Audio-Technica announced the QuietPoint ATH-ANC300TW back in January during CES 2020, but due to the global pandemic, the retail availability was delayed. People like me who waited long long can finally get their hands on Audio-Technica first digital hybrid active noise-cancelling (ANC) true wireless earbuds. Thanks to Audio-Technica SEA for arranging for the loan unit at the earliest instance for review. The official retail price in Singapore is S$348 and is available across Audio-Technica Flagship store in Funan, major electronic chain stores and headphone specialty stores.
Unboxing and Design
The ANC300TW retains the design DNA of the earlier TWS earbuds, ATH-CK3TW, which I like because the earbuds protrude out for easy removal. Similarly, the USB-C charging port is located at the side instead of the rear.
The case material is stronger and does not creak like the CK3TW. The top case cover has a black matt coating, while the lower case is glossy dark blue. The battery life on each earbud is 4.5 hours, with the charging case offering another 13.5 hours. Comparatively, the Sony WF-1000XM3 can last 6 hours per charge and 24 hours with case.
The earbuds is relatively chunky, but still not as massive as the Sony. It has better weight balance when worn, such that I feel generally comfortable without strain on my ears. Though they stick out quite a fair bit, visually it looks compact when worn.
The earbuds are only IPX2 water rated, that is drip-proof. However, the instruction manual states that the speaker mesh is not water-rated, meaning the protection is only applicable when you wear the earbuds such that the speaker will not be in contact with water inside the ear canal.
The ANC300TW operates by a button that protudes enough that it’s hard to miss. Positioned at the top, it is easy to operate with the index finger. The downward click means there is no pressure pushing into the ear canals.
Tap the left earbud button to control the Quick Hear-Through, whose function is similar to Sony Quick Attention Mode. Double-tap to increase volume, and triple-tap to reduce volume. On the right earbud, tap once to play-pause, double-tap to play next track, triple-tap to play previous track.
The earbuds go into pairing automatically when no devices are connected, saving the hassle of having to activating pairing mode. However, in the event that you need to re-pair when the earbuds are already connected, the manual offers the following instruction: place the earbuds into the charging case and press the right earbud function button for 6 seconds. Once the LED lights up in red, then it’s ready to pair. It’s great that Audio-Technica puts in effort to provide details to some of the most challenging operations, in particular, Bluetooth pairing. You can access the PDF manual from this link here.
Noise Cancelling and Hear-Through
There are 3 ANC modes – Airplane, On The Go, and Office/Study. There are 3 levels of Hear-Through. To switch between ANC On, ANC Off, and the various Hear-Through Modes, the Audio-Technica Connect smartphone app is required, which I find a hassle. It also takes a few seconds to switch modes and during which any audio will be disrupted. It would be great if Audio-Technica can develop a feature to customise the left click button to allow switching of ANC modes.
The manual specifically states that the noise-cancelling function mainly reduces noises of 300Hz or lower. In fact, the earbuds itself is already excellent in passive noise-reduction. Depending on the situation, you should switch among the modes to find one that fits your needs. Among the 3 ANC modes, I find that “On The Go” mode works best for me.
The ANC300TW delivers above-average ANC quality and removes the lower frequencies rather effectively, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 silences the upper frequencies better, hence it delivers an overall better ANC. Having said that, the earbuds on the WF-1000XM3 are more tricky to get right so in many cases, wearers might not get a good noise-cancellation unless they stuff the earbuds into the ear canals. I find it more comfortable wearing the ANC300TW as they feel more snug in my ears.
Comparing to the Huawei Freebuds 3i, both are comparable in removing the low frequencies, but the ANC300TW is slightly better in removing mid and high frequencies due to the passive noise-removal from the eartips.
The Hear-Through on the ANC300TW is better than WF-1000XM3 as it provides a more realistic open sound covering a wider frequency, while the latter felt somewhat processed with missing lower frequency. Huawei Freebuds 3i is also more natural than WF-1000XM3 but lacking in the lower frequencies, which might not be a bad thing.
Audio-Technica usual sound signature is strong presentation of the upper frequencies, and the ANC300TW carries this tuning. The treble is clear, forward, expressive, but can get sibilant. The bass is tight, compact, does not sound bloated. The sound stage is close, delivering much musical energy. If you prefer a more laid-back sound, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is better refined, but I find the fit fatiguing.
I enjoy listening to instrumental tracks or audiophile vocals, as these tracks balance well with the polite bass. Modern pops with heavy arrangements tend to get too harsh on the vocals and the bass could not keep up with the intensity as well as ATH-CK3TW.
During active voice calls, the ANC/Hear Through mode will remain enabled, which is a good thing. But it would be better if there is an option to default to one of the ANC modes. For me, I would like to have Hear Through active so that I can hear the ambience and myself during conversations. The mic quality is not too muffled, with sufficient clarity and warmth. During wind test, the wind drowned my voice and could not capture my normal voice. I had to shout to overpower the wind but it also distorts my voice excessively.
The ANC300TW is one of the better quality active noise cancelling earbuds reviewed. Its ANC works generally well and I liked that even with Hear Through mode the audio quality remains good. But if you need to switch between the modes regularly, you need to do that from the app. While you can enable Quick Hear Through from the left earbud, it takes almost 3 seconds to turn it on, so be sure your other party has the patience to wait for you (in most cases, I removed the earbuds for instant response).
In terms of value, the Sony WF-1000XM3 still offers great value, thanks to its comprehensive smartphone app which lets you control the Ambient Sound in various levels, built-in EQ, Adaptive Sound Control, among other features. But putting that aside, the ANC300TW is more comfortable to wear for hours, offers a more exciting sound, and more compact to carry around.
Retailing at S$348, the ANC300TW is priced against the Sony and Apple AirPods Pro, but if you are looking for a cheaper option, the Huawei Freebuds 3i is hard to beat. The ANC feature is comparable, though the sound quality is not as defined.