• Headset Functionality with Inline Mic/Control: The ATH-ANC9 is the first-ever Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphone to come with two signal cables, one of which incorporates an inline mic/control module. Audio-Technica says, “the mic and controller support select smartphone models and touchpad devices,” and then adds that, “the microphone has an omnidirectional pickup pattern and is designed for crisp intelligibility, so you voice will be clearly transmitted without having to speak directly into the mic.” Control functions operate as follows:
o Play music/Pause music/Answer & End Calls: Press the control button once.
o Go to the Next Track: Double-click the control button.
o Go to the Previous Track: Triple-click the control button.
o Case: Semi-hard shell travel case with fabric covering, zipper closure, and a carabiner-type belt clip.
o 6.3mm (1/4-inch) phone plug adapter.
o 2 Signal Cables: One 1.2M straight cable with gold-plated 3.5mm mini-plugs, plus one 1.2M cable with inline mic/control module.
o Airline Adapter.
o AAA Battery.
It can be challenging to describe the sonic character of noise-cancelling headphone that offer multiple noise reductions settings, largely because the voicing of the headphone can shift somewhat as different modes are engaged. So, in the interest of imposing some order on potential chaos, I will begin by describing what I think is the core sound of the ATH-ANC9 when heard at its best, and then add specific comments to address the relative effects of each of the headphone’s three active noise cancellation modes (and of its passive mode).
Core Sound (Power On): The core sound of the ATH-ANC9 is fairly well balanced, but tilted toward the warmer or darker side of the audio spectrum relative to strict neutrality. By this I mean that, if you graphed the A-T’s frequency response curve, I suspect you would see the entire graph tipped downward on a gentle slope from bass through the midrange and on into the treble region. In practice this means low frequencies are pushed forward slightly, though not to an excessive degree. Midrange frequencies, including those difficult-to-reproduce upper midrange frequencies, are for the most part evenly balanced, while highs are somewhat subdued.
To be fair, though, let me concede that my “accuracy standard” (apart from the sound of live music) is the sound of some very accurate and very costly high-end headphones and loudspeakers, which I keep on hand as references. If, however your frame of reference happened to be one of those wildly bass-boosted “hip hop” headphones on the market, you would probably consider the ATH-ANC9 to offer very accurate, unexaggerated sound indeed.
To my ears, the best part of the ATH-ANC9 is its midrange, which is the region where the headphone sounds most evenly balanced, with resolution and dynamic expressiveness that are both very good. While I would not say the ATH-ANC9 can quite equal the midrange openness and transparency of today’s best passive headphones in the mid-$300 price range, the Audio-Technica is a very strong contender relative to other noise-cancelling ‘phones now on the market.
The ATH-ANC9 offers a pleasant, engaging, and yet also relaxing listening experience, and the general shape of the headphone’s voicing curve nicely fits its noise-cancelling mission. For example, I’ve said the ANC9 serves up somewhat elevated bass, which I think is a smart way for designers to hedge their bets in a design geared for use in noisy environments, since background noise often tends to swallow up perceived low-end response.
Similarly, the Audio-Technica’s smooth but somewhat subdued highs also represent a smart choice given that these headphones are likely to fed compressed digital music files through iPods or other small digital music players, which have been known to sound rough and/or overly bright at times. Given this, the ATH-ANC9 offers some well-judged compromises; it has enough treble response so as not to sound dark or dull, yet its highs are subdued just enough to maintain a smooth, listenable sound when the going gets rough.
Compared to Audio-Technica’s earlier ATH-ANC7b, the ATH-ANC9 sounds cleaner, purer, and more expressive, I think for two reasons. First, the ATH-ANC9’s amplifier is noticeably quieter than the ANC7b’s was, with little if any audible hiss or “DSP hash.” Second, the ANC9 offers multiple noise reduction modes, where the ANC7b offered only one, thus enabling users to fine-tune noise reduction characteristics to fit their listening environments. Do multiple noise cancellation modes really offer significant benefits? I think they definitely do, because they give users the option of trying different modes on the fly until they find the mode that—for their specific environments—provides that just right combination of sonic transparency and low background noise. In short, the ANC9 proves the truth on an old audiophile’s axiom: whenever noise goes down, perceived sound quality goes up.