Paradigm H15NC Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Review | CANADA HiFi Magazine

Paradigm H15NC Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Review

Paradigm is a Canadian company known across the world for its wide range of speakers, both large and small. Based in Mississauga, Ontario, they have been building speakers for the past 30 years but it’s only in the last two years that they’ve expanded their offerings into portable audio.

The new H15NC headphones are their latest offering with the added functionality of active noise cancelling (their sibling, the H15 lack the noise cancelling functionality). The headphones arrive in a zippered, hard black case that holds the headphones, standard micro-USB charging cable, USB wall charger, and lastly, dual-prong mono-to-single stereo adapter (used on old airplanes). The headphones themselves are well padded with memory-foam ear cups that swivel and padding along the top of the headband, which extends on both ends. I have a borderline large-sized head (according to autocross helmet sizing) and the headphones fit comfortably for extended listening sessions (1-3 hours) without much fatigue or neck strain thanks to their relatively lightweight 179g mass. However, due to the elastic nature of the headphones and their tendency to close together, after a long session I could feel the effects on my ears.

The detachable cord comes with an in-line microphone and remote control for use with a smartphone and unfortunately, only fully supports Apple iOS devices (answer/reject, play, next/previous track, volume up/down) and has limited Android support (unofficially). The active noise canceling is powered by a built-in lithium ion battery which charges in approximately 4 hours and lasts up to 40 hours on a single charge. Each 40mm mylar driver takes in up to 15mW of power to deliver a response of 20 Hz through 20 kHz.

To compare with these headphones, I used my well-worn Shure E4c in-ear earphones (also referred to as in-ear monitors or IEMs) which cost $50 cheaper when I bought them six years ago than the H15NC’s $299 price tag. The E4c IEMs offer a degree of noise isolation thanks to their foam tips which you insert in your ear. I was curious to hear the difference between physical noise isolation versus active noise cancellation of these Paradigm over-ear headphones. It should be noted that since H15NC’s ear cups don’t cover the entire ear, that element of physical noise isolation is not present.

To test out the sonic performance of the headphones, I wanted to try a range of different audio content, from classical to crossover instrumental to loud, vocal pop/rock. Most of my testing was performed with the noise cancelling feature activated.

Popping in Mediaphon’s Vivaldi disc from their Classics set, I concentrated on the soundstage, presence, and detail of the strings and orchestra. From the start of “Spring”, the Paradigms produced a deeper, fuller soundstage than the Shures which helped to surround me and pull me further into the music. The Shures on the other hand made the performers sound more like they were outside with no walls. Nearing the end of the opus 8, no. 1 of Spring, a harpsichord is introduced and through the Paradigms, the sound was more subtle, softer, and further back on the stage than with the Shures. In addition, the Paradigms more accurately rendered the distinctive “twang” that the plucked keyboard instrument is known for. Throughout the opus, the individual instruments didn’t get muddled together – something that frequently occurs when the soundstage is too small, which causes recordings to sound like everyone’s figuratively in the same spot, playing their instruments. The strings were clearly positioned at the front of the stage, while the percussion instruments and the harpsichord could be heard further back left and centre, respectively.

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