When it comes to headphones, there aren't many names as big as Audio-Technica among amateur audiophiles. The ATH-M50x headphones are one of the most popular models out there, and for good reason. They have a solid sound, durable build, and awesome loadout of cables. So what happens when you lop off the wire and load the ears full of Bluetooth and noise-canceling tech? You get Audio Technica's ATH-ANC700BT headphones. With a reputation like Audio Technica has, and a $199 price tag, there's a lot to live up to here. Let's dive in to take a look at the the set and see how they stack up against other Audio Technica headphones and other sets with similar tech.
Build, Feel, and Style
If nothing else, I love the aesthetic of the 700s. Audio Technica went with a "matte black everything" look for the pair, similar to my recently-reviewed Logitech G Pro headset. It's an attractive look that I feel good sporting in public. Aside from the Audio Technica logo on the side, they have a clean look. The left ear cup houses the power switch and LEDs for Bluetooth and noise-canceling data, as well as the jacks for the 3.5mm audio jack and the USB Micro charging port. The right ear is, aside from the small slots for the noise-canceling mics, entirely clean. The overall picture is very minimalist and a little futuristic, and as much as I love my forest-green M50x headphones, this look is pretty appealing.
It also feels good to wear. At 8.8 ounces, the 700s are about 10 percent lighter than the ATH-M50x headphones according to Audio Technica's official specs, but they feel a lot lighter in practice. As over-ear headphones, the 700s fit my normalish ears beautifully, giving a good bit more room than the M50s. They have enough clamping force to stay on my head pretty well unless I really start shaking my head, but not so much that they're uncomfortable. All together, that makes them comfortable to wear for extended periods in most climates.
Speaking of taking them to multiple climates, the 700s were definitely built with travel in mind. They come with a nice pouch and, more importantly, fold down flat. It's a 90°, one-way fold that sits nicely on my collar when I'm not using the headphones, and then can be folded inward to lie down in your backpack. I kept these in my backpack for weeks as I went back and forth to coffee shops, friends' houses, and whatever else, and they stood up well to the constant pressure and abuse. They should make very good travel headphones, if nothing else.
My one real complaint about the look and feel of the 700s is that the matte black material picks up fingerprints like crazy. Simple, human hand oil is enough to leave a mark, and it's really messing with the sleek look of the set. This is a problem for reasons we'll get into in the next section.
Connectivity & Control Music Factory
Audio Technica chose to keep things relatively simple on the tech side of things. These are Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancelling, but Audio Technica didn't bother with an app for them.
Pairing is simple – turn the 700s on, and look for the pairing option on your phone or Bluetooth device. That's it. It's nice that it's so simple, but it also means that if you have it paired with two devices, switching it from one to the other means manually disconnecting it from one or the other. Turning it on may have it pairing with the wrong device. This may not be a problem for most people, but for those that like to switch between their phones and computers, it could be an annoyance. There's no EQ settings, either, so any adjustments to the audio profile will have to happen on the software side.
One reason the look of the headphones is so clean is that the controls are all embedded in a touch sensor on the left ear. Touch the center to play and pause, tap up and down to change volume, and so forth. It's a neat idea, but it's annoying in practice. For one thing, if you're switching between headphones or just don't have a memory for arcane controls, you might find yourself referencing the manual, especially if the touch controls are the least bit unreliable. I had put the headphones into my backpack for a week and left them there while testing some other equipment, and when I next put them on, I couldn't remember for sure how to activate and deactivate the noise cancellation tech. I had been right, but just hadn't been palming the phone correctly to get the desired effect.
And, because you're going to be touching them constantly, and ideally with a firm, full-print press of your finger, that uncanny ability to pick up prints is going to be something you'll notice a lot.
The other really irritating aspect of the 700s comes when you plug them in to charge them. The headphones simply do not work when charging unless you use them in unpowered mode with a 3.5mm audio cable (also included). They'll drop the Bluetooth connection and just stop playing. If you're running low on battery, don't expect to get much out of these until they charge up.
Thankfully, the battery life on them is impressive. In later versions of Android, they'll communicate to the phone how much battery life they have (this works on my updated Nexus 6P, but didn't work on the Samsung Galaxy S6 I'd been using before.
Audio Technica promises 25 hours of battery life when using both the Bluetooth and ANC, and that stacks up with my experience. Sitting and using them for a few hours at the cafe left them sitting at a steady 70 percent battery life, and they lasted for weeks at a time with a couple daily hours of use. Even better, Audio Technica promises 1,000 hours of standby time, so if you turn them off when you're done, they'll hold onto the remaining charge for a long time.
While I don't dig the controls, that battery life is killer. It doubles some ANC headphones I've tried, and that is a big deal. Headphones are something you should be able to just pull out and put on. With a long-lasting battery, that's going to be the case that much more often.
The biggest question with ANC headphones isn't "does it affect the music," but more "how much does it destroy the music?" Active noise cancelling is an audiophile's worst nightmare, and in some ANC headphones, it's bad enough that it'll annoy even casual listeners. And, separately from that, how is the quality of the noise cancelling itself? Does it actually cut out the world around you, or is it a weak substitute for some good isolation?
This is where the 700s had the most trouble for me. As wireless headphones, they don't sound great.
With noise cancelling turned off, the 700s lean heavily on the bass to the point that it overpowers some of the mids and highs. It can verge on distracting on bass-heavy tracks. Listening to Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," the bass felt like it was distorting a little even at normal listening volumes.
Turn that noise cancelling on, though, and the coin flips. Any strength the bass has without the ANC is sucked dry and the bass goes from overpowering to uninteresting. Vocals sound like they're being delivered through a paper cone. Listening to pretty much any of Dr. Dre's classic tracks is disappointing thanks to the clipped bass and muffled vocals. Highs are augmented to the point of being overly bright. I often listen to vaporwave music while I work – feel free to judge me in the comments – and the vaporwave anthem "LISA FRANK 420" off of the Macintosh Plus album "Floral Shoppe" goes from being this airy, chill beat to being a bit hard on the ears. The bass powering Dick Dale's "Misrlou" is gone, while the hi-hats sound extra crispy.
The ANC itself isn't even particularly impressive. I also have a pair of JBL's Elite Everest 750NC headphones, and the noise cancelling those offer is much, much better. The 700s seem to mostly just cut out some bass and some background hiss, but noise with any detail – talking, dishes clanking – is unchanged. With the 750s, at least, the seal is good enough that they can help block out that noise on top of the noise cancelling. The 700s' earcups are soft but don't provide the same seal.
Audio Technica notes that plugging in the included 3.5mm audio cable is necessary for Hi-Res Audio, and indeed the overall audio profile of the headphones improves and feels a lot more even. But these are wireless headphones, and that definitely shouldn't be necessary.
The ATH-ANC700BTs have their draws. The battery life is awesome. They're light and stylish, and they travel very well.
But I have better Audio Technica headphones and I have better ANC headphones. At $199, the ATH-ANC700BT headphones might look like a bargain compared to other noise-canceling headphones, but they're unfortunately just not very interesting headphones.
Thank you to Audio46.com for supplying the headphones for this review.