Altec Lansing AHP712i Noise Cancelling Headset
A moderately well
performing 'around the ear' set of active noise cancelling
Altec Lansing's active noise cancelling headphones are
reasonably attractive, and have their electronics in a
separate box rather than built into an earpiece.
Part 11 of a series on noise
reducing headphones -
click for Parts One
Altec Lansing offer a
moderately well performing set of around the ear noise reducing
headphones; but at $150, the price/performance ratio is not as
favorable as one might hope for and vastly less than that
promised in their promotional literature.
On the other hand, while
listing for $150 (and occasionally being opportunistically sold
for $175 or more) they can be found for very much less on
Amazon.com (at present for as little as $60 or less), and at
this sort of price they become a good value when
compared to other budget priced headphones.
In summary - their noise
cancelling is tangibly inferior to the
Bose Quiet Comfort 2 ($300) and
Plane Quiet Solitude ($200)
headphones, but when compared against other $50-75 units, they
perform as well or better.
The Altec Lansing AHP712i
Headphones with Digital Noise Cancellation Technology - What you
(Quite a mouthful of a
formal product name, isn't it!) Altec Lansing's AHP712i
noise cancelling headphones come in a hard to open plastic
After several minutes
attacking the box with scissors, and narrowly missing cutting
the cables or scratching the headphones, I finally
managed to extract the treasures inside. Most notable is,
of course, the headphones themselves.
In addition to the
headphones, there are two cables to connect between the control
box and an audio source - one is a short 18", the other a very
long 6½'. This is a nice touch
- most of the time the short lead will be plenty long enough,
but there may be a time when you need the longer cable - for
example, to plug in to the audio output of a computer that is on
the floor close to your desk.
There are also two plug
adapters - one to convert from the headphones' standard mini
stereo jack to the double pronged plug needed by
many airlines, and the other to convert to the larger diameter
¼" plug required by higher end stereo systems. This is a
very complete range of accessories.
The two cables are both gold
plated. The two adapters are not.
In addition to these items,
there is also a soft carry bag for the headphones. This
has a velveteen type lining, and a drawstring top. It also
has a small carry pouch inside its lining, with a velcro closure
- this is a great place to keep your cables, adapters, and spare
The pouch is light (3 oz)
and takes up little space, but provides only minimal protection
for the headphones inside.
However, although there's a
complete range of cables and adapters, there were some apparent omissions.
A disappointment was
no battery. The headphones require a single AAA battery,
and this under $1 item was not provided. You don't get much for your
$150, do you.
The second disappointment
was the apparent lack of any instructions, warranty card, or any other helpful
material. This was surprising so I checked with Altec
Lansing in case somehow my unit was missing these things.
Their reply was slightly embarrassing - I simply couldn't find
the instructions that were indeed present.
It appears that, in a manner
analogous to finding a recipe printed on the inside of a label
around a can of food, you should take out the liner card from
the plastic display box, unpeel the two halves of it, and inside you'll discover
the printed instructions, in seven different languages.
The instructions are fairly
brief; so brief in fact I'll print them in their entirety here :
1. Plug the
headphone connector into the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack on
your audio playback device.
2. Turn on the
Active Noise Reduction feature using the multi-function
3. Adjust volume
level using the multi-function controller.
I guess we don't really need
instructions at all!
Brief as they are, I don't agree
with point 3. To get maximum battery life out of the audio
device you're playing music from, it is best to set the volume
control to maximum on the headphones and vary the volume on the
audio device. If you reduce the volume level on the
headphones, you're simply burning up battery life unnecessarily
on the audio playback device, with the unneeded extra power for
too high a volume level being shunted off into a resistor and
The volume control can have
a use though - if you are sharing a music source with a friend -
perhaps via a Boostaroo unit - you
can use the volume control to fine tune the volume to
reflect your personal preferences, and/or the varying
sensitivity of the different headphones you each might be using.
But for normal playing, leave the headphone volume control at
Note also the volume control
only affects the sound level. It makes no impact on the amount
of noise cancelling, which is always at max.
