Just returned from another trip where I used the Audio Technica ATH ANC7b noise canceling headphones and during which I had time to analyze the headphones a bit more.
These price of the headphones was under $100 at Costco and they still sound better to me than any Bose headphones I’ve ever heard, noise canceling or not. They also exert less negative pressure on the eardrums than any other noise canceling headphones I’ve tried. This means that they feel natural when worn instead of feeling like you’re purposely trying to put your ears in a separate room. While they sound good, they still don’t sound incredible. Without the NR engaged they are pretty bass-heavy and the audio level is lower because all active circuitry is bypassed. Flip the switch and you have a couple of seconds of transition time where you can hear the NR engaging. The audio level comes up and the sound becomes clearer and better balanced. I’ve noticed that there is a slight background clicking when moving around with them on which is probably because they are primarily plastic so they’re prone to static build up and there’s probably some transmission of plastic-on-plastic through the headband.
I mentioned in a previous post that they don’t seal out all noise, so if you stop your audio source you can still hear crew and pilot announcements without removing them. They need to be pulled off the ear to hold a conversation with a seat mate, but once you turn the audio source back on you’re in your own audio comfort zone.
I’m still happy with these things for travel but would never try to do any critical listening on them which means carrying a second pair of headphones if traveling for an audio job. The Triple-Fi 10’s, which are better for hearing accurately, are usually in my bag as a backup in case a set of headphones fail (and they work great when you don’t want a big set of cans on your head) but carrying headphones for critical listening usually means tossing ATH-M50x’s in the travel bag too.
Just for fun I recorded some of the background noise from the last flight of this trip using the microphone in my iPad Mini as a reminder of why everyone should wear sealed headphones on all flights. This is the noise present on large aircraft that contributes to travel being such a grind (you can also hear the flight attendant serving drinks and talking to passengers seated behind me).