You might think it’s crazy to spend $500 (or even $350) on a pair of headphones, so here’s a pair for you — the Atmos noise-canceling headphones from Rocketfish. The MSRP is $130, but you can find them online for around $80.
They’re over-the-ear headphones with a strong skull-clamp factor, so you get a good seal around your ear. There’s a battery inside that charges over USB.
When it comes to audio quality, you won’t find me raving. But I was surprised at how well they performed, given their budget-minded build. Subtler, intricate tracks, like Aphex Twin’s ambient classics and Sean Hayes’ soulful ballads, were rather muddy and undefined. But classic rock and anything with a punchier, modern sheen — Tennis, Sleigh Bells, Talking Heads, Rush — sounded pretty good.
The noise-canceling tech inside is provided by Wolfson, and it performs well enough. Street noises were mostly squashed, with only the lowest and loudest engine rumbles leaking in. Noise-canceling can be switched on and off, so you can keep listening to music after the headphones’ batteries are exhausted.
The Rocketfishes aren’t as comfortable as pricer cans, but they are very lightweight, given their mostly plastic construction.
About that: If you read the reviews on Amazon and in headphone forums, you’ll see complaints about how the headband snapped or one of the earpieces broke. That didn’t happen to me, but I only used them for a week, and I treated them pretty gently. But keep in mind: they don’t fold, they aren’t very compact, and the plastic is flimsy. And while the Atmos cans come with a molded case, they aren’t as well-suited for travel. This is odd for a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which are usually geared toward travelers, commuters, and those who traditionally want the ultimate in portability.
Sure, Rocketfish had to cut a few corners, but the company managed to keep these around $100 without sacrificing much in the way of sound.