au­dio-tech­nica ATH-ANC700BT

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Noise-can­celling (NC) and Blue­tooth to­gether of course de­liver the ul­ti­mate in con­ve­nience — hands­free with­out ca­bles, noise-free by cun­ning can­cel­la­tion of lower fre­quen­cies. Yet it’s no­to­ri­ously hard to achieve with dis­tinc­tion. As we’ve seen on many wire­less NC de­signs, prob­lems come when de­cid­ing how to ‘voice’ the head­phones. Do you cre­ate the best pos­si­ble ca­bled sound and then hope Blue­tooth won’t muck it up too much? Or do you as­sume most peo­ple will use Blue­tooth, voice it for that and let the ca­bled per­for­mance suf­fer? Or a com­pro­mise? Noise-can­celling adds a third ef­fect on the sound, ei­ther ca­bled or wire­less, so the de­sign­ers are left seek­ing a so­lu­tion be­tween four sep­a­rate set of son­ics.

Au­dio-Tech­nica cer­tainly has a head­start in de­liv­er­ing ca­bled head­phone sound, hav­ing done so re­li­ably for decades. The NC700BT feels as solid as the com­pany’s usual de­signs — all in a durable matte black plas­tic, with mem­ory foam earpads, the head­shells able both to twist flat around your neck (fac­ing down) or to fold up on the other axis for very com­pact storage. Com­fort was high through­out use, the head­band es­pe­cially so, spread­ing the point of con­tact so that this rel­a­tively light de­sign felt al­most weight­less, ex­ert­ing no sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure around the ears. You could eas­ily kip on the plane wear­ing these.

All the con­trols and in­di­ca­tors are on the left head­shell (see be­low), along with the con­nec­tors for USB charg­ing and the ca­ble, if you’re us­ing it.

The only phys­i­cal switch is to power them on, but the left earshell has touch points — tap in the mid­dle to play/pause (and to an­swer calls), swipe up/down for next/last track, tap top or bot­tom for vol­ume up/down. This all worked well, although the vol­ume changes are ac­com­pa­nied by loud and re­dun­dant bleeps, and also, when used with an ad­mit­tedly age­ing iPhone 5s, only raised the vol­ume to what­ever was set on the phone, re­quir­ing the phone it­self to be used to go higher, rather than the full range be­ing con­trolled back to the phone by AVRCP, in the Blue­tooth pro­file. (The man­ual does say “The vol­ume con­trol of some de­vices may not work well with the prod­uct.”)

There’s not much to tell on the au­dio tech; the driv­ers are an un­spec­i­fied type of 40mm di­aphragm, likely My­lar or sim­i­lar be­ing the di­aphragm ma­te­rial.

Bal­anced for Blue­tooth

We used these head­phones in their var­i­ous lis­ten­ing modes for the best part of a month. We reckon that, sen­si­bly enough, the bal­ance has been op­ti­mised for ac­tive Blue­tooth use, which is how most users will un­doubt­edly op­er­ate them. In di­rect com­par­i­son we thought the pas­sive ca­bled sound to be just a lit­tle boxy. Lou Reed’s vo­cal on Walk On The Wild Side was rather shut in, soft in com­par­i­son to the other three op­tions, lack­ing airi­ness and cut-through, leav­ing things tilted a lit­tle too full in the up­per bass. But that’s not to crit­i­cise the over­all qual­ity — though not en­tirely nat­u­ral, it was a de­tailed and pow­er­ful sound, mu­si­cally en­joy­able, and the usual credit to the brand.

Keep­ing the ca­ble at­tached we switched the head­phones on, so en­gag­ing the ac­tive cir­cuits and noise-can­celling. We note this changes the im­ped­ance of the head­phones from 35 ohms to 150 ohms, though there’s no drop in level, the ac­tive cir­cuits and a higher sen­si­tiv­ity in this mode pre­sum­ably com­pen­sat­ing. Again there’s plenty of level avail­able, while the ac­tive mode bright­ens things up nicely, at

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