The cheapest headphones in this round-up have one big failing. As with the Bose, there’s no ‘pass-through’, so they only function as headphones if the noise cancelling is switched on, otherwise they are silent. If you want them with you for general use, you’ll need extra AAAs or spare conventional headphones. A pen-shaped control unit has volume adjustment but no monitor switch. The earbuds don’t have the most snug or isolating fit, either, and it's something of a letdown at noise cancelling. While it removes some of the rumble, it still lets a lot through. At least its audio quality is reasonable.
Reg Rating 55%
More info Panasonic
Using the open on-ear design means an easy fit but there’s more leakage from the real world than with in-ear or over-ear models. Despite that, the headphones cut a fair amount of low and mid-frequency background noise. They’re less bulky than over-ear cans and the controls sit in a unit halfway along the cable – as with ear-bud types – featuring volume adjustment and talk-through. They run off a AAA and work normally when cancellation is off. Sound quality is good, considering the cost is no more than average, but its booming bass can be overpowering – depending on what’s playing.
Reg Rating 65%
More info Philips
Next page: Sennheiser CXC 700
Errm, why spend
upwards of £150 on these, when you can get a Sony NWZ-A845 16GB walkman with the exact same functionality...
Surely the real test
Is how any of these compare on noise reduction to just a simple pair of over-ear ear defenders from B&Q for under ten quid? I use a pair of those over some fairly decent Sennheiser earbuds and it works a treat on flights, even against screaming children. They seem to survive a lot more abuse than any headphone set I've bought, too.
I've had at least 5 pairs of noise cancelling headphones in the last 5 years, including Sennheiser, Sony, Bose, Philips and Koss.
None of them ever came close to beating ear plugs + over ear std headphones. I used to do around 150k miles of air travel a year, and that combination left me much less tired after longhaul flights than anything else I tried.
Oh, and the type of ear plugs makes a difference. If you can find them, Hearos are fantastic, with an NRR of 33db+ and very comfy. They are also very useful to block those noisy hotel HVAC units so you can get a decent nights sleep....
As an aside, I find that wearing headphones in public places just bothers me, I feel less in control. It's alright while sitting down for a while, but I tend to take them off as soon as I stand up.
I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't have more over-the-ear models. I find that, with careful selection of earpiece moulding, that in-ear 'phones hardly need noise reduction, but are too uncomfortable to wear for several hours. I have closed, over-ear headphones from Sony (MDR-Vsomething) and Sennheiser, they offer good noise shielding and are comfortable, so comfortable as to make it worth going for the expense of noise cancellation. I've owned Sennheiser PCX-250s in the past, but though the noise cancellation is reasonable, they sit on the ear, block less sound and aren't as comfortable. (Over-the-ear headphones can block out sounds that the noise cancelling circuitry doesn't affect)
I've tried the Bose, but while their noise cancellation is good, I don't like the way that they sit on my ears rather than over them. How about including the Sennheiser PCX450 in a future test?
Incidentally, why do these devices only cancel low frequency sound? As a layman I just expect them to reverse the phase of the signal from the microphones and thus subtract noise from the input. Ok, there needs to be some adjustment to compensate for the response curve of the microphones and the driver. Can't a simple analogue circuit do this? Wikipedia suggests that you'd need to have the microphone next to the eardrum. As I see it, you need the microphones to be at exactly the same distance from the eardrum as the acoustic driver, yet isolated from it so they only pick up ambient noise. Tricky, but not impossible at these prices? If the microphone is further away then you'd need to go digital and introduce a delay line in the signal path. Am I on the right lines here?
Had them for 2 years now. I like them. They work perfectly on the train and plane, but I don't use them outside because i feel too isolated from the outside world - dangerous. They don't block the baby crying or unusual noises unfortunately. They can make your ears sweat after a couple of hours especially in the summer. My wife also got one of them for the long vacation flights and she's happy with it as well. After comparing my old one with hers, I have the impression that hers blocks outside noise a tad better, maybe my noise recording microphone got clogged, i don't know. In-ear is not for me because it hurts in a weird way after a couple of hours...