The two most in-demand features in modern headphones are wireless playback and active noise cancellation (ANC), and Audio-Technica is addressing both with the launch of three new sets of headphones at CES 2019.
At the top of the range is the ATH-ANC900BT, which you can think of as Audio-Technica’s answer to the Sony 1000X M3 and Bose QC 35 II. The noise canceling of this device has three separate modes, and you’ll be able to adjust the intensity for yourself via an accompanying Audio-Technica Connect mobile app. Multiple microphones embedded into the headphones monitor and adjust to ambient noise.
The most appealing spec of the ANC900BT, which support Bluetooth 5, is a claimed battery life of 35 hours with ANC turned on. That number overshadows most of what we’ve seen on the market so far, and it will absolutely pose a challenge to Sony’s reigning champion 1000Xs.
What’s not to like about these new headphones? Well, they only support AptX and AAC, not higher-quality wireless standards like AptX HD or LDAC. They also use swipe controls, which I’ve yet to see any pair of over-ear headphones make a real success out of. And they charge via Micro USB, bucking the growing trend toward USB-C on everything.
The good thing about the ANC900BT is their price, which, at $299 / €299, undercuts both the Sony and Bose category leaders and gives you plenty of reason to be intrigued. Audio-Technica promises that these are its best and most sophisticated ANC headphones yet, with a coating of diamond-like carbon on the 40mm drivers and the company’s “renowned signature sonics.” The ANC900BT slot in above the $199 M50xBT, adding the ANC that those headphones lacked. You’ll be able to buy Audio-Technica’s ANC900BT starting in March.
A more affordable noise-canceling option, priced at $99 / €99, is the ANC500BT. Again, they use Micro USB for charging, they don’t support any high-quality wireless audio codecs — they’re limited to just SBC, in fact — but they do offer good battery life for their price with a promised endurance of 20 hours on a charge. Like the 900s, these headphones fold down flat for easy portability. Given the dearth of good wireless ANC headphones below the $100 mark, it’s reasonable to expect that all of the limitations of Audio-Technica’s 500BTs might be overlooked by people who are keen on getting the good sound and design of a well-established brand. They go on sale in the spring.
Last but not least, Audio-Technica is also launching the ATH-ANC100BT, a pair of $99 / €99 wireless in-ears with built-in noise-canceling. They do come with a chunky remote control to house the battery — because wireless, ANC, an affordable price, and perfect portability are a few too many things to expect from a single product — which is rated to last for 10 hours at a time. Like the ANC500BTs, these in-ear buds don’t support anything beyond Bluetooth 4.2 and SBC. But they do give you noise-canceling capabilities in a diminutive package and at a reasonable price. The 100BTs go on sale in the spring.
Taken as a whole, Audio-Technica’s new ANC lineup makes a lot of sense. It strikes at the parts of the market that are not particularly well-served at the moment. Sub-$300 flagship noise-canceling headphones are still hard to find — good ones, at least — and it’s usually only through discounts or buying the previous model that you’d have been able to get a pair. Most people still buy their headphones for less than $100, so it also makes a ton of sense to target them directly. Audio-Technica’s success with this new trifecta launching at CES today will be heavily dependent on just how good they sound. The battery life is there, the wireless specs might not be, but if they’re practical and pleasurable to listen to, these new Audio-Technica headphones will find a receptive market.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.