Bose has managed to persuade thousands of people to spend large sums of money on the company's and noise-cancelling headphones. That has emboldened companies such as Denon -- which can leverage its own highly respected brand -- to come up with its own pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Alas, Denon doesn't have the marketing prowess that Bose does, so its competing model doesn't have an easy-to-remember name -- instead, they're named after model number, the AH-NC732s. These headphones can be found for around £250.
In terms of design, the AH-NC732s are almost a cross between the Bose Quiet Comfort 2s, which feature a circumaural design, or a cup around the ear, and the Quiet Comfort 3s, which feature a supra-aural, or on-ear design. This means that these Denon 'phones have a cupped design but the ear cups aren't as big as those of the Quiet Comfort 2s and they don't entirely fit around and over your ears, but sit more on top of them like the Quiet Comfort 3s do. The only difference is there's no padding in the middle of the ear cup like there is with the Quiet Comfort 3s.
When we first tried on the headphones we thought they were comfortable, but after a little while, we felt less sure about how they felt on our ears and found ourselves adjusting the headband to get a more comfortable fit. Everyone's ears are different, so we decided to hand them off to a couple of colleagues to see how they felt to them. One colleague came away with similar impressions, while another other said he preferred the fit of the Denons to that of the QuietComfort 3s.
The AH-NC732s come with an almost identical set of accessories to that of the Bose headphones: there are two detachable headphone cables (a short 0.7-metre cable and a longer 1.5-metre cable), a two-pronged airplane adaptor and a faux-leather hard-padded carrying case. The AH-NC732s fold flat and fit in the carrying case, which is about the size of a paperback book.
As for sound, let's start with the positives. The noise-cancelling performance on the AH-NC732s is quite good -- superior, in our view, to that of either Bose model. With the QuietComfort 3s, the loud air-conditioning fan in our office was muffled, though an audible hiss was left as residue. With the AH-NC732s, the faint hiss was still there but it sounded more pleasant. As with all noise-cancelling headphones, there is a certain amount of pressure exerted on your eardrum. For most people this isn't a problem, but some don't like that pressure, so be sure to try them out first.
One thing the AH-NC732s can do that the Quiet Comforts can't is play music when the noise-cancelling circuitry isn't engaged -- if your battery dies in Bose headphones, the sound cuts out. If you turn off the noise-cancelling circuitry (powered by a single AAA battery), the headphones simply don't play as loudly and the sound comes across as a bit muffled. In other words, it's hard to listen to music without the noise cancelling activated, but at least it's possible. This would definitely be helpful if the battery conks out in the middle of a long flight, for example.
But overall, we found the AH-NC732s to be fairly laid back. They're not as efficient as the Bose headphones, so you have to crank the volume on an iPod to equalise them. Perhaps we expected more because they're made by Denon and we're used to the company's high-quality products. But the AH-NC732s were clearly beat by a pair of regular headphones, the , and lagged behind both Bose Quiet Comfort headphones in terms of sound quality. The Ultrasone HFI-580s offered better clarity and more detail along with tighter bass.
That's not to say the Denons sound bad, but when you're dealing with £250 headphones, merely being good doesn't cut it. They also didn't measure up to the Bose 'phones in the bass department. Quiet Comfort headphones are known for their thumping bass (some would prefer it to be more restrained) and by comparison, the AH-NC732s sounded timid.
All in all, we didn't love the Denon AH-NC732s and would have a hard time recommending them, especially considering their £250 price tag. We don't think the Bose headphones are worth that kind of money either, but they are better. So here's what we suggest to Denon: cut the price in half, and then they'd be worth buying.
Edited by Marian Smith