Harman Kardon Noise Cancelling Headphones Full Review

(Last Updated On: March 21, 2017)

Harman Kardon is no slouch when it comes to the world of audio.  This premium audio company has been cranking out headphones, speakers, and more for over 60 years. One of their most iconic pairs of headphones in recent years are the Harman Kardon NC headphones, or noise canceling headphones. The cans sport an over-ear design with 40mm drivers and active noise canceling, coming in at around only $200.

The Harman Kardon NCs are stylish and comfortable and built like it’s no one’s business. Their convenience, portability and sound quality are worthy of the Harman Kardon name. However, a lack of low-end and sub-par performance with active noise canceling hold these headphones back from being great.

Do these headphones live up to the legacy of the Harman Kardon name, or are they just another pair of active noise canceling headphones?

Specifications:

   
Driver Size 40mm
Type Over-Ear
Cable Length 4’7” (1.4m)
Frequency Response 16-Hz-20kHz

Design:

If you’ve seen a pair of Harman Kardon headphones, you’ve seen them all. The classic rectangular ear cups grace this pair of headphone as well, making them an undeniable staple of the brand. This design is classic enough to look like a pair of headphones straight out of 70s, but still, has the appeal of modern headphones.

For my tastes, I much prefer circular ear-cubs from an aesthetic standpoint. With that being said, the rectangular design is much more comfortable, fitting completely over the ear instead of clipping part of it. For that, I have to commend the Harman Kardon NCs for being stylish (to a point) and still maintaining complete comfort.

Combine that with soft leather ear cups and a wraparound soft lever pad for the headband, and you have yourself one comfortable pair of headphones. Even while wearing the headphones out for long periods of time, I never found them troublesome. The design is fluid and comfortable and many times I forgot I was wearing headphones at all.

Overall, I really did like the design of the Harman Kardon NCs. At first, I was a bit turned off by the rectangular ear cups, but they grew on me. The silver lined aesthetic and cushy leather interior made these headphones, not only a joy to use, but a joy to show off.

This silver-lining is the completely metal housing of the headphones. The construction was rigid and durable, with the soft leather comforting the listener. These headphones could be dropped quite a number of times and still function just fine. For a pair of headphones at this price, it’s nice to see something that feels worthy of the price being spent on it and not just another piece of plastic. This all metal construction sets apart the Harman Kardon NCs from other headphones on the market.

Sound Quality:

These headphones have a moderately wide frequency response, ranging from 16Hz-20kHz. While I would expect a little more range from a pair of headphones at this price point, the Harman Kardon NCs still did a lot with what they had. Combine that with the notoriously bad reputation of the sound quality of active noise canceling headphones, and the Harman Kardon NCs come out looking pretty nice.

The low-end on the headphones was nice and tight. Often, headphones in the sub-$300 range sound a little bloated in this area or lack bass altogether. These headphones pack a nice punch down here, not sounding too obtuse.

With that being said, they are a bit lean sounding. While the low-end is definitely there and punches through decently well, it seemed a little of the shy of what I would expect the headphones to sound like. This doesn’t break the experience, especially for those who don’t like a lot of bass but if you’re in the market for headphones that can pump with the best of them, then look elsewhere.

The rest of the spectrum is equated closer to an equal loudness curve. This kind of response from the headphones makes the entire range sound balanced and full. The highs weren’t too harsh and the mid-range wasn’t too bloated. The rest of the spectrum played out perfectly.

Noise Canceling:

While the main feature of the headphones is the active noise canceling capabilities, the Harman Kardon NCs do a lot with passive noise canceling. The over-ear design blocks out quite a bit of sound, even with active noise canceling isn’t engaged. I often found myself listening with the headphones without this engaged to save on battery life.

The battery life is fairly impressive, however. These headphones can last up to 40 hours with active noise canceling on off of a single charge. The charging is done via a micro USB cable, making charging convenient, especially for those with Android devices.

This means no fumbling around with AA batteries. Thankfully, the Harman Kardon NCs were a breeze to plug up and charge, so I didn’t have to carry AA batteries with me or deal with trying to screen an ear cup off to install them.

However, the active noise canceling is bit sub-par. While the headphones do a great job at blocking out sound, the active noise canceling doesn’t do as much as some other options of the market. Options from Audio-Technica and Sony offer much better noise canceling and for cheaper.

Since the main feature of the headphones is the active noise canceling technology, it’s hard to let the Harman Kardon NCs go on this point. The experience wasn’t shockingly bad, but it would be nice to see a bit better noise canceling headphones considering they are named NC (noise-cancelling).

Alternatives to Consider:

#:1 Beats Studio Wireless Over-Ear Headphone – $249

While Beats are often attributed with children’s toys, make no mistake: These headphones sound awesome. The active noise canceling is great, the sound (while bass heavy) is nice, and the construction should stand up to quite a bit of beating.

Combine that with wireless capabilities via Bluetooth, and the Beats Studio Wireless is a pretty nice alternative. The only downside here is a low 12-hour battery life compared to the 40 hours you can get out of the Harman Kardon NCs.

#2: Bose QuietComfort 35 – $349

Yes, they may be a bit overpriced, but they are great headphones. The Bose Quiet Comfort 35s combine the best features of headphones under one roof. These headphones look great, sound great, and feature wireless connectivity via Bluetooth.

The active noise canceling battery life is impressive as well. These headphones can last for 20 hours in wireless mode, and 40 hours in wired mode, making them a good contender for the Harman Kardon NCs albeit more expensive.

In Conclusion:

The Harman Kardon NCs are a pretty nice pair of headphones. The rigid build quality, stylish aesthetic, and equal loudness frequency response make these headphones seem attractive for the price.

However, the leanness of the low-end and the sub-par active noise canceling hold these headphones back from being great. While these points aren’t deal breakers, I found myself a bit dissatisfied in my listening experience considering the other options that were out there.

Overall, the Harman Kardon NCs are a nice pair of cans. They look nice, they feel nice, and they sound nice. However, if you’ve been around the block with headphones, then you may be disappointed with their performance. Considering the headphones run $199 with the few problems they do have, they come off as coming a bit overpriced. Of course, you can check here for the latest discounts and prices. Not to the likes of Bose, but still overpriced nonetheless.

If you’re looking to burn a little extra money, then the Harman Kardon NCs are a great choice. They don’t sound bad or look bad and they pack plenty of features to be considered a good pair of headphones. However, if you’re looking for the best value, then you may want to pass onto another pair.

Juan Alexander

Juan is a self-professed sound-nerd and the webmaster / lead author & tester for AllSoundLab. You might literally walk into him on the street because he's tuned out to the world and tuned in to his beats...

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