Sennheiser CXC 700
With its soft, cosy ear-buds the CXC 700 provides a good sound-isolating start, which it builds on with extremely effective noise cancellation in three strengths to cope with different environments. Even the top level adds no obvious distortion. The ear-buds aren’t any larger than usual and there’s a compact control unit on the cable, including monitor and volume buttons, which takes a AAA battery. If you switch off power or run out of battery, the Sennheisers work as normal headphones. The audio is superbly balanced, with an evocative bass response and distinct high frequencies. Given the quality and features, with this model you genuinely get what you pay for.
Reg Rating 85%
More info Sennheiser
Sony’s new and unusually shaped in-ear headphones are nevertheless a snug fit, though somewhat rigid for extended sessions. The cable is a generous length while its clip-on unit holds a AAA battery and features a monitor mode – but no volume controls. As with most noise cancelling models, they become conventional headphones when powered down (though a shade less bassy too). Like the Sennheiser it has three levels of active noise reduction, however, the Sony sets this automatically according to the situation. Its suppression of external sounds – even on the London Underground – is among the best in this round-up. As headphones they sound enjoyably clean and dynamic. ®
Reg Rating 75%
More info Sony
Ten... noise-cancelling headphones
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...