Very Good Choice in Noise Cancelling Headphones

Dec 16, 2008 (Updated Jun 25, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Sound, NC, convenience, price, accessories, and light weight.

Cons:Don't fold completely flat, rely heavily on NC function, a little overboosted.

The Bottom Line: You can spend a lot more to get this kind of quality - both sound and construction - and noise cancelling. 

----Update 06/24/09----------
Still going strong.  These suckers have survived MANY cross-country trips and work great.  They are very durable, having survived a couple of abrupt removals from my head, being sat on, and dropped a handful of time.  Two of my friends have purchased them and both were very impressed.  I'm tempted to buy something fancier, but the value here is really keeping me away from the megabuck offerings from Bose and even Sony.

-----original review 12/16/08--------
I'm a fan of the Shure headphones (other than the lowest-end model), but have been flying wayyyyyy too much lately and decided to try an on-ear style.  I tested the Bose and a few other items, including some low-end Panasonic in-ear phones.  I decided to take a chance on te MDR-NC40's as a last minute purchase before my last round of travel and have been very pleased.

The NC40's are folding, travel-friendly, lightweight noise cancelling (NC) headphones.  They are very comfortable and durable after 2 months of nearly continuous use.  They include an airline adapter, nice case with battery holder, and an ample cord.  The entire kit is very light.  1 AAA is required and I got about 40 hours out of one battery.

The sound quality is heavily dependent on the NC function.  When off, they are dull with very limited bass response considering the drivers.  When the NC is on, most of the lower frequency background noise drops considerably and the headphones spring to life with a substantial bass element and bright highs.  The bass is overdone, especially with the "Rock" iPod equalizer setting.  Thankfully, a few test runs with other settings resulted in a more balanced sound.  It's not the most accurate pair of headphones you will ever own, but it is definitely pleasing, especially when compared to some of the much higher priced options.

The NC function is very effective at reducing the drone of airplane engines and HVAC.  Even in a Q400 prop plane, right next to the engine, the sound of the music comes through very well.  Interestingly, my ears aren't as stressed after even long flights which is a surprise considering the isolation and quality of the Shures.  They won't leave you in a completely silent environment - but the function is definitely noticeable and worthwhile on long flights.  I can tell when the battery is wearing down because they start to get a little weak in the sound department.

I find them very comfortable and easy to carry.  They don't disappear on your head, but aren't heavy or uncomfortable.  The NC 'box' on the cord never seems to be in the exact right place, although I don't know where else I'd put it.  I have worn them at work and at the gym and have yet to be disappointed.

After quite a few trips around the country, they look like new and work 100%.  The case is very convenient, although a little bulky.  The Bose headphones fold flatter, which would be nice.

I think these are a good compromise between sound quality, convenience, and durability offered at a very competitive price.  I paid $99, but Costco has piles of them and is selling them at $75.

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