaker on the back of each earcup. This is worth noting if you have concerns about disturbing your neighbor, or (ahem) would rather outsiders not be part of your listening experience.
One of the benefits of around-the-ear headphones is that they have relatively large earcups, which generally are more comfortable than those that rest on the cartilage of your ears. This is certainly true of the ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones, which are lined with a cushy padding that rests comfortably against the sides of the head. The top of the headband is padded, while the plastic edges are designed to curve out and away from the head. The headband is also fully adjustable, and the included, detachable cable is plenty long at 63 inches.
As the name suggests, the ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones offer an active noise-cancellation feature. The feature draws its power from a single AAA battery (included), inserted into the left earpiece. A switch on this same side allows you to control the power of this feature (the headphones work whether it is on or off). Audio-Technica reports that these headphones reduce background noise by up to 85 percent (or 20dB, for the technical people out there). Although we have no way to accurately measure this amount, we found that these headphones succeed at blocking a significant amount of low-end rumblings. A nearby server was completely canceled out, and our cubemate's voice lost its bass tones. Still, don't expect sharper noises to be noticeably diminished.
Coming around to sound quality, we have a few minor quibbles with the ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint headphones. With the noise-cancellation feature turned off, sound definitely has a muffled quality, with vocals and high-end details giving the impression that you're listening underwater. Yet, with the noise canceling turned on, the treble seems slightly brittle for the most part, and straight-up harsh in certain cases. Industrial metal such as Orgy and some party hip-hop tracks with a lot of high-end sound effects suffer. That being said, most genres come through fine, and the mids are certainly warm and encompassing. Bass response is also tight and plenty impressive--though not as thumping as some competitors. The little pass-through speakers mentioned earlier do a nice job of opening up the sound and keeping it outside of your head.