The headphones have a one
year warranty, and if you fill out and return a customer questionnaire card,
Altec Lansing increases the warranty to two years.
The Altec Lansing AHP712i noise
cancelling headphones fit around the ear rather than headphones
designed to rest on the ear
type, or fit in the ear. The cups that fit around your ears are
smaller than on the Solitude or QC2 headphones.
Oval in shape, the two maximum dimensions
of the ear cups are approximately
2.25" x 1.4" - this is quite small. In contrast, the Solitudes measure approximately
2.65" x 1.6". What does this actually mean? It means
they are snug around one's ears rather than roomy - if you have
unusually large ears, they might be too small.
headband is well padded and comfortable, but there's a size
issue there, too. I found that for a comfortable fit, I
needed the headband extended nearly all the way; by comparison,
with the Solitude or Quiet Comfort headphones, I typically have
the headband only half extended. People with
different head/ear geometries could find the headband is too small for
them, and from my observation of how far people extend their
headbands, such people do exist.
positive side, the tension that
clamps the cups to the sides of your head is considerably less
than with the Solitude headset and maybe even slightly softer
than the Bose Quiet Comforts.
other hand, the Solitudes were deliberately designed to fit
firmly, so as to provide a physical seal to passively block out
as much sound as possible. The Altec Lansing headphones
don't do this quite so effectively.
The cups can rotate 90°
one way to lie flat for packing, and about 45° the other way to
ensure a comfortable fit. The headband doesn't fold in the
middle, and so the headphones don't fold quite as compactly as
the Solitude headphones.
long, thin wire runs from the left headphone down to a small
control box. The control box has an on-off switch and a
volume control, and holds the single AAA battery. A metal
spring clip enables you to clip the control unit to your belt if
This separate electronics and
battery box is perhaps a dated feature, with most higher
end units now having everything built into the headphones
is a socket into which you can plug one of the two provided
patch cables to connect the control box to an audio source.
The patch cables use standard mini-stereo plugs at both ends, so
if you should lose or break a cable, a replacement can readily
be obtained from any stereo store at low price.
LED lights up when the unit is switched on, primarily to confirm
they are on and the battery is not yet flat.
Lansing say the single AAA battery lasts for more than 72 hours.
I've managed to get more than 40
hours from a single battery, which is excellent.
headphones have an 'on the head' weight of 6.8 ounces and a
total weight of 12.8 ounces (including battery and carry pouch).
It was easy to unfold the
headphones, to adjust the headband, and to put them on my head.
The headphones were soft and sat firmly in place, and felt like
they'd be as comfortable as other headphones for extended
periods of wearing.
They were probably slightly
more comfortable than the Solitude headphones (due to the firm
grip of the Solitudes) but not as comfortable as the Bose Quiet
Comfort 2 headphones, which had appreciably larger ear pieces
that were also deeper, suiting a broader range of head and ear
Music can be heard through
the headphones whether the noise cancelling switch is on or off.
So if the battery dies on you mid-flight, you still have a good
quality set of headphones to enjoy your music with.
When listened to in a
moderately quiet environment, the sound has quite a different
characteristic with the noise reduction switched on to when it
is switched off. Perhaps this was due to - when the
headphones were turned on - a combination of the electronic hiss
and the subtraction of the background noise.
Sound quality was good with
the noise reduction turned on, and with no obvious weaknesses.
And talking about hiss, the
headphones generate an appreciable amount of electronic 'random
noise', aka hiss, when turned on. The good news is this hiss is not at all apparent in a noisy environment such as
in an airplane, but if you're trying to use the headphones to
make a quiet environment (such as an office) quieter (something
we generally don't recommend), you may find the hiss
distracting and bothersome.
The hiss level is comparable
to that in the Solitude or Plane Quiet NC6 headphones, and
louder than in the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones.
A minor irritant with these
headphones was some 'microphony' from the control box. If
you tapped the control box, you could hear a tapping noise in
the headphones, similar to if someone was tapping on a
microphone. This usually indicates a poorly soldered joint
or bad electrical connection somewhere, and can be a precursor
to subsequent equipment failure. Hopefully this was a
one-off with my sample set of headphones rather than something
common to all units.
