Review: Denon AH-NC800 active noise canceling headphones
Frequent travelers almost always have a couple of gadgets they consider a "must have" in their technology arsenal - and noise canceling headphones are almost always high on that list. Walk through any premium class cabin, and you'll see row after row of people blocking out the noise of air travel.
In this review, we'll take a closer look at a pair of headphones from audio experts Denon. Their AH-NC800 noise canceling headphones also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company, making one of the oldest names in the industry.
The headphones are active noise canceling - which means they use microphones and special circuitry to listen to outside noise, and actually cancel it out with "anti-noise". By creating an opposite audio signal, your music or other audio source is combined, and in an ideal situation, the only remaining noise is what you actually want to hear - blocking jet engines, crying babies and your husband or wife.
Before we go on - let me point out that these are by no means budget friendly headphones. With a retail price of just under $350, these are the headphones you buy when you really want to appreciate your music, and get rid of noise. If you are used to traveling with $2 headphones, you'll either need to reconsider your needs, or keep suffering.
The AH-NC800's come in an attractive plastic case, with plenty of mentions of the 100 year anniversary of the company. Inside the box are the headphones, a hard-shell carrying case, 2 audio cables, an airplane adapter plug and a AAA battery.
The AH-NC800's run off a single battery, and the estimated lifespan of a single battery is about 40 hours. As can be expected from a pair of premium headphones, the AH-NC800's will work with or without a battery, which means you don't end up without music on a long flight if your battery dies.
The headphones fold up onto a neat little unit, flat enough to pack away in your carry-on. The carrying case has a pouch for the various cables, and enough room on the outside to store your media player.
Noise canceling comes from a system not found on most other headphones. Inside the AH-NC800's are two microphones - one to pick up outside noise, and one that actually picks up noise from within the headphones themselves. These two technologies make it possible to block things like engine noise, but even things like vibrations from your airplane seat, and even cord vibrations.
Of course, the big question is whether these nifty technologies actually work in real life. Thankfully, they do work - just not as effective as some other products on the market. That said - all is not lost, because the AH-NC800's excel at two things no other headphones on the market get close to - comfort and audio quality. Put simply, the Denon AH-NC800's are the most comfortable on-ear headphones I've ever tested. Audio quality when used with and without the noise cancellation feature is also excellent.
On paper, the AH-NC800's promise a 99% reduction in noise. This number is based off the combination of physical noise reduction (earpads) and active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, the actual number for the noise reduction is not published anywhere.
When the cancellation circuit is on, there is no evidence of the "hiss" you often get on other brands. One option on the active noise cancellation feature is an audio restoration switch, but even after trying a variety of compressed and uncompressed audio, I could not notice a single difference in sound quality.
Bass is rich, and as long as the quality of the sound you feed the headphones is decent, what you hear will be excellent too.
Performance on the road
Travel with the AH-NC800's is obviously where they'll be in their element. The entire package of headphones, a battery and cables weighs just under 13 ounces (368 grams). With enough battery life for several long-haul flights, you really only need to worry about a single backup battery to keep you going for weeks.
The audio cable can be removed, which makes it possible to sleep on the plane with the headphones on, and since they are mighty comfortable, keeping them on for an 18 hour flight shouldn't be a big problem. In my experience, it does help to take them off once an hour to let your ears cool down.
The MSRP for the Denon AH-NC800's is $349.99, but you can find them online for around $300. I always have a hard time recommending products like this when the price is this high, but you really can't go wrong with a good pair of noise canceling headphones. Even though the AH-NC800's may lack a bit in the noise canceling department, they more than make up for this in comfort and sound quality. Ideally, when spending this much on headphones, you'll visit your local audio dealer and take the headphones for a spin before investing in them.
Warranty on the AH-NC800's is one year, and Denon has a global network of customer service centers. You'll find the headphones and a list of retail stores and online dealers at Denon.com.
Filed under: Gadling Gear Review