Hands On: Imagine Noise-Canceling Headphones
Imagine’s new noise-canceling headphones are a comfortable and cost effective way to listen to music, podcasts and other media in private in any environment.
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October 15, 2009 by Robert Archer

Back in the day it used to be that music fans sat in front of a pair of speakers like the Maxell “Blow-away” guy to listen to their favorite tunes. These days people often listen via their favorite personal media players. 

The advent of portable digital media has re-ignited interest in headphones, which has in turned has spawned interest in a sub-category of noise-canceling headphones. 

Many familiar audio manufacturers from the consumer- and pro-audio worlds have popularized noise-canceling headphones, and the technology behind the product category basically works on the premise of minimizing the amount of ambient environmental noise that intrudes on a headphone user’s listening experience.

It accomplishes this task by creating its own sound waves that are designed to cancel out the lower frequency noise that penetrates a set of headphones. 

Some of the noise-canceling headphones on the market are very sophisticated and costly, and others like Imagine International Corporation’s new Noise-Canceling Headphones, are priced to provide noise-canceling functionality without breaking the bank.

Features
Imagine packages its headphones in a nice box, which conceals a somewhat large, but sturdy travel case, that holds the unit’s cables, 3.5mm (1/8 inch) connectors for use on airplanes, computers and portable media players, and a 1/4-inch adapter for use with a traditional piece of audio electronics. 

The on-ear headphones’ noise-canceling on/off and volume controls, along with a battery storage area are built into the right-ear enclosure. The unit takes two AAA batteries, and the company rates the headphone’s frequency response at 20Hz to 20kHz.

Set up
Unpacking and setting up the headphones is pretty basic: A connector cable plugs into the headphones and the other end plugs into the input of a media device. I used it with an Apple iPod Classic and a Dell PC running Apple iTunes.

Performance
Listening to content stored on my iPod in AAC, Apple Lossless and AIFF that included The Alex Skolnick Trio, Pat Metheny, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fleetwood Mac, I was pleasantly surprised by the headphones’ performance.

Compared to ear buds, which are popular right now and typically included with a portable device purchase, the Imagines are big, but they are comfortable and even without running the headphone’s noise-canceling function they are quieter than an ear-bud style headphone. The low-end frequency extension was also very noticeable, apparent on AAC content like “Tell Me Baby” from the Chili Peppers. 

On the Apple Lossless and AIFF file recordings of Skolnick and Metheny that low end had more weight and definition, which lent itself well to listening to Jaco Pastorius’ bass line on Metheny’s “Bright Size Life.” The headphone’s midrange was also good while listening to Metheny’s guitar playing. Small details like hearing the natural reverb Metheny was using on his Gibson ES-175 hollow-body guitar were a highlight of that midrange performance. The headphones’ top end was slightly shrill on some cymbals and slightly more pronounced on the compressed audio tracks I was listening to, but it wasn’t bright or annoying. 

As for the main feature of the headphones—its noise-canceling capabilities—I found it worked, but it wasn’t as dramatic a difference as my more expensive Sennheiser headphones. It was better however than a pair of Panasonic headphones that I also own. 

I found that the noise-canceling effect did decrease the amount of ambient noise that was penetrating into the headphones, but it also sounded like it attenuated my music’s volume too. That attenuation was noticeable on the very top and bottom ends of the sound spectrum. I thought the impact of the bass was slightly lessened and the top end lost some extension as it slightly rolled off a bit.

Final Thoughts
Summing up my experience with the Imagine Noise Canceling Headphones I think the headphones are a strong value for someone in the market for a set. The highlight is the overall frequency response, which offers clean performance on content down into the lower frequency regions. Combine that performance with the noise-canceling element of the headphones and they become an affordable solution worth checking out.

www.letsgoimagine.com; SRP is $63.95, ARP $52.95

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Robert Archer - Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.

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