Noise Cancelling Headphones: Denon, Able Planet, & AKG Models Compared

Noise canceling headphones are a must. A must, I say. There is no way I’m riding in a disease-riddled airliner and listening to the guy behind me hack up tuberculosis. Hells no. I sit down, don some noise canceling headphones and pray the Almighty makes it painless. Any of the following three headphones feature noise cancellation that’s more than adequate but each one fails in another aspect, resulting in three different recommendations based on the planned usage. So click through, fellow traveler. Your next pair of cans could be found after the break.

Denon AH-NC800 — $349 MSRP


  • Super-duper comfy
  • Great noise cancellation


  • Sound quality lacks range, definition
  • Pricey
  • Large travel case

I’m pretty sure that Denon employed angels when they designed the AH-NC800s. These are without question the most comfy set of headphones I’ve ever worn. Too bad they don’t sound all that great.

The lows are non-existent and the highs are a tad flat. And that’s that.

I want to love these headphones because they feel like fluffy summer clouds are piping music directly into my head, but said music is as sad as Eeyore’s little black rain cloud. It doesn’t really matter that the noise cancellation is the best of the bunch if the audio quality is just okay where there’s a $350 price tag. Buy these headphones if comfort is more important to you than music sound quality. Watch movies or TV shows while on a plane? Yeah, buy these. They’re perfect for that task. Music enthusiasts should elsewhere, though.

Able Planet Extreme Noise Canceling Heaphones — $149 MSRP


  • Very good noise cancellation
  • Great price
  • Compact


  • Travel case doesn’t offer protection
  • Look cheap and flimsy

Put these Able Planet models right next to the Denon ones above and you would swear that they were the same thing besides the obvious style make-over. They’re probably from the same mold, really. Everything from the battery door, to the power button, to the cup and arm design looks the same. But surprisingly, these sound better than their brand name counterpart and seem to have very similar noise cancellation ability although just a notch below, which could be more to do with the foam surrounds than the actual circuity inside.

Where the Denons seem to bottom out more than they should, the Able Planet model are able to handle low-end frequencies just fine. I wouldn’t say they reproduce a better sound when they’re both riding in their respective comfort zones, but the Able Planet model simply has a better range.

It’s just too bad that they don’t fit the same or look as nice. They fit like standard headphones, but the Denons are supremely comfortable. The Denons also feel like a premium product with high-quality construction and a great carrying case. The Able Planet ones are cheap in materials, but also price.  They’re nearly a steal with a $150 MSRP but a $90 street price. This is where I would have put a Highly Recommended declaration if they weren’t constructed out of cheap material.

AKG K 480 NC – $299 MSRP


  • Tiny
  • Great sound definition
  • Good noise cancellation


  • Small headphones, but large travel case. It’s odd.

Straight from the Harman group, the small AKG K 480 NC are an oddity. These ‘phones do not wrap around your ear like traditional noise canceling sets. Instead, they sit flush on your ear and with the help of clever padding, seem to form a tight fit around the ear canal, therefore achieving the same effect as the more traditional style. This as an advantage. Not only do they not mess with glasses, but wearing them with earrings should be a non-affair. They just kind of sit on top of your ear, filtering the outside world while filling your head with music.

The sound quality is great, too. The clarity and definition is more than adequate and are actually somewhat surprising from the small cans.

It’s their small size that makes them stand apart in our test though. They have nearly the same level of noise cancellation as the other two, but do so in a lot smaller physical package. It’s too bad that their carrying case is just so large that it almost nullifies their small stature. The case does however provide a great deal of protection with hard sides and a hefty zipper.

There you have it: three different noise canceling headphones. So which one should you buy? Well, the Denons are really, really comfy, but sound flat. The Able Planets look like something you would buy at a bowling alley, but have decent sound and noise canceling abilities for the price. That leaves the AKGs, which are tiny, filter out a good amount of background noise, and sound better than the other two.

But wait, I never listen to music when I’m in need of noise canceling headphones. I watch movies on the planes, so with that in mind, the Denons heavenly feel trumps slightly better sound reproduction for me. If music is your time waster of choice when soaring the friendly skies, opt for the AKGs. But if money is an issue, the Able Planets work great; they just look and feel cheap. Three different headphones for three different shoppers.