Thoughts & Ideas

My New Best Friend

image Okay, this post is totally not related to photography. At all. Instead, I wanted to introduce you to a new addition to my tech family: the Sony MDR-NC60 Noise Cancelling Headphones.

I had recently the opportunity to try out Bose’s new noise cancelling headphones, and was thoroughly impressed with the noise-cancellation. The first time you put them on, it nearly felt like you were going deaf. There were only two cons: a painful price ($299), and a lack of bass response