The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23BK QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones
by Bill C. for webBikeWorld.com
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23BK "Quiet Point" noise cancelling earbuds (aka headphones) have been in production for quite some time.
I interpreted that fact as meaning they are popular and that they work.
But while they fit nicely in my ears and provide a fairly good sound environment, I am really struggling to figure out where the "noise cancellation" properties come in to play.
So in the end, for me these are just another pair of pretty good earbuds with the added complication of an AAA battery, control box and relatively high price.
Like Diogenes searching for the honest man (but without his earthy lifestyle), I've been searching for a modern, high-tech solution for helmet noise.
You'd think that in 2015, what with all the electronic gimcrackery thrown at us nearly every day, that we'd have a nice small device that cancels out helmet noise.
As has been written before on these pages, it's too bad Dr. Bose wasn't a motorcyclist. We'd have this problem licked.
And looking at you, motorcycle intercom manufacturers.
Instead of adding 50 complex and impossible-to-remember obscure features, how about adding an active noise cancellation routine to the speakers?
Who knows when -- if ever -- modern electronics will solve this real problem to prevent motorcyclists' hearing loss. The technology is there; let's get it on!
OK, that's a mouthful of a name. We can at least shorten it to "Audio-Technica earbuds" or something for purposes of this review.
Several noise cancelling (or better stated as "noise reducing") earbuds or headphones have been reviewed on webBikeWorld through the years.
The most successful -- which isn't saying much -- are the Editor's very expensive (naturally) Bose QC 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones (review).
He still uses them, but only during airplane trips, where they work very well to reduce ambient noise levels.
But on the motorcycle? No.
Always on the lookout for a helmet noise control solution, someone told me about the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23BK "Active Noise Cancelling" earbuds.
These have been in continuous production since 2011 without (as far as I can tell) any updates.
So I figured that means they're pretty popular and must work well.
Indeed, there are quite a few raving reviews on the various retailer websites about these earbuds.
Audio-Technica is a well-known audio electronics manufacturer, having been started around the beginning of the "stereo" revolution back in the early '60's.
They specialize in microphones for professional use and they also make headphones of various types and the once-again popular turntables.
The ATH-ANC23BK earbuds (product page) are the least expensive of their noise cancelling headsets.
They also make the ATH-ANC33iS, which have the same specs and appear to be identical except the latter has a line mic to use for phone calls.
Both have a list price of $79.95 but can be found for around $49.00.
The ATH-ANC23BK have what Audio-Technica calls their "Quietpoint Active Noise Reduction", claimed to reduce background noise up to 90%.
The system looks like your basic set of mid-range earbuds but with a controller box located about 75 cm from the earbuds.
This box houses the single AAA battery and includes an on/off switch; a volume control and a clip on the back.
The system will work without the battery, but the volume rises about maybe 15% when the powered unit is switched on. Actually, I think this has more to do with the perceived "noise reduction" effect than the electronics.
Other specs include a claimed frequency response of 20-20k Hz (pretty much standard for earbuds).
Claimed noise reduction up to 20 dB and a battery life of a claimed 60 hours, which seems about right.
The wiring is about 130 cm long tip-to-tip, which actually is a bit of a disadvantage when you're wearing a helmet.
You'll probably want to keep a twist-tie handy to secure the unused part of the cable and stuff it in your motorcycle jacket top pocket.
BTW, jackets like the Joe Rocket Phoenix Ion (review) have a special device pocket located on the upper left chest. It has a pass-through for earbuds and this works well.
A standard 3.5 mm jack is, of course, included and the whole thing including the AAA battery weighs a mere 35 grams.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23BK kit includes a little cloth carrying pouch; an airplane adapter (does anyone use these any more?); an AAA battery and 3 sets of earbud tips.
The tips include a pair of small and a pair of larger sized rubber round tips that didn't work for me and a pair of foam "Comply" tips that feel something like memory foam and work nicely for me.
The tips seem to hold very tightly and I've had no trouble with them coming loose.
The earbud is a sort of three-part design, with a back that holds the wire.
It has a round driver compartment that also has the tiny hole to sense ambient noise for the noise reduction system; and the tip that holds the foam or rubber pieces.
I'll admit to being puzzled at my experience with the ATH-ANC23BK compared to the fairly good reviews this system has received over the years on Amazon.com and other retailer websites.
I've tried these in dozens of different situations and when I switch on the power, there's a very, very slight reduction in the basic background "hiss" type noise.
But in no sense is there a comfortable or even very noticeable difference.
I've tried them on airplane flights, with steady fans in the background, outdoors and many other locations. I just have to really concentrate to notice any difference.
As far as their performance as audio earbuds for music listening, they work pretty well.
Again, my experiences have been about 180 degrees from other owners, many of whom think the ATH-ANC23BK earbuds have poor sound reproduction.
I'm not what you'd call an audiophile, but the music sounds good to me. In fact, the foam tips fit so well that they alone block some noise and feed good bass and mid-range into my ears. Nothing extraordinary, mind you, just a pretty good set of music-listening earbuds.
The music will increase in volume slightly when the power is switched on for the noise reduction system on the ATH-ANC23BK.
This apparently masks some of the external noise, making you think there's noise reduction going on. I'm not buying it...
The ATH-ANC23BK are a little tough to fit under a helmet, due to the ~25 mm length of the earbud.
But this is true with any earbuds under a helmet; it's usually a pain to keep earbuds inserted while you pull on a tight-fitting helmet.
