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490 of 502 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2003
The fact that noise-canceling headphone reviews were all over the place made figuring out what to buy kind of difficult. I decided to buy the Sennheiser HDC451s ($80), the Sony MDR-NC20s ($120), and the Aiwa HP-CN5 ($50), and the Etymotic ER-6 ($130), try them all, and then return the three I liked least. Bose makes what are probably the industry standard but they weren't any better reviewed than the others and at $299, I wasn't interested.
Here's what I found:
Comfort: Kind of subjective, but in my opinion they rank as follows: Etymotic, Sony, Aiwa, Sennheiser. The Etymotics are basically earphones built into earplugs, so there's no bulk to worry about when moving around or trying to sleep on a plane. How comfortable they are kind of depends on how you feel about having things shoved in your ears. Of the conventional `phones, the Sony's closed-ear design is more comfortable over long periods. The open-air design of the other two tends to squeeze your ears after a while. The Sennheiser loses because of an inexplicably uncomfortable pad in the top.
Noise Canceling: Etymotic, Sony, Sennheiser, Aiwa. The Etymotics have no noise-canceling circuitry and rely purely on blocking the ear canal to reduce noise. This cuts more noise than the others and does it across the entire spectrum-making it the only one that will silence the kid screaming in the seat behind you. In the conventional `phones, the Sony again benefits from the closed-ear design, passively blocking some high register noise that the others miss. The Sennheisers actually have the most elegant electronics, silencing low hums with less hiss than the other two. Remember that active noise canceling only works in the very low registers-like the rumble of an airplane.
Sound: Etymotic, Sennheiser, Sony, Aiwa. The Etymotics live up to their reputation of being one the best sounding `phones on the market at any price, though they can amplify body noises such as chewing. The Sennheisers sound really muddy with the canceling turned off, but with it on they give fairly crisp sound a bit lacking in bass. The other two remain kind of muddy sounding with somewhat sloppy bass which might make watching movies on a plane a little more difficult. Overall, the Sony and Aiwa don't sound any better than the cheap `phones that came with my MD player.
Convenience: Etymotic, Aiwa, Sony, Sennheiser. The Etymotics fit in your shirt pocket but are definitely harder to get in and out than the others and don't include an airline adapter. The Aiwas fold up quite flat, have the batteries in the headset and have a carrying case. The Sonys fold up (but are still bulky), include a carrying case, and have the battery in the headset. The Sennheisers don't fold, have no carrying case, and have the batteries in the cord. All three conventional units come with airline adapters.
So in conclusion, the Etymotics are pretty much light years ahead of the others, but only if you are okay with having them jammed in your ears (didn't bother me, but my wife had no interest.) The conventional units all have their pluses and minuses, so you'll have to decide what features are important to you.
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212 of 215 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
I travel a LOT. Fly on everything from TurboProps to Airbus A-320's and 757's. I've never been able to sleep on aircraft and lately, my tolerance for noise and screaming kids has gone to near zero. Well, that's what the Sony MDRNC-20 noise cancelling headphones have given me, ..... nearly zero noise on flights. My last two flights (this week) were on two SAAB TurboProp commuter aircraft and two A-320's and I could not hear the engines with these headphones on. I also use a Sony R70 MiniDisk Recorder / Player that was useless, due to in cabin noise, until I bought these headsets. I've tried the Bose (overpriced and cumbersome), Sennheiser and Toshiba units and the Sony's are the best. I highly recommend them for frequent fliers if you want to be able to function at the destination end of the flight. OH! Did I mention that we also use them while cutting grass on our diesel Kubota tractor with 60 inch mower deck and can't hear the tractor noise, but Bon Jovi comes through lound and clear from the Sony CD Walkman. The audio connection cord also has a convenient connector in it so your can disconnect the main lead and just use the headphones for noise reduction. I thought this a very convenient feature for those who want to block out TV noise, kids, neighbors, etc and not listen to music at the same time.
It might sound like I'm a Sony fan (which I am) but I'm also an audio engineer and my motto is "Specs first, price second". I was pleased to find a product that cost over $120 less than Bose and worked every bit as well, .... maybe better.
You need a pair of these if you fly a lot or just want some peace and quiet.
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77 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
These invert ambient sound in lower frequencies, feeding the inverted signal into the speakers on top of the sound from your cd player, etc. The effect is that low frequency ambient sounds such as the roar of jet engines, the drone of bus tires against asphalt, traffic, loud airconditioners, etc. are cancelled. That lets you listen to music at a normal (non deafening) volume in an otherwise noisy environment. EXCELLENT for destressing a commute or plane trip. Compared to other headphones, I rate these GOOD but not the best. The Sony MDR 7506, for example, gives somewhat clearer and more accurate reproduction of classical instrumental music--piano, cello, acoustic guitar... but the 7506 lacks the noise cancelling feature you need to listen to such music in a noisy environment. FYI I tried the Bose and didn't think they worked any better than these, though they were $100 more expensive.
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2002
I've owned a pair of these for four years now. They have taken a considerable amount of abuse (I'm a working DJ) and still look great and function perfectly.
I bought these headphones for two reasons: First, as a mobile DJ, I wanted to save my hearing. With the noise-cancelling switch on, I can monitor my upcoming track and not blow out my eardrums while doing it. My second reason? I was about to take a ten-hour flight from Calgary, Canada to Paris, France and I've never been able to sleep on a plane because of the engine noise. These were PERFECT in that environment. What little engine noise still leaked through was completely gone with the volume on my CD player turned to even minimal levels.
However, like a previous reviewer, I also own a pair of MDR-7506 headphones. While the NCs sound great compared to your standard $15 cheap headphones, they are not nearly as nice as the 7506s, especially for extended listening.
Still, if you DJ or fly a lot, by all means look into these. They will save your sanity on a long flight, and your hearing in front of a noisy crowd.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2002
I bought these headphones when i was Japan, and have been nothing but pleased. Some things to note:
1)They're made of plastic- I expected something better.On the other hand, they fold up into a neat little ball,so they are more breakage resistant that you might expect.Also, the design is great since the noise cancelling equipment is contained within the headphones,not in a clunky external box like other, less styling models (^_^)v Very very sleek and sexy.
2)Those of you planning to use these with an MD player/etc. w/ an inline remote should note that while the headphones have a "short cord",the plug is actually a stupidly useless *proprietary* sony design-and the included 1/8th adaptor cord is *very* long; that is to say,you'll end up w/ tons of excess wire you don't know what to do with.There is a short Sony minijack-to-1/8th adaptor which works great,however,I've never seen it sold outside of Japan.
I am incredibly happy with these headphones.However,as others have mentioned the sound is so-so.These are perfect for use with MD/MP3 or other compressed sound formats in noisy settings, but not so great for precise listening.But turning on the noise cancelling greatly improves the sound quality and I find that these headphones are more than adequate for all of my needs-combine this with the fantastic design,the awesome noise cancelling ability,a great-bang-for-your-buck value (except for the plastic),and I would highly recommend these to anyone looking for a good noise cancelling headphone.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2004
I love these headphones!! I got these in Narita Airport and obsessed over them the whole airplane ride from Tokyo to Bangkok...for a very valid reason. These headphones are great. Travelling a lot, I usually have to jack up the volume to nearly full blast and then get a ear-ache after listening for only a short while. But not with these. They cancel most of the noise in the airplane, no more droning sounds! I can now listen to music on the airplane and other noisy places using reasonable volume. I think ths product does what it's supposed to do, cancels most of the noise. It never promised silence, so if that's what you are expecting from these, then don't waste your money. What it does when you turn the noise-cancelling circuit on, however, is cut off most of the very low sounds, so that when you're in places with loud engines sounds (e.g. on an airplane)you won't be able to hear a lot of the grumbles. Plus, this model is an over-the-ear design, so even it cuts off some noise even without the noise-cancelling circuit on.
Some people complain about hissing sounds and I would like to clarify that. These headphones have got 2 systems: 1)normal headphones and 2) noise-cancelling headphones. There are situations where you do not need the noise-cancelling function and you'd be better off turning the circuit system off. When you turn in on in an environment where it is not needed, you will be able to hear a hissing sound that can become annoying. Just turn it off and they'd be fine. As I've mentioned before, these don't promise silence. (Neither do any other headphones.) When you are in a very noisy place, you will not hear the hissing; instead, most of the low grumbling noise will disappear, allowing you to enjoy your music a great deal more.

