The droning sounds of aircraft engines and chatter of passengers during flights are tiring and distracting, but there are solutions to the problem. I conducted extensive tests of the Audio-Technica ATH ANC7b QuietPoint Active Noise-cancelling Headphones to see how well they block out these noises versus 3M’s 1100 model Foam Ear Plugs during several long flights to other countries from Australia.
An aircraft environment exposes travellers to noise from many sources including other passengers, propulsion systems such as engines, aerodynamic noise from air passing around the aircraft and in-flight announcements.
The following are not audiophile reviews but comparative practical reviews of how well each option stacks up for use by frequent travellers. My test MP3 audio files were from an ABC Classic FM album, Chillout music album and Terry Pratchett Audiobooks.
Why didn’t I review the Bose QC15’s instead of the Audio-Techina ATH ANC7b? The QC15’s are an excellent product but their RRP is twice as much as the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b. I didn’t feel twice the cost was justifiable and the QC15’s stop working when the battery goes flat which is a big flaw. When the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b battery goes flat they continue to work as normal passive noise blocking over ear headphones.
Noise cancelling/reduction (claimed to be 90% by the manufacturer) is turned on and off via a small switch on the left earpiece. A light next to the switch turns blue to notify flight attendants that is turned on, and so you remember to turn it off when packing it away. Good design means only one AAA battery is required and it slots into the right ear piece.
They were completely comfortable to wear for long periods such as a 7 hour flight between Cairns and Osaka without being uncomfortable, hot or sweaty.
All of the electronics and noise cancelling circuitry is inside the frame and ear pieces, so a separate bulky attachment isn’t required along the cord.
The over ear design is effective at blocking noise passively. However it means that sleeping is only easy with your head facing forwards. Trying to sleep with your head tilted to the left or right would mean the ear piece would be between your head and the seat.
Since the Audio-Technicas are rigid over the ear headphones they are clearly more bulky and have a case that requires a lot more space than earphones or earplugs. The Audio-Technica box includes a two-prong airline seat socket adaptor and two cable lengths to choose from. Overall they are the best choice for frequent travellers who want to listen to audio onboard their flights and block a lot of the noise.
Last but not least, dollar for dollar the best in-flight value noise cancelling option is the orange 3M 1100 model Foam Ear Plugs sold at chemists and hardware stores for a $1, or less in bulk. When I used the foam earplugs in conjunction with the Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphones turned on and not plugged into any audio source they blocked out almost all the noise so we could sleep in peace.
The Audio-Technica ATH ANC7b QuietPoint active noise-cancelling headphones have an RRP of $AUS 249 but they are available online for about $AUS180. Audio-Technica also sell ANC9 headphones which claim 95% active noise cancellation/reduction but cost about $100 more.