Review: Blackbox M14 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Blackbox M14 HeadphonesIt’s no secret that I’m a big fan of in-ear monitors. So, when I got a tip that Blackbox, a local New Zealand company had designed some monitors with integrated noise cancellation, I was keen to give them a try. Unfortunately my enthusiasm was quickly quelled by a nutty Apple design decision: the headphone port on my 1st-gen iPhone.

Not one to be easily dissuaded, I passed the Blackbox C14 in-ear monitors off to an aquaintance for testing* and got down to work with the high-end Blackbox M14 headphones. The M14s have an Apple-compatible anorexic headphone plug.

Remember: big fan of IEMs, not a huge fan of headphones. I’m also not a huge fan of active noise cancellation technology. I’ve tried it in the past and found it to be too heavy-handed. Sure, the physics is relatively understandable: transmit a sound of the same wavelength but exactly out of phase, and this cancels out the original sound. In reality, ANC headphones I’ve tested before have been too active-y. There’s a fine line between some polite futzing around with with background noise, and making my music sound like it’s being played through crunchy custard filled with mosquitoes.

Apart from my toaster and perhaps my television remote, I’ve been almost universally disappointed by promising technologies. Reading press releases about Company X’s advanced nano-ferrotic grease nipples just makes me sad, because I know the implementation will be disappointing.

Based on this, surprise is not adequate to describe my experience with the M14s. Satisfaction might me more appropriate. They just work. Turn them on in a plane, and the background drone just melts away, leaving you to listen to your music. Same thing in the office: I find myself turning the headphones on and off just so I can be amazed again at the volume of air conditioning noise that these things cancel out.

Yes, God takes away, but apparently he gaveth before he did that. The M14s take away noise, but then they giveth, and then they giveth some more. Clean mids and highs, and real bass. Just stunning. My dubious brain was expecting the ANC input to sully the actual sound, fiddling with it in some way. I’m not sure how Blackbox work their magic juju, but I’m seriously impressed with their algorithms.

There is but one single downside: beacuse these headphones are active, they are a little susceptible to interference. The only things I’ve noticed is the old-school GSM buzz from my iPhone. If I was using a dedicated MP3 player, this wouldn’t be an issue.

And now the best part: Blackbox have been kind enough to provide a pair of their slightly less luxurious M10 ‘phones to give away. I believe they have very similar innards to the M14s, but less padding. I’ll post up the competition form tomorrow, NZ time.

*My aquaintance loved the C14s. He did mention they were a little fiddly to get in your ears because of the bulky outer parts, but once in they’re in they seem to do the trick pretty well. Just remember: the C14 cord plug doesn’t fit into a 1st gen iPhone.


  1. I picked up a pair of C-14’s as part of the “Blackbox for Students” promotion.

    My first comment after get them installed was “I can’t hear my coworkers. Yay!” Oh. And damn clean music as well…

    Looking forward to tomorrow

  2. How much do they cost and how do they compare to the Bose ones? Based on this review I’d be tempted to buy a pair to replace the cheap Sony ones I bought on a whim in duty-free.

  3. Ben – totally agree – used these on a flight and was well impressed – and like you wondered how the juju worked – but very happily sat back and enjoyed clear crisp rock – without any annoying “in-cabin” announcements 🙂 and then used them to sleep for a couple of hours bliss…. JT

  4. Good review, Ben. Recently bought some M14s and your description of the background melting away is right on the money. It really does just fade out. Tried Sony, both the $600 and $1000 versions, and they’re somehow more brutal (and less comfortable – I’ve got a trip coming up, and I don’t think I could sleep with a big Sony on my head). Even the missus, who found the Sonys somehow oppressive, liked the M14s, so now we have two pairs!

  5. I’m a writer and with a book due in three weeks and school holidays ahead for the next two I was desperate to get a good set of noise cancelling head phones. I’ve been putting it off for a while but desperation is the mother of all purchases, for me anyway. Long story short, have looked at a few types over the past few months but decided on the M14s today (with a very generous discount at Norman Ross, Botany.) I listen to Creative Mind Pattern sounds and New Age music when I’m writing and I’ve never experienced such clarity of sound before. And better yet, my kids have not only to open my office door, but to literally tap me on the shoulder to make me aware of their presence. Can’t hear them! It’s great. Even with no musical input, but only the Noise Cancelling function, I’m aware of a very noticeable decrease in extraneous and distracting sounds.

    I highly recommend these M14s but advise you to shop around for the best deal on price.

  6. Hey Dave. The iPhone GSM buzz is reasonably prominent in some circumstances, and absent in others. I think it has to do with the cord positioning, plus I’m using a 1st Gen iPhone. Despite this, I use the M14’s quite a bit when listening to music at work on my iPhone.

    I’d hope that the 3G or 3GS would be HEAPS better because WCDMA doesn’t seem to do the same nasty buzz, but if your phone drops back to GSM then you may hear it.

  7. The iPhone Buzz – have a 3g and noticed a buzz (not these phones) but ONLY WHEN CHARGING AT THE SAME TIME AS LISTENING. Is this the same thing or is there another buzz on the new iPhone?

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