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Lot to like in JVC small, light, noise reducing headphones
Apr 17, 2009 (Updated Apr 18, 2009)
Review by Jarrett Volzer
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:comfort, small, light, good NR, standard AAA battery, nice case, price
Cons:not as much noise reduction as some models
The Bottom Line: Love these headphones! Over-the-ear gives a little better NR, but I find these more comfortable.
After getting a set of Sony MDR-NC6 headphones from a rewards program and being disappointed in them, I decided to investigate better quality noise canceling headphones. If the technology really worked and it could make airline travel more pleasant, then it would be worth it. I've given up on blasting my ears out trying to overcome the cabin noise to hear an in-flight movie or music!
Recommend this product?
At first, I thought I might even try a set of Bose headphones at $300 even if that is quite a chunk. But after reading a number of reviews I decided otherwise. Many reviewers did seem to agree that Bose offers the deepest and best bass sound when listening to music. But once you get out of the entry-level headphones like the Sony set I had tried, there are several middle-level headsets that reviewers seem quite happy with, many claiming to get as good, or almost at good noise reduction as Bose. I coupled that with MANY reviewers claiming how quickly and easily they've broken the Bose headphones (although the company does seem to be excellent about replacements) and decided to go with the middle-market models. I'll compare the three I tested in this review, but first, some general info. If you've read my reviews on the other models, you might want to skip this section.
General info on noise canceling headphones:
Keep in mind that no set of noise canceling (NC) headphones will cancel all noises or create a “zone of silence” like some of the advertisements would like for you to imagine. But they can work at various levels of success at reducing some of the unwanted sound in a noisy environment. They provide more reduction of steady, low frequency sounds, like the drone of the plane engine. You can forget about any ideas of never hearing a crying baby or noisy outburst. But they sure do create a more relaxing environment and they definitely make it easier to hear your music or the in-flight movie. Voices of other passengers are muffled and less sharp.
The most common use for NC headphones is airline flights where the drone of the engines and cabin noise can leave a passenger feeling tired and worn out after a long flight. They can also be used in other noisy environments though, such as in the workplace or on a subway commute. They can be used as stand-alone devices, simply to reduce noise, or with a sound source like a music player.
Noise canceling headphones have two ways in which they cancel (or more accurately, “reduce”) unwanted noise: passive and active. Passive reduction simply refers to the amount of noise blocked due to having the foam, padding, etc. covering your ears, just like putting in ear plugs. Active noise reduction is electronic. The headphones have a microphone on the outside that samples the surrounding sound, then generate an opposite wavelength frequency that is played back inside to your ears. The two opposite sound waves cancel each other out.
Basics of JVC HANC250:
The JVC HA-NC250 headphones come with the headphones, a hard, zippered carry case, a 2-prong airline adapter, detachable audio cable, and a AAA battery. This is an "on-the-ear" model, making them small and light! Battery installation is a little strange since you have to remove half the ear cup. It felt at first like pulling the wrong part might break something, but it was fine, and now should not be a problem in the future. Using a standard AAA battery sounds much better to me than a proprietary, recharegable battery like Bose uses that could leave you without a functioning headset if it dies mid-use. And I sure don't want another charger to drag around and keep track of!
I tested the headphones at the office and at home first. Compared to the much-less-expensive Sony MDR-NC6 headphones I had tried previously, these were much more comfortable! More on comfort in the comparison section later. Switching the headphones on provided a substantial reduction in the amount of noise I could hear from the computer fan (almost eliminating it) and the refrigerator. I also tested with a small heater turned to the fan position.
Comparing JVC HANC250 (at $110) to others:
The other headphones I purchased to compare to were:
1) Sony MDR-NC6 at $40 (not really in the same class, but that's what I started with) - reviewed here
2) Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 at $150- reviewed here
3) Panasonic RP-HC500 at $116 - reviewed here
Of course, the Sony's, at 1/3rd the price, didn't compare. Their higher models might though. You can read the review here.
