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Although slightly bulkier than 'on the ear' (or 'in the ear') headphones, 'around the ear' headphones generally are the most comfortable, and offer good passive as well as active noise cancellation.

Well known audio supplier, Altec Lansing, offers a moderately good performing product you might wish to consider.

 
 
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Altec Lansing AHP712i Noise Cancelling Headset

A moderately well performing 'around the ear' set of active noise cancelling headphones

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  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven

 

 

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, compared to the performance you get from headphones costing less than half that price.

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 these sorts of price points they become an excellent value when compared to other budget priced headphones.

The separate electronics and battery box is perhaps a dated feature, too, with most higher end units having everything built into the headphones themselves.

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 Get

(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 display box.

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 6'.  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 " 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 batteries.

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 two disappointing omissions.

The first disappointment was no battery.  The headphones require a single AAA battery, and this 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 so surprising that I checked with Altec Lansing in case somehow my unit was missing these things.  Their reply was slightly embarrassing.  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 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 controller.

3.  Adjust volume level using the multi-function controller.

I guess we don't really need instructions at all!  But, 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 wasted.

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 then 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 max.

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 warranty is for one year, and if you fill out a customer questionnaire card and return it, they increase the warranty to two years.

Headphones Description

The Altec Lansing AHP712i noise cancelling headphones are around the ear rather than on the ear type headphones.  The cups that fit around your ears are appreciably 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.

The 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 extended only half the way.  People with different head geometries may find the headband is too small for them, and from my observation of how far people extend their headphones, such people do exist.

On the 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.

On the 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.

A 30" 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 you wish.

There 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.

A red LED lights up when the unit is switched on, primarily to confirm they are on and the battery is not yet flat.

Altec Lansing say the single AAA battery lasts for more than 72 hours.  I've managed to get an unknown battery life, but more than 40 hours, from a single battery, which is excellent.

The headphones have an 'on the head' weight of 6.8 ounces and a total weight of 12.8 ounces (including battery).

Using the AHP712i Headphones

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 dimensions.

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 high 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.

And talking about hiss, the headphones generate an appreciable amount of electronic 'random noise', aka hiss, when turned on.  The good news is that 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 quieter, 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, the AHP-712i headphones tested to be appreciably inferior to both the Solitude and Quiet Comfort headphones, and comparable to the NC-6.  This was more or less in line with my expectations.

But, Altec Lansing claim an extraordinary amount of noise reduction for their headphones that verges on the unbelievable.  They claim greater than 19 dB of noise cancellation, all the way across the audio spectrum from 40 Hz up to 12 kHz.  This is much more than any other manufacturer has ever claimed for their headphones.

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.

While this is a positive answer and re-affirms their claim, it also provides absolutely no detail as to how the claimed noise reduction was measured.

As I've mentioned in earlier articles in this series, measuring the degree of noise reduction in a set of headphones is part art and part science, and professional audio technicians understand this and generally, when asked, provide details of their testing methodology rather than just a 'trust us, we're telling the truth' type reply.

While their reply provided no detail to help understand their claim, 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.

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 level.

Using a sound level meter, I marked settings on my stereo volume control for two sound levels - 50dB (quiet) and 69dB (moderately loud).  I switched between the two levels repeatedly to get a feeling for the different perceived loudness, then with the noise source set 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 cancelling?

I'm unable to come up with a way to reconcile their claim with the starkly conflicting results.  Draw your own conclusions as you feel appropriate.

 

 

 

 

lists for $149.95

hiss higher frequency than Solitude

Claims > 19dB of noise reduction from 40 Hz to 12 kHz

 

Hiss - need to retest somewhere quiet

Very little difference between the three noisier ones - they all had different colorations to their hiss making it hard to compare, suffice it to say, perhaps, all three were apparent

Quietest

QC2

=NC6

=AHP712i

=Solitude

Noisiest

 

Noise Cancelling

Best

1 QC2

almost as good Solitude

NC6

almost as good AHP712i

Worst

 

 

Where to Buy

The headphones can be purchased direct from the manufacturer, Plane Quiet, at their Pro Travel Gear website, , or if you prefer, they can be purchased from Travel Essentials.

Both companies sell them for the same price - $199.95 - and in both cases, if you use the 'travelinsider' discount code (ie the word travelinsider) you'll get a 5% discount off the price, again at either site.

Travel Essentials also offers free shipping, whereas ProTravelGear forces you to choose between either free shipping or a 5% discount.

On balance, we're inclined to slightly recommend buying from Travel Essentials rather than direct from ProTravelGear, for two reasons - the first being that TE offers both free shipping and a 5% discount, whereas PTG only offers one or the other.

The second reason is more subtle, but may be at least as important : TE has a fairer return policy.  They have a no questions asked return policy, and don't charge a restocking fee.   PTG limit your return privileges to 15 days and charge you a 15% restocking fee.  While there's every chance you'll love the Solitudes, just in case you don't, it is more comforting to know that Travel Essentials will see you right if you wish to return them.

Summary and Recommendation

After a couple of years of giving Bose an increasingly intense amount of competition, it seems that with this quantum leap ahead, Plane Quiet have, at the least, drawn level with Bose in the performance stakes, and may even have edged very slightly ahead.

When you factor in the $100 premium that Bose charges, and the slightly better ergonomic features of the Solitude, it becomes a no-brainer to choose the Solitude over the Bose every time.

If your comparison is not with the $300 Bose but instead with the $55 Plane Quiet NC6, your strategy becomes less clear.  On the one hand, the improved noise cancelling should be obvious to everyone.  But on the other hand, there is a huge jump in price between the two products.  If spending an extra almost $150 is something you can conveniently do, then you'll probably choose to do exactly this, and you'll be pleased with your decision.

But if you reason that you could buy NC6 headsets for the entire family at the same cost as a single pair of the Solitudes, and if you choose to do this instead, you'll be pleased with the NC6 headsets, too.

 

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Originally published 11 Feb 2005, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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