Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 noise cancelling earphones

These $99 earbuds block out external noise and boost your music’s quality

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Audio Technica ATH-ANC23
  • Audio Technica ATH-ANC23
  • Audio Technica ATH-ANC23
  • Audio Technica ATH-ANC23

Pros

  • Excellent noise cancellation for earbuds
  • Good passive noise cancellation

Cons

  • Noise cancellation circuit is heavy
  • Ear-buds are comparatively bulky

Bottom Line

Audio-Technica has brought the price of noise cancelling earphones sharply down with the ATH-ANC23. These earbuds have decent sound quality and good noise cancellation, although the buds' large size and the heavy weight of the noise cancellation circuitry will annoy anyone looking for especially small or portable listening.

Would you buy this?

Audio-Technica has made a name for itself in the last few years by challenging Bose and Sony with cheaper noise cancelling headphones with excellent sound quality. We thought the $349 ATH-ANC9 headphones were better value than Bose’s QuietComfort 15s.

The ATH-ANC23 brings noise cancelling to low-cost earbuds; these $99 ‘travel’ earbuds claim to block out 90 per cent of outside noise.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23: Design

These headphones are split into two important parts: the earbuds themselves, and a chewing gum packet-sized box that holds the necessary noise cancellation circuitry and a AAA battery.

The ATH-ANC23 earbuds are a hybrid type, compromising between the larger size of traditional earphones and the ear canal penetration of smaller in-ear models. What we don’t like about these hybrids is the large diameter of the speaker (13mm) and the depth to which the silicon sleeve extends — the overall feeling is that the earbuds are quite large and intrusive, which takes some getting used to.

The earbuds measure 30mm from tip to tail (twice the size of the q-Jays) and there’s around 25mm of speaker and inflexible cable before the soft cord starts. If you’ve got small ears, this might be a problem.

The up-side of the size of these earphones is the extent to which they passively block out external noise. Even without the active, battery-powered noise cancellation turned on, the ATH-ANC23 significantly cuts out ambient noise, making your world a little bit quieter even if you’re not listening to music or draining the battery.

Audio-Technica bundles small, medium and large silicon ear-tips but also includes a set of the excellent Comply foam tips — we used these for most of our testing due to their excellent sealing and passive noise isolation.

The noise cancellation circuit box and battery case of the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 measures a full 53mm long, 32mm wide and 15mm deep, with the crocodile clip on the back increasing the incidental depth to 23mm. Inflexible cables mean the box is effectively 85mm long.

This box is the main impediment to us recommending the ATH-ANC23 freely — it’s a bit bulky and it adds weight, occasionally pulling the headphones out of your ears unless it’s clipped to your shirt.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23: Performance and sound quality

There are two aspects to the ATH-ANC23’s performance: their sound quality and the operation of the active noise cancelling.

The sound quality of these Audio-Technica earphones is pretty good, once you consider the $99 price tag and even cheaper street prices. Switch the noise cancelling on to get the best sound, and the ATH-ANC23 can produce reasonably strong bass that is punchy and not boomy as well as moderately clear treble. Mid-range is OK rather than great — it’s a little lost in the bass and doesn’t contain a great amount of detail.

When the noise cancelling circuit is switched off, the ATH-ANC23 still plays music — useful if the battery runs out mid-way across the Pacific, or if you’re fatigued from the noise cancelling trickery. Bass and treble take a significant hit, with a small amount of clarity and overall volume lost.

The noise cancelling of the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 is, by and large, effective. We tested it in a busy office with loud air-conditioning, a swathe of office PCs humming and a large printer-copier running regularly. It doesn’t have the various cancellation modes of the ATH-ANC9 headphones, but the one-size-fits-all noise cancellation does a good job of cutting out lower frequency ambient noise and consistent background hums. The imperfect sealing of the earbuds stops absolutely all noise being cancelled out, though.

Audio-Technica says the AAA battery should last for 60 hours, which is a month’s worth of commuting to work and back. The circuitry doesn’t automatically go into standby if there’s no audio signal, though, so it’s possible to accidentally leave them on over a weekend and drain the battery completely.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23: Conclusion

The ATH-ANC23 earphones are a very cheap way to get some reasonably good noise cancelling in a moderately compact package. As long as you’re happy to have the noise cancelling box clipped to your shirt or blouse, they work well and sound acceptably clear and musical.

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