But the comparison with the AT and Panasonic sets proved interesting. The AT and Panasonic units are made by the same manufacturer and are almost identical, so they often perform the same.
Passive noise reduction:
Having just tried the Sony headphones, I immediately learned about the difference in passive noise reduction alone! The sound from my computer fan and heater seemed cut by a good 30% or so just by putting the headphones on my ears withouth turning them on. This compares to the Sony set that seemed to do nothing until turned on. However, it turns out that the AT and Panasonic headphones both blocked out more. I suppose those other two are considered "over the ear" though, which are generally recognized to have the best level of passive noise reduction, so this is to be expected.
Active noise reduction:
Once switched on, the JVC headphones block slightly less noise than the AT and Panasonic models in tests at home and office with fans, heaters, and other steady noises. This is probably not because they do a better job at active noise reduction, but probably because they start off a little ahead by having more passive reduction via their over-the-ear design and larger, thicker insulation and such. When testing in the loud environment of the plane, the difference between them is not as noticable. So in the end I still rank them in the
middle, although FAR closer to the AT and Panasonic level than the entry-level Sony level.
I don't think on any of the units I'd say it sounds like an 80% reduction in noise though! I might agree that they reduce 80% of certain frequencies. Even though the technology is primarily for the low-frequencies of engine noise, you still hear a lot in those ranges too.
But the reduction is significant enough to allow for a more relaxing flight. You actually don't realize quite how loud a plane cabin is until you wear these for a few minutes, and then remove them! Once you add a little soft music through the headphones, then things finally do become truly peaceful. Other music or movie sounds will come through nicely, without any need to crank up the volume!
Music and sound:
Of the four, JVC wins this category, but only by a thin margin, and particularly because the provide better bass response that the others. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 is a close 2nd and only slightly better than the Panasonic RP-HC500 with the difference being that with the ANC7's the upper mid-ranges and higher sounds, like cymbals, are a bit brighter and sharper (perhaps too much so for some people, being almost "biting" at times). I have to admit that the slightly heavier bass in the JVC headphones isn't as noticeable in the noisy plane cabin as in the office.
None of the headphones tested sound all that good when the NC is switched off, but at least they still work. I've heard some NC headphones don't. These all sound much clearer and brighter once NC is switched on, probably due to some extra amplification and frequency boosting or something along those lines.
JVC takes the top spot in this area too. A lot of this is personal preference, but I love how much how much lighter these feel vs. the larger over-the-ear AT's and Panasonics. It somehow just seems more peaceful once you put them on and switch them on. I found that my ears get a little hot with the other units. Being smaller also makes them easier to pack, as the case is also significantly smaller than the others.
Other observations and comments:
The detachable audio cable is quite short. But actually like that, as there's less to fool with and tangle. It's plenty long for hooking to a hand-held device or the airline seat.
If it's too short for some people, I suggest ordering the Koss VC20 volume control to add a few feet of extension cable (yet a nice thin cable) and an in-line volume control and kill two birds with one stone.
As with other NC headphones, there is a distinctive “hiss” that can be heard when the NC circuit is turned on. But this is only noticed when testing in a quiet environment and without playing music or sound, which is probably not where you’ll be using this type of headphone anyhow!
I’ve found that all four headsets I tested produced a rather loud buzz when hooked to a laptop that was on AC power and the headphones were switched on. In all cases, the buzz went away when the laptop was unplugged, or the NC circuit turned off. The buzz was also present when the headphones were plugged into the headphone jack on the external speakers of my desktop computer. I assume this is some sort of grounding issue. Since it happens with all of them, I assume this is not a defect.
I love these headphones! While larger over-the-ear models like the almost-identical Audio Technica ATH-ANC7 and Panasonic RP-HC500 provide better passive noise reduction and thus slightly better overall reduction, I can't help but love the smaller, lighter, more comfortable JVC HANC250 headphones that perform admirably well, and certainly far better than entry level NR headphones. I would definitely recommend these headphones, provided the comfort level of this style is also more to our liking, but you may want to try the over-the-ear style for comparison.
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