Headphones Heads-Up: Quiet Cups

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Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9: $349.95; Bose QuietComfort 15: $299.95

To help wade through the seemingly countless options on the market, two Discovery colleagues share their insights on 20 new and relevant headphones. Taking on a pair at a time, Scott Tharler and Alice Truong will each evaluate how these contemporary cans match up in a dueling series called Headphones Heads Up.

Live on a busy street? Work with chatty colleagues? Spend a lot of time on planes?

Sometimes all it takes to get some peace and quiet is a quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones. We’re evaluating Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 against Bose QuietComfort 15 to see which comes out on top with sound — drowning it out and playing it up.

Head over to Discovery.com for Alice Truong’s review of these cans.

These two sets of headphones share several similarities. They’re the same shape and size and their cups fold flat into their respective cases — although the A-T case was a little bulkier. Both feature two detachable cords (with and without inline controls), but the Bose feature two different volume controls: standard up and down in their three-button remote inline version and a proprietary headphone input on both Bose cords that limits max volume with a high-low switch.

From amongst the 20 headphones in this series, the over-ear Bose QuietComfort 15 were easily the most comfortable. Slipping them on was a luxurious experience, capped off by the characteristic air seal that offers superb passive noise cancellation. And overall, they seem a little slicker. But unfortunately, that’s where they peaked. The sound — only emitted with the battery-powered active noise cancellation turned on — was decent, but disappointing. The noticeable sibliance made for an unenjoyable audio experience, especially when listening to anything with S sounds or high hats.

The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 sounded kinda muffled when unpowered; but at least they weren’t totally battery dependent, and that opened right up after switching them on. They also offered quite a different fit, with the padding right up against my ears. Still comfy, but took a little getting used to after Bose’s sumptuous air buffer. On the flip side, the sound was much better: louder, bassier and less sibilant (although still hissy). I was able to detect subtle differences between its three active noise cancellations — indicated when wearing the headphones by different beeps and with them off by a little blue, red or green light on the outside — but all three of its modes (travel, office, study) seemed comparable to Bose at knocking out the low-end hum (such as you might hear on an airplane or from a clothes dryer). If I had to choose between them, I’d go with the Audio-Technicas.

Credit: Alice Truong/Discovery

Scott Tharler writes about gadgets for Discovery News and covers travel tech for Fodor’s. Follow him on Twitter, gdgt and Google Plus. Alice Truong writes about tech and gadgets for Discovery Channel. Follow her on Twitter and Google Plus.

Tune in to hear how the rest of Discovery’s Headphones Heads-Up series plays out

Monster vs. Son: Monster Inspiration vs. Sol Republic Tracks HD

Rasta vs. Blackbelt: House of Marley Exodus vs. Bigr Audio Bruce Lee

Quiet Cups: Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 vs. Bose QuietComfort 15

Power Cuplets: V-Moda Crossfade M80 vs. Scosche RH656

Urban Thrifty: Wicked Audio Evac vs. Skullcandy Hesh 2

Urban Deluxe: Urbanears Zinken vs. Aiaiai Capital

Battle of the Bass: Fanny Wang 3000 Series vs. Denon Urban Raver

Battle of the Bands: Jaybird Sportsband vs. Outdoor Tech DJ Slims

Wireless Travelers: Sennheiser MM 450-X vs. SuperTooth Melody

Petite Luxury: Beyerdynamic T 50 p vs. B&W P3