I've always been a big fan of Sony earbud headphones (the ones that fit inside your ear canal).  They're very comfortable to wear for many hours, and the tight seal reduces outside noise and improves bass response.  Plus, they sound good and are relatively cheap.

During the last few years, I've been aware of active noise cancellation technology, but was skeptical as to its effectiveness.  And I certainly didn't want to buy the ugly, heavy, and large headphones that provided it.  It seemed a backwards step in evolution to carry around headphones that are 10 times larger and heavier than the tiny device that's actually playing your music.

But, through sheer luck, things changed for the better last March.  On a road trip through the western states, I found myself needing to buy a pair of headphones because I'd forgotten my earbuds at home.  At an electronics store in San Jose, I came across the Sony MDR-NC22, a noice-cancelling version of their traditional earbuds.  At $100 retail, they were 200% more expensive than my regular earbuds, but promised active noise cancellation with a size and weight I could live with in cramped travel environments.  I took the gamble.

The Bottom Line

I was amazed at the amount of noise reduction these headphones provided on the plane ride back home.  You have to hear it to believe it.  The drone of the engine vanishes by about 70%, allowing you to listen at a much lower volume, and with much more clarity.  At home, I also tried them in some other situations (car: reduced engine noise , treadmill: reduced motor noise , biking: increased wind noise ).  They work best when the noise is bassy and relatively monotonous; on trains they would probably work well too.

I have to wholehartedly recommend these headphones for travel situations.  My understanding is that Sony now has a portable player with this technology built-in, so the external battery holder you see in the picture is no longer necessary.  However, I don't like Sony's players for many reasons, and the battery holder is quite light, so I think the standalone headphones are the way to go.  As a big bonus, this technology has the health benefit of avoiding eventual deafness from constantly having to jack up the volume in noisy environments.

Posted on Friday, June 29, 2007
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