Also, these have got to be one of the most comfortable earphones you can ever find! If you've done the research on noise-cancelling headphones (like I have), you will find out that a lot of people complain about how a lot of noise-cancelling headphones are very uncomfortable to wear for a long time. Well, good news! These are very comfortable and you can wear them for a long period of time!
These headphones do exactly what they're supposed to do. I just wish they were a tad smaller. That would have been brilliant! I mean, these take up more space than my iPod! Another downside, you wouldn't want to use these for exercising because they are pretty bulky. However, they are not meant to be for use in the gym, so I shouldn't complain.
Overall, great noise-cancelling. Get these and hear the difference!!!
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2003
I bought the Sonys when the gym installed a new music system which blared out pop music--obviously the worst CDs in the customers' collection, to get rid of which they donated to the gym. For this purpose, they proved okay, not great, but at least good enough that I renewed my membership.
Where they really shine is on an airplane. The drone of the jet engines is cut by half or two-thirds, and you don't know how tiring that sound is until you've switched it on and off with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Much the same is true in a bus or automobile, and I never travel without them. The Sonys come with an adapter plug for the airliners' audio system, so there's never any question of buying or renting airline phones. Shucks, I've probably paid for the Sonys in that alone.
Note that the phones work best on steady background noise, so they're great with turbojets but only fair with conversation. This has nothing to do with Sony and everything to do with acoustics. So the crying kid in the seat behind you is going to sound about the same whether you have the noise-canceling turned on or off. (He will be quieter simply because you have these earphones snug over your ears.)
For severe situations, like the MTV music in the gym, I've seriously considered using wax earplugs and turning up the volume on the Sonys, but most of the time they suffice, and so I've never gotten around to it.
An excellent investment in your hearing and in your sanity.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2004
Verified Purchase
I use this set of headphones almost every week on flights. I have found that the noise cancelling is excellent for plane travel, and in fact reduces the ambient roar by orders of magnitude. In comparison to the Bose comparable, these do not do as good a job, and there is a hiss as pointed out by others, but this is completely unnoticable on a plane. In addition, I have worn continuously on >13 hour flights and have not had any discomfort in the fit, which is a great plus compared to other headphones I have owned. Battery life is excellent, and they can't really be accidentally switched on while in your luggage.
I was hoping that they would fold up smaller, but I guess this is about as good as you get for over the ear types.
The only real drawback to these is if you cover the ear can in any way (hand, leaning against headrest, etc.), these things can start to flutter or amplify the background noise. I haven't noticed this with other products, but it is likely that they are the same.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2006
Sound quality of the headset (noise canceling off) is good. I'm not an expert, but I'm satisfied with the way music sounds.

