Active noise-canceling technology is a staple of the modern headset market. You’ll find a bunch of different options for sale from multiple manufacturers, many of them completely wireless. They’re especially popular with frequent fliers, since they do a good job of drowning out engine noise. But the technology has been slow to catch on among gamers.
A new company, called Victrix Pro, aims to change that. I’ve spent the last few weeks demoing its first offering, called the Victrix Pro AF ANC, and I’m pretty impressed.
Active noise-cancellation technology came to prominence in the late 1980s, thanks to the Bose Aviation Headset. The idea is that at least one microphone listens to the environment around the wearer, and then creates an acoustic signal inside the headset that drowns out exterior noise. The design of the AF ANC includes four external microphones, and the results are impressive. Most ambient noise fades away. In its place is a soft, sonorous bed of white noise.
Even with nothing to listen to, simply turning on the AF ANC has proven to be a pleasant way for me to tune out distracting noise and focus on work or gaming. The effect is even more prominent outdoors or in a crowded coffee shop.
The headset is not magic, though. While the AF ANC excels and removing continuous, ambient noise, it’s not at all good at taking out particularly loud pops, bangs or shouts. Putting them on, I can still hear the garbage man stop by on Mondays and keep tabs on my kids playing in the yard.
I’m not really the target user for these things. The AF ANC is being pitched to professional players who find themselves inside large arenas, where crowds or other teams of competitors can prove distracting. But they have their benefits for home users as well. Playing Destiny 2 on the PlayStation 4 and Arma 3 on the PC, two games I’ve spent hundreds of hours with each, I was able to pick out subtle new sounds that I simply hadn’t been able to hear before.
When it comes to positional audio, however, the AF ANC underperforms. It’s limited by a 3.5 mm jack. On PC, that’s less of an issue for me, since I have a few software-based options that can make things feel a bit more immersive. But on console, the experience was vastly inferior to the Astro A50s that I use almost every day. The soundstage on the AF ANC is also much more compact inside this new headset. Sounds feel closer and less separated within the acoustic environment it creates.
The AF ANC also has an unusual microphone. It looks like your standard boom mic, but Victrix claims the technology inside it is borrowed from the Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter, which was first flown in 1967. For a 51-year-old bit of kit, it works extraordinarily well. It’s very crisp and almost entirely free of outside noise, and while it’s not as dynamic as some of the other mics in the Polygon reference collection, I actually prefer its precision. It would be nice, however, if you could remove it entirely in favor of a professional mic on a boom arm, but that’s not an option. It’s essentially built into the unit.
The AF ANC also features a novel mechanical cooling system. Basically, there’s a lever on the back of each ear cup that, when pushed, gives about a half-inch gap along the back edge between the pad and the cup itself. That gap lets moisture out and cool air in, but it also turns off the active noise canceling and ducks the volume on the headphones. For streamers wearing headsets 12 or more hours a day I can see this being a huge selling point, but I hardly used it at all.
A major drawback, aside from the poor positional audio, is the battery pack. It’s an in-line model that sits about two-feet down the audio cable. There’s a clip on the back, intended to attach to the neck of your shirt. But once you drop two AA batteries inside, the damn thing is so heavy that it’s likely to ruin your clothes over time. I opted to leave it on my desktop, but that didn’t give me a lot of room to maneuver the cable and eventually got in the way of my mousing. It’s an odd feature, and hopefully something that will be modified in version two.
Otherwise, the build on this thing is remarkably robust. The steel and aluminum hardware feels solid, and the hinges seem very unlikely to break, even under heavy use.
Bottom line is, if you’ve got $299.99 to burn and need an active noise-canceling solution, the Victrix AF ANC comes highly recommended. It’s on sale for $199.99 until June 8. It’s especially well suited for real-time strategy and MOBA games. But for applications where positional audio is key, especially console-based shooters, I’d rather deal with a bit of exterior noise than be hobbled by this headset.