Then you have to remember not to rip the wires out of the device when you pull the helmet off your head. Of course, helmets with deeper ear pockets work better to fit the ATH-ANC23BK earbuds.
I had high hopes for the ATH-ANC23BK, due to the ambient sound sensing mics, which are located in the earbuds and not on the device controller like some of the other noise cancelling systems.
You really don't want the external sensor, because you want to cancel the sound waves hitting your ears, not your chest.
But on the road, I notice no sound reduction properties at all from the ATH-ANC23BK system. I can hear the music if I'm playing it, but it's not really much different than a set of standard good-fitting earbuds.
That last sentence in the section above pretty much sums up my rather lengthy experience with the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23BK QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones.
If you want a decent set of earbuds and are willing to spend 50 bucks, these may do the trick. But just don't expect much, if any, noise reduction when riding a motorcycle or anything else.
I'd really like to hear from other ATH-ANC23BK owning motorcyclists -- maybe my experience is an aberration?
In the meantime, like Diogenes quest for the honest man, I'll keep searching for a way to electronically reduce sound in a motorcycle helmet...
More wBW Noise Cancelling Earbud Reviews
From "N.O." (April 2017): "I would have to say I totally disagree with your conclusion. Although sound perception is relative to the user, there are some common factors between people.
I have the ANC33iS. I have tried to find the best ways to reduce helmet noise over the years.
My first problem is that only a few helmets fit my round head shape, I have Shoei XR1000 helmet, with wind and chin deflector, having both of these fitted does reduce wind noise, but it does increase condensation fogging in winter.
The XR1000 is not known for its sound reducing qualities in the first place.
The problem with most active noise cancelling earbuds is the fitment, which is the most important aspect to them and often overlooked.
If the earbuds do not seal in your ear canals then the noise cancellation feature is utterly useless, as the noises they are dampening is getting around the earbud and in to your ear, hence you hear no sound cancelling at all.
So, first and foremost you need to get a good fit, which I for me means no ear bud with the supplied tips work at all, I use comply TX tips, medium in my left ear, large in my right.
Also, fitting these in the ear is important, not just simply pushing them in, you need to squash the comply tip first.
Then for me I put them in wrong, 90 degrees pointing up/forward, push them in to my ear all the way, waiting for the foam tip to expand and then twist them to the correct position.
The noise dampening effect then is noticeable then, without any active noise cancellation turned on.
I then wear a thick balaclava, which I find helps a lot with earbuds, as it stops them coming out when you put your helmet on/off, plus it also reduces wind noise, but not by much.
I use my earbuds whilst riding, connected to my Sena intercom. I use my earbuds in the office for listening to radio, it is surprising how much the background noise is dampened by fitting the earbuds correctly.
I also notice the difference in noise reduction when I open my jaw, the dampening effect is reduced, I assume this is down to the fact with my jaw closed, my ear canal is narrowed, opening my jaw increases the ear canal size.
At 120mph the noise difference between jaw open and closed is noticeable."
Editor's Note: Since noise reducing earbuds are not specifically designed for motorcycle use, it is important to have the microphone located correctly to pick up the frequency of the ambient noise that is being transmitted to the ears.
Sometimes the mic can be placed in a "sweet spot" that does help to drive the earbuds to activate the cancellation frequencies and sometimes it's difficult to find that spot.
Until someone invents noise cancelling earbuds or speakers specifically designed for a motorcycle, it's a hit-or-miss situation when using noise cancelling devices on a motorcycle.
From "H.S." (July 2015): "I read the review with a lot of interest. I went searching for an answer for listening to music and traffic reports on an FM radio while commuting.
The bottom line for me was that "noise-cancelling" earbuds weren't there yet.
I came across an unexpected find that I'd like to share with you. I found MEElectronics Sport-Fi M6 Noise Isolating In-Ear Headphones with Memory Wire earbuds for less than $20 that work fairly decently for motorcycle use.
I wrote up a full review on the NT-Owners.org page.
Bottom line, the sound quality isn't as "bright" as better earbuds are, but it isn't noticeable while riding. The noise reduction, I'm guessing, is close to 29 dB.
I have ridden without them plugged into anything, and they are better than my Harbor Freight earplugs which are rated at 29db."
From "B.A." (July 2015): "Long time, reader / customer, thank you wBW for all the services you provide. Thank you for being on the lookout for motorcycle hearing protection.
My father an avid motorcyclist is suffering from hearing loss, a really isolating condition. While I can't solely blame motorcycles we both feel they have contributed.
We have tried it all custom earplugs larger/smaller windscreens, neck collars, you name it, but a 70 mph wind is just loud.
Throw in buffeting from big rigs or any wind other than one at your back and the problem gets worse.
The only solution I have found is to slow down and keep it off the super slab. I myself just concluded a trip from AZ to AR about 1500 miles mostly I-40 a month ago and my head is still ringing.
For this reason I'll be towing for any ride of a great distance.
I would like to share a couple of theories on the issue.
1. Some of us just don't physically recuperate like you did at 18. This goes for hearing too. I am 49 and I feel like my hearing is just more "brittle" and it is easier to permanently lose hearing as you get older.
2. Sound travels better through solids. At 70 mph a lot of sound is being generated in and around your helmet. Earplugs do make a difference and I use them.
But I think all that sound just goes right into the solid mass of your helmet then the solid mass (insert joke here) of your scull and inner ear.
I really don't think enough is being done about this issue.
Hopefully that will change until then I will start reducing my riding to country back roads. I hope to see a product someday that will resolve this and expect wBW to tell me about it first."