As for the noise canceling, I'm not satisfied. If you've never owned the Bose Quiet Comfort then you may (I repeat may) think this is what noise canceling is all about. Unfortunately I was once blessed with the opportunity to use a set of the Bose Quiet Comfort Headphones (First Generation) and the noise canceling feature on the MDR-NC20 is weak.

With or without music, there is a lot of static. This may sound odd (to have a headset on with no music) but one of the great features of noise canceling headsets is to completely block out all the noise around you and allow you to feel isolated from a loud or crowded area. This is great for working, studying or just relaxing. However, my MDR-NC20's have annoying static that completely prevents me from having this ability. You can improve that by unplugging the main portion of the headset from the extended portion of the cord, that plugs into the headphone jack, but it's only an improvement. This doesn't help, if you want to cancel out background noise and listen to music, which to me would be the whole point of wanting noise canceling headphones.

For the price, Sony has allowed the average bear to see what noice canceling is like, to some that may be enough. I personally wish I had taken the money for the MDR-NC20 and put it towards a set of the Bose.

PS: I wanted to give it two stars. I accidentally had 3 stars selected and when I went back to edit it, I could not change the rating.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2005
I have had these for almost two years and I have found that they do not hold up well. The padding in the ears has flattened totally making them very uncomfortable. The headphone cord has become stiff so that I have to bend it away from my face. The biggest problem that has developed is creakyness. The headphones creak anytime you move. The creaking is loud and unpleasant and resonates inside the headphones. If you are trying to wear them while sleeping on a plane the creaking sound is very disturbing.

The noise cancelling is good on a plane and the sound is good considering the price. However I would not buy them again because they have aged poorly.
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