Noise Cancelling Functionality
In testing - conducted both
with my trial noisemaking setup in the office, and on a 737-700
flight, the AHP-712i
headphones tested to be appreciably inferior to both the
Solitude and Quiet Comfort headphones, but comparable to the
But, Altec Lansing claim an
extraordinary amount of noise reduction for their headphones, verging on the unbelievable. They claim greater than
19dB of noise cancellation, all the way across the audio
spectrum from 40Hz up to 12kHz. This is much more than
any other manufacturer has ever claimed for their headphones.
19dB is an enormous
difference in sound energy - it represents nearly a 100 fold
reduction in noise levels, but because we hear logarithmically
rather than linearly, the 100 fold reduction in sound energy
represents as a large but not huge difference in perceived sound
Because active noise
cancellation only works in a narrow band of mid/low frequencies,
and because the observed performance of the headphones was so
enormously different to their claim, I questioned Altec Lansing
about this - my question and their answer follow :
Q. The headphones
claim greater than 19dB of noise reduction from 40Hz to 12
kHz. That is at odds with my qualitative testing, and is
enormously above anything any other manufacturer claims. How
was this measured?
A. This is a
combination of active and passive noise reduction measured
in our labs and repeatable.
This is a positive
answer and re-affirms their claim, but it provides absolutely
no detail as to how the claimed noise reduction was measured.
As I've mentioned in earlier
articles in this series (for example,
here), measuring the degree of noise reduction
in a set of headphones is part art and part science; professional audio technicians understand this and generally,
when asked, are pleased to provide details of their testing methodology rather
than give just a 'trust us, we know best' type reply.
Altec Lansing's reply provided
no detail to help understand their claim, but it still caused
me to worry - have I forgotten what a 19dB difference in sound
levels actually sounds like? So I did some pink noise (the
hiss on a stereo tuner when between stations on the FM band and
with muting off) testing with a sound level meter to
're-calibrate' my ear.
Using a sound level meter, I
marked settings on my stereo volume control for two sound levels
- 50dB (quiet) and 69dB (moderately loud), using C weighting -
this being felt to be the best weighting scale, because it gives
most prominence to lower frequencies such as on a plane
here if you're interested). I switched
between the two levels repeatedly to get a feeling for the
different perceived loudness, then with the noise source steady at
69 dB, put the headphones on and off repeatedly to see if a
similar sound reduction occurred with the headphones.
The result? The
headphones provided a laughably small amount of noise
cancellation. 19dB? No way. Not even close.
Although my testing methodology is imprecise, I'll guess the
sound reduction to be probably less than 10dB in the part of the
audio spectrum represented by the noise source.
So, how then to reconcile
Altec Lansing's claim - greater than 19dB of noise cancelling
from 40Hz to 12kHz - with my testing results that showed, on a
737 plane, inferior performance to the Solitudes (claiming a
maximum of 18dB of cancelling across a narrow unspecified
frequency band) and when comparing perceived sound levels
against random pink noise, a guessed at less than 10dB of noise
I'm unable to come up with a
way to reconcile the starkly conflicting
results. Draw your own conclusions as you feel
Where to Buy
The headphones can be
purchased direct from
Altec Lansing, at their full retail price of $149.95.
Alternatively, they are available from various on-line
discounters, and at the time of writing, the best price seems to
Amazon.com (less than $60).
Summary and Recommendation
These headphones do not
perform as you'd expect of a $150 set of headphones, and we can
not recommend them at that price.
Happily, street price seems
to be less than half their recommended retail price, and at such
a price, they become a good alternative to other mid range units
such as the Plane Quiet
But if you're looking for
the best amount of noise cancellation, the
Quiet Comforts ($200 or $300,
respectively) remain the only two choices for you.
Worth considering for
someone buying on a budget, not recommended for someone keen to
maximize the noise cancellation.
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10 Mar 2006, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.