Provides: Portable and stylish headphones with active noise-canceling
Colors: Pink, Red, Green, or Grey
Minimum Requirements: Audio player with 1/8” mini-jack
AblePlanet is a company on a mission to make audio equipment designed for people with disabilities. The outcome of this mission is the LINX AUDIO processing technology that is part of the AblePlanet line of products. LINX aims to enhance sound clarity with a special emphasis on speech and higher tones which are typically the most difficult for users with auditory disabilities to hear. A secondary result of this processing is an increase in “perceived loudness;” music sounds louder with the LINX processing, so users may not turn up the volume as much (leading, at least in theory, to a decrease in hearing damage due to headphone use). With a full range of Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones, the EXTREME is a new entry-level competitor, priced below other high-end ANC headphones.
What’s in the Box?
The review unit sent out was the pink variation, with 10% of sales going to support breast cancer charities (which charities are not specified, but the headphones do not bear the typical pink-ribbon logo). The package includes a 1/4″ line adapter, carrying bag, and a two-prong airline adaptor. These accessories, plus the folding design, clearly target the EXTREMEs to an on-the-go crowd; most people think of cutting jet engine noise as a primary use for ANC headphones, and these are clearly the coach class of the ANC headphone market. The phones are all-plastic with vinyl insets on the headband and ear cups. Overall, the feel is sturdy, but not posh. For a pleasant surprise, a battery is included in the box—the single AAA battery will supply approximately 30 hours of use.
No specifications for noise reduction (a specific number of decibels) is available from AblePlanet’s site, but the performance is on par with other similarly priced ANC headphones. Noise canceling works best for ongoing loud noises such as jet engines or wind noise on the road. In testing, the EXTREMEs cut jet noise from a roar to a soft background hum, but did not stop it completely. This is due largely to a design choice made by AblePlanet—these headphones are not sound-isolating. The ear cups fit completely over the ear but do not insulate from outside sounds (known as passive noise cancellation). On the up side, using these in a public place will still allow you to hear someone addressing you. On the down side, if you are looking to turn a very loud environment into a (sonically) secluded oasis, these are not the headphones for the job.
Audiophiles take note: The LINX AUDIO introduces extensive sound processing. If you demand pure, unadulterated sound (apart from the noise-cancelling white noise), none of AblePlanet’s products will meet your demands (then again, audiophiles would likely prefer sound isolating designs rather than active ANC). The EXTREMEs come with a detachable cord so they can be used in just noise-canceling mode, in which case a slight hum of white static noise is played to cancel out background noise detected. Unlike many other ANC headphones, the EXTREMEs are also capable of being used without battery power. Most ANCs will play back static noise even when there is no background noise to cancel, which can be distracting when listening to music, so this capability vastly extends the usefulness of these headphones.
As stated, the LINX processing emphasizes vocals and higher-range sounds. Depending on equalizer settings and the type of music, this can leave the music sounding washed out. As a recommendation, a flat or bass-enhancing equalizer setting compliments the LINX AUDIO processing nicely. Bass on the EXTREMEs is tight and crisp, but not thumpy, favoring classical/jazz music while leaving pop/dance tracks feeling slightly anemic. Baritone and alto vocals are especially enhanced in the mid-tones by the LINX speech enhancing, though vocals can easily overpower higher tone instrumentals at higher volumes. High tones were reproduced cleanly but were often overpowered by midrange vocals; some moderate equalizer tweaking in the higher ranges mitigated the effect.
In the End
AblePlanet’s EXTREME headphones are a competent competitor among an ever-increasing sea of active noise canceling headphones. While the stylish design and charitable support definitely set these cans apart, the LINX AUDIO processing may be a drawback for users without hearing impairments looking for natural audio reproduction along with ANC capabilities. If the stand-out style, budget-friendliness, or tailoring for auditory impairment is important, look no further than the EXTREMEs. If the style is secondary to exact audio reproduction, consider other options at this price point, including sound isolating headphones or maybe even a used pair from Bose’s Quiet Comfort line.