Able Planet Noise Canceling Headphones

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Product: Able Planet NC500LC & NC500SC Active Noise Canceling Headphones
Provided By: Able Planet
Price: MSRP $179.99 & $249.99

 

Introduction:

While I'm sure that many of you have never heard of "Able Planet", this is a company that has a long-standing and proud history in the audio department.  Originally started as a "hearing aid" company, Able Planet always breaks new ground in audio technologies and making listening to music, movies and even games a more enjoyable experience.  Today we will be looking at a couple of their latest and greatest headphones; the NC500LC "LoSt CaUzE" Active Noise Canceling headphones for the gamer as well as the NC500SC "Sound Clarity" headphones for anyone who demands quality, comfort and quiet listening to anything they plug their headphones into.

 LoSt-CaUzE Box
LoSt-CaUzE Box
 NC500SC (Sound Clarity) Box
NC500SC (Sound Clarity) Box

 

About Able Planet:

LINX AUDIO™ Technology Summary        

How It Works
Able Planet embeds patent-pending LINX AUDIO™ into audio and communication devices to enhance sound quality and speech clarity For All Levels of Hearing™.Here’s how it works:

Sound quality and speech intelligibility are impacted by high frequency sounds.
Hearing loss associated with age usually begins in the higher frequencies, or the “High Tones.” If you lose the ability to clearly hear these tones, high pitched sounds like “f”, “s” and “th” will be difficult to discriminate, and music may not sound as lively.

LINX AUDIO creates high frequency harmonics that enhance sound quality and speech clarity of difficult to hear words or notes, and increase the perception of loudness without increasing volume. LINX AUDIO provides full rich sound and enhanced speech clarity even at lower volumes, which may lead people to “Turn it Down” to preserve hearing. An analogy of a richer sound might be the difference you hear when you play a “C” note on a piano, as opposed to a “C” Chord. The “C” Chord demonstrates the impact of adding harmonics to the audio signal. 
 
LINX AUDIO™ filters undesirable sound.
LINX AUDIO™ removes undesirable sounds and noise making it easier to hear high frequency words or notes where clarity is often lost, maximizing full rich sound for music, and enhancing clear voice for speech intelligibility.
 
LINX AUDIO™ reduces distortion.
Increasing volume increases all sounds, including distortion. As volume is increased, standard audio products hard clip peaks with traditional square-edge characteristics (red). LINX AUDIO™ reduces harsh sounds by soft-clipping distortion (yellow).
 
LINX AUDIO™ technology advantages.
  • Enhances sound quality
  • Improves speech clarity
  • Filters undesirable sound
  • Reduces distortion
  • Restricts electromagnetic interference
  • Increases perceived loudness without increasing volume

 

 

First Impressions:

I had never heard of Able Planet before CES 2008 where I was introduced and impressed by their high quality products.  That being said, it's easy to be impressed by a 5 minute demo on the show floor, so I was quite interested to see how these performed in more real-world scenarios over extended periods.  Both headphones come packaged in nice semi-hard sided cases that protect the headphones in your carry-on baggage.  Pictured below is the "LoSt CaUzE" set, but the packaging for the "Sound Clarity" set is identical.

Carry Case
Carry Case
In The Package
In The Package

 

These are large, over-the-ear headphones and should provide better noise isolation than the JBL 510 Reference on-ear headphones that I've used previously.  In the NC500LC bundle there is an extension cable as well as the regular male-male cable with volume control.  Also you'll find a 1/4" to 1/8" stereo adapter in both as well as an airline adapter for use on planes with older style jacks.  The LC (gamer headphones) includes the entire airline goodies in addition to the extension cable whereas the SC model skips on the additional extension cable.  This is fine as the extension cable is really used to plug the audio cable in behind your computer, and is not needed for normal non-computer use.

