Noise cancelling headphones have a bad rap, and for good reason: the theory is great, but in practice most fall flat. The principle of noise cancellation is simple: block out interfering audio by creating an interference pattern so the bad noise is cancelled out. However, there’s almost always a lot of residual noise that listeners hear, and that tends to be annoying, especially for anyone looking for high-quality audio.
A-Audio is a new company producing high-end headphones, and they may have cracked the nut. Their Legacy ANC Headphones is a powerful, good looking set made for the smartphone and noisy world. With 40nm drivers and noise cancellation plus bass boost, this metal and leather-bound set plays the part of kickass headset every day of the week.
The ANC isn’t your typical headset. Along with the high quality smartphone-ready four-foot cable (complete with volume rocker), the set comes standard with a second standard 3.5mm four-foot cable, a 1/4th inch adapter, carrying case, and a two-year warranty. For a $300 set much of this is to be expected; the reason it stands out is because of the quality and usability of the headphones themselves.
Firstly, sound quality is excellent. Whether you’re rocking out, throwing on some wub-wub, or listening to light jazz, the audio is very good. Lows are excellent, and made additionally so with the bass boost. Highs are very steady, though some mids are muffled. This is definitely not the pair you’ll want for throwing on a lot of classical music. If you’re into popular tunes from the past 20-30 years (Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop, etc.), you’ll love the sound quality.
And you’ll love it more with the noise cancellation on, whether or not you need it. I’ve been testing the ANC out for over three weeks and rarely use it without the boost, which is alright for noise cancellation but excellent at boosting the audio like an amp, with clearer sound that’s easier to distinguish. I particularly like the Bass Boost, not because I need the extra bass, but because it does such a good job at giving my preferred rock that additional contrast of highs to lows that makes the music stand out.
Then there’s the comfort factor; these are comfy. The Legacy headphones are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever tested. The plush leather is thick on the cans and headband, and though the set is heavy thanks to the metal frame, they’re very solid when worn. The only problem I’ve had is overheating, which is standard for headphones that use leather. After about two hours my ears got claustrophobic; after five minutes they were just fine.
Two features really stand out as above and beyond what any competitors offer. The first is plugging in on either side of the headset. Users can choose which side to plug into, the right or left can. With the majority of today’s music streaming through smartphones and laptops, how we plug in to listen may vary on a day to day basis. Sometimes you set your phone on the right, or the left; sometimes it switches pockets. Whatever the case, most headsets have the cable built in, which means it favors one side. Not so with the ANC; plug in on either side and keep your cables organized, no matter the situation.
The second is because there are two headset ports. Say your friend wants to listen to something with you. With the second headphone port, plug in their headset or speakers into your headphones and voila, an instant audio passthrough. Share music with another person for a plane or car ride without any drama or invasion of personal space. Very simple, very clean, and it doesn’t get in the way of the design of the headphones at all.
Two things keep A-Audio’s headset from perfection. The first is that the battery is not rechargeable. The Legacy ANC relies on two AAA batteries, unlike the slightly more expensive Bose QuietComfort 3. I’d rather pay an additional $50 for a rechargeable battery pack than carrying around extra batteries, something many of us have stopped doing for years now. Sure, the ANC doesn’t need batteries to function, but the last thing any of us wants to think about is “where are those damned batteries?” I have used the set for 20+ hours and haven’t had to replace the batteries yet.
Next is the metal frame. As great as it is, after a few weeks I’ve noticed that the metal is very easy to scratch. It’s not noticeable from far, but it’s very easy to feel. The chrome does stain with fingerprints too easily as well. Sure, they look great from a distance, but in the hand those scratches and fingerprints don’t leave a good taste.
Additional notes: the travel case is a nice touch, but it looks surprisingly cheap. The cables pouch is really, really cheap, and the cleaning cloth is very thick and abrasive (which is actually good for cleaning off fingerprints from the chromed-out headphones…but nothing else). The Legacy ANC also has adjustable cans that turn 90 degrees so you can rest them comfortably, cans down, on the neck. They also fold, though the headset doesn’t really fold well in half. Finally, the battery cover is kept in place magnetically, a great touch.
Bottom Line: The Legacy ANC Headphones combine high quality audio, great comfort, and excellent features. As A-Audio’s first headset, it is a little rough around the edges, but this stylish headset is a worthy companion for travel, work, play, and much more.