Active noise-canceling headphones have been around for ages, but models truly effective in counteracting ambient sounds can still easily set you back beyond $300. Can a pair of headphones priced at half the price of premium models compete on the grounds of audio performance and noise-canceling technology, or is this a case of "you get what you pay for"?
A few years back I traded in a luxury German coupe for an economical clean diesel 4-door sedan, and I remember noting the downgrade with fit, finish, and material transitioning from "great" down to "good". Similarly, the NC510B's immediately triggered similar memories, as I was switching over from my daily-use pair of super-soft leather padded, aircraft aluminum vented neodymium speaker cans to this pair that felt a little too lightweight and plastic. Where I was used to the durable confidence of a fabric braided cord connecting my headphones to my laptop, Able Planet's cord is rubbery and light. The ear cushions are smaller, about two steps firmer than the plush and oversized cups I usually work with on.
But let it be said the NC510B's have a trick up their sleeve my current models do not: active noise-canceling. At a flick of the switch, the active noise-canceling technology takes into account surrounding environmental noise and adjusts its own frequency to neutralize these sounds (here's an explanation with helpful graphic illustrating how this works). Budget active models tend to suffer from white noise "buzz", which can ruin playback, especially with more nuanced songs where the low end bass may not mask the symptom.
Initially my review pair seemed to suffer from this issue intermittently, a feint intrusion that would quickly stick its unwelcome head through the door of my imaginary listening room. Thankfully after a week's use, the buzz-crackling disappeared completely (perhaps the models require a warm-up period), only leaving an extremely comfortable undistorted and only modestly hushed sound regardless of genre of music.
Listening to William Tyler's guitar album, Behold the Spirit, the NC510B would ever so slightly soften bass components in songs, but kept intact all of the most tasty strumming of Tyler's guitar playing while all but eliminating the automobile sounds of the nearby thoroughfare. On a completely different end of the musical spectrum, Dangeruss' anthem to getting paid, IMA GET MONEY, actually improved noticeably with noise-canceling engaged, with the ensemble of grilled flows revealing themselves more clearly with the muddying bass toned down, all without neutering its party swagger. It's primarily because of the NC510B's ability to protect the high and midrange while filtering out distortion and a decent amount of ambient noise that these headphones are recommended for work environments, traveling, and even just sitting at home for a moment of relaxation with your favorite songs.
The dial volume control seems like a weak-point susceptible to fraying.At less than half the price of comparable Bose noise-canceling headphones, the Kleenex of headphones, the Able Planet Sound Clarity NC510B headphones are a nice price alternative for anyone seeking a bit of respite from surrounding ambient noise. The only concerns NC510B which keep these from earning a strong recommendation are the cheaper quality construction, alongside a slightly tight fit, which may or may not appeal to you depending on your head size. But if one is to judge the merits of a headphone on its audio performance alone, the NC510B is a certified pleaser.
Pros: Affordable alternative to premium Bose models; noise-canceling works well in moderate ambient noise environments with balanced clarity regardless of genre music; padded cups provide comfortable sound isolation even without sound-canceling mode.
Cons: Some of the material choices, particularly the headphone cord feel noticeably lightweight/weak; fit is a little tight for big-headed user (me); battery case can take some finagling to get into.
(Images: Gregory Han )
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.