Cables 'n Connectors
Cables 'n Connectors



Closer Look:

As we take a closer look at the headphones below, I've mainly used the NC500LC in the photos.  Other than the logo on the headphones themselves, they are virtually identical in outward appearance.  Sound listening is a different matter however, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Side Profile View
Side Profile View

 Headphones Folded
Headphones Folded


Both the NC500LC and NC500SC have a 1/8" input on the left side.  This side also holds the on/off switch and the indicator LED.  Both sets lay flat for storage and have nice padded leather headbands and ear cups for comfort.  The leather helps them "breath" although they do get a bit warm on your ears after a while due to their closed air design.  The closed design does help isolate noise and provide better bass response which is a worthy trade off in my opinion.

 Front Profile View
Front Profile View

Inside Cans
Inside Cans

 

Features & Specifications:

First, we'll quickly look at the features of each of these headphones as stated by Able Planet, then we'll cover their shared specifications.

NC500LC Headphones:

LINX AUDIO™ ADVANTAGES

  • Enhances Sound Quality
  • Improves Speech Clarity
  • Filters undesirable sound
  • Reduces distortion
  • Restricts Electromagnetic Interference
  • Increased Perceived Loudness Without Increasing Volume


SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Featuring Award-Winning Patented LINX AUDIO™-a Hear the Difference™ technology
  • State-of-the-art active noise cancellation (ANC), to reduce undesirable sounds and background noise
  • Operates as normal headphones when ANC function is turned off, or if batteries run out
  • Lightweight adjustable headband provides superior fit
  • Ideal for creating your own personal space to focus on your gaming, your music, or your studies
  • Full-size ear cups with soft cushions swivel for maximum comfort
  • In-line volume control enables easy adjustment to safe listening levels for hearing preservation
  • 6' extension cord to add length for gaming or watching TV
  • For use with interactive computer games, or listening to your favorite music.

BE A CHAMPION. Wear the same Active Noise Canceling Gaming Headphones Rafik "LoSt-CaUzE" Bryant wears in worldwide Quake 4 championships.


NC500SC Headphones:

LINX AUDIO™ ADVANTAGES

  • Award Winning Sound Quality
  • Maximum Speech Clarity
  • Filters undesirable sound
  • Reduces distortion
  • Restricts Electromagnetic Interference
  • Increased Perceived Loudness Without Increasing Volume


SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Featuring Award-Winning Patented LINX AUDIO™-a Hear the Difference™ technology
  • State-of-the-art active noise cancellation (ANC), to reduce undesirable sounds and background noise
  • Operates as normal headphones when ANC function is turned off, or if batteries run out
  • Lightweight adjustable headband provides superior fit
  • Ideal for creating your own personal space filled with clear sound or nothing at all
  • Full-size ear cups with soft cushions swivel for maximum comfort
  • In-line volume control enables easy adjustment to safe listening levels for hearing preservation
  • Removable Cord with 1/8” and 1/4” Stereo Adapters
  • For use in Computer & Language Labs, Stereos, Personal Computers, CD, DVD and MP3 Players


SOUND CLARITY provides Full Rich Sound for people with normal hearing and Enhanced Sound Clarity for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss.

 

Even though these headphones carry a different price point and listening experience, they still share a common list of specifications.

  • Frequency Response: 20-20,000Hz
  • Sensitivity at 1KHz: 115dB (Off); 121dB (On)
  • Cord Length: 5'
  • Output Power: 30mW

 

On the last page, we'll take a listen to these headphones and see how well they do their job.


Able Planet NC500LC & NC500SC Testing:

Testing of headphones is a tough one though, it's not actually hard to do, but it's a bit subjective. I know people who use cheap headphones they were given on a plane and then try out expensive headphones and don't really understand why you'd pay that much for headphones and can't really notice the difference. I also know people who have $300 dollar headphones and swear by them.  Just after Christmas, I purchased a set of JBL 510 Reference headphones on sale and this was my first long-term experience with noise canceling headphones.  When the Able Planet sets arrived, I had something to compare them two, but really there was no comparison.

The hardest part of this review was keeping in mind the fact that these are retailing for $179 and $249 respectively; while quite expensive, for headphones in this class they are competitively priced.  You simply cannot compare $30 headphones from Walmart with $200 headphones made by Able Planet.

