Review: Harman Kardon FLY ANC headphones offer quality audio at an affordable price

Harman Kardon earphones
I've used the company's audio products for 20 years now - are they still worth buying? Photo credit: Newshub

I have a long history with Harman Kardon that started way back when I vastly improved the sound output of my PC with a set of their satellite speakers and a subwoofer in 2001.

The company recently announced it was expanding its range of devices available in Aotearoa, so I was keen to try out their headphones to see if the brand could continue delivering happy memories.

I've been using the Harman Kardon FLY ANC (active noise cancelling) headphones for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

I was really concerned the first time I put the FLY ANCs on. They were a snug fit, for sure, but they were so tight that I feared they were going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Thankfully that concern turned out to be misplaced.

Last weekend I went for a monster walk, clocking in nearly 22km around the local area. It was not only a beautiful morning, but I was able to listen to Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey in complete comfort for around three hours and 20 minutes as I plodded away.

The ear cups are covered with leatherette, didn't cause any unnecessary sweating and are soft enough that I never felt undue pressure on my head. I was pleasantly surprised.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

One thing to watch out for, though. The space in the cups is fairly limited; so if you happen to have larger than normal ears you might want to try these before buying.

The fit also helps when it comes to boosting the ANC by minimising environmental noise well. Those deadly double-trailer trucks driving around Helensville were drowned out more than enough to make sure I didn't miss any of my favourite songs or what was happening in my book.

And so to the most important aspect: The sound itself.

It's no surprise that it's a high quality experience. The 40mm drivers offer plenty of bass while ensuring vocals aren't drowned out and that individual instruments can be heard.

I listened to a number of different genres and nothing stood out to me as being substandard in any way.

As my hero Jimmy Buffett sang about pirates, sailing and volcanoes I was able to close my eyes and be taken back to all those times when those songs got me through bad days.

Even when I went a good bit heavier, thanks to Slayer's 'Raining Blood', things never got muddy. I was able to hear everything clearly and headbang along to my heart's content.

Thanks to some noisy neighbours I was forced to use them to be able to concentrate on work - I put on some classical music in the background to drown out the wood chipper. I dare say Mozart would have been impressed with how good his 'Marriage of Figaro' sounded on the Harman Kardons.

They're also incredibly stylish to look at.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

That's not as important to me given I frequently dress like I put all my clothes on in the dark, but there's something premium about how they look, with a single silver ring on each ear and the Harman Kardon logo the only things that aren't pitch black.

Battery life is also pretty good, even if it's not quite up there with the best. The company says you can expect up to 20 hours of battery life with ANC.

That's not quite enough to see me back to Scotland, although the 15 minute quick charge offers another two and a half hours of juice, and a lot of planes these days have USB ports so it's not a major concern.

I can't swear to 20 hours, but I haven't had to recharge FLY ANCs yet, and I'm probably up over 16 hours of intermittent usage so far.

These are definitely meant for people on the go - and with the world starting to open back up after the COVID lockdowns, these could come in especially handy now.

The oval carry case takes the folded-down headphones snuggly, while providing a pocket for the charging cable, plane adapter and 3.5mm cable, with room for other cables if you wanted to keep them all in one place.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

Finally, there is an app for those who like to ensure the audio is as good as possible.

It's fairly limited and doesn't offer the top-rate experience that JBL's app does, for example.

However it is a good way to know how much charge is left in your headphones and to select from Jazz, Vocal or Bass equaliser settings.

Even better, you can create your own to add to this paltry selection if you really enjoy finessing your sound.

The bad

The biggest downside to the FLY ANCs are the on-headphone controls.

There are a total of six buttons and, if trying to remember which one does what wasn't bad enough, some are too close together to be truly useful.

I actually liked that the power button has a slide function rather than press - it means it's much harder to switch off by accident compared to others I've tested.

From there it's downhill.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

The skip forward and skip back buttons would be far enough apart if the pause button wasn't stuck right in the middle of them.

As someone who is very particular about the music he listens to, skipping forward and back is very important. Who knows how many times I might want to listen to The Mountain Goats' 'Foreign Object' back to back on a morning walk?

The biggest issue is with the tiny pause button and where it's situated, particularly as I'm currently listening to a lot of audio books.

While my fingers aren't small, I don't think they're giant sausages either - but there were a number of times when I skipped ahead a chapter in my book when I was trying to pause it.

That can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when book chapters can last for 30 minutes or more and suddenly you have to try and work out exactly where you were.

The two final buttons are on the front - one triggers Bluetooth pairing and one switches ANC on and off. Again, you've got to be very careful which one you press if you don't want to end up overly annoyed.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

The two other issues aren't quite as big a problem.

The only supported smart assistant is Alexa, the one I'm least likely to use on the move. I suspect that probably holds for most people in Aotearoa. I don't use Siri or Google Assistant that much but it would be great if they were supported for such instances.

The Micro USB cable for charging is also a reminder that these headphones, although new to New Zealand, have been available in bigger markets for a while.

With USB C taking over, I had hoped I would be able to retire my final Micro USB cable, meaning one less thing to carry around.

I guess the upside is there's room in the carry case for the cable, but still...

The verdict

There are some positives and negatives when it comes to slightly older technology finally making its way to Aotearoa.

The negative here is we're left with headphones using the now widely-replaced Micro USB to charge and on-ear controls that are clunky and not as good as others on the market.

However, the bright side is that it means they're substantially cheaper than they might otherwise have been.

Harman Kardon earphones
Photo credit: Newshub

Available for $320 full-price, with deals available online to get them even cheaper, they're a tremendous mid-range option for those who want quality audio and ANC but without breaking the bank.

My one hope is that these headphones are popular enough that the company brings more products to us and on a more timely basis. 

The greater the number of recognised audio brands in the market, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Competition tends to drive prices down and everyone needs affordable, high-quality audio in their lives.

I can heartily recommend the FLY ANC - and can't wait to try them out when heading home later this year.

Newshub was supplied with a set of Harman Kardon FLY ANC headphones for this review.