Pair of Batteries The first headphones I used were the NC500LC "LoSt CaUzE" headphones.  I hooked these up to my computer, laptop and iPod and took them with me while I was at work, on the road, and just chilling at home.  I even wore these to bed when we had a horrible storm blowing a couple of weeks back.  The wind was whistling through the furnace and noise cancellation was darn handy.

Whether you're watching movies, playing games, listening to your favorite tunes of any genre, or catching up on your latest podcasts, the NC500LC Headphones are a pleasure to use.  They are quite light, very comfortable on my medium-sized head, and offered very good range across bass and high treble.  Overall listening experience was very positive.

The noise cancellation on both of these headsets is a bit interesting though.  The mic that picks up noise is located outside the ear cup, and Able Planet uses this to provide very good suppression of white noise.  Other companies headsets block more noise than these, but the trade off is in sound quality.  On several other high-profile brands, the mic is located inside the ear cup and they use a bit more aggressive cancellation to block more noise.  The downside to this is sound quality at high volume levels.  While Able Planet offers a bit less in the way of suppression, they offer better audio quality than any other headset we demoed and far better quality than the JBL 510 that are priced the same as the NC500LC. 

Headset Powered Although these headphones share almost identical physical characteristics and identical specifications, the listening experience is quite different between the two.  After being very impressed with the NC500LC units, it was time to test out the more expensive "Sound Clarity" NC500SC set.   This set is a bit heavier and while construction looks identical, due to their extra weight, they feel more solid and better built.

I used these in the exact same environment and listening scenarios as the LC version and the experience was even better than the NC500LC.  I found it hard to believe, but the sound was even more robust, crisp and full of bass.  I swapped headphones quickly during the tests to compare them with each other, the JBL 510 and the SteelSeries Siberia headset.  There was no comparison with the other brands at all.  The Able Planet NC500SC headphones are by far the best headphones I've heard.  With noise cancellation turned on or off the experience is darn near incredible.  Songs like Skillet's Better than Drugs come alive and make you feel like you are at the concert (minus the screaming sweaty fans), and the experience was noticeably better than the NC500LC.

As far as battery life goes, I'm still working on my first set of batteries after many hours of listening and even a couple of instances when I forgot to shut them off.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm very happy with the battery life on these.


Final Thoughts:

The Able Planet NC500LC and NC500SC headphones are pretty sweet.  Both sets provide the same level of noise cancellation, but the Sound Clarity series does in fact provide better sound quality.  That is not to say that the NC500LC set doesn't sound good though.  The LoSt CaUzE set was the best set of headphones I'd ever listened to - until I listened to the Sound Clarity set.  Both are priced very competitively for their markets and while many of you gamers don't think you need a set of noise canceling headphones, if you have a noisy air-cooled computer, you'd be surprised at how they help tame fan noise and provide a quieter environment for you to concentrate on your virtual enemies.  The LC set retails for the same price as the JBL 510 and they outperform the JBL hands down.  If you don't need the headphone extension and have an extra $70 in your pocket, the NC500SC is the way to go for maximum quality.  However, the NC500LC set is very good for most people.   All in all, both of these headphones are winners.

 

Pros:

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Very good noise cancellation
  • Good battery life
  • Good value for the market segment
  • Very comfortable
  • In-line volume control
  • Sturdy design and nice case for transportation


Cons:

  • Price


While I've listed price as a "Con" you've got to keep in mind that these are aimed at high-end Bose and Sony noise canceling headphones.  In this market they are reasonably priced, but for the average Joe looking for a set of gaming headphones, they are expensive.  This makes it a bit harder to judge value, but we have to be fair to the market and judge them for what they are - high-end noise canceling headphones.  Both sets score pretty much the same when it all boils down as you get what you pay for and both are great headphones.

BCCRating

 

Top Pick

I'd like to thank Able Planet for firing up these headphones for us to review.  We'd love to hear your feedback and experience with your noise canceling headphones.  Please post it at the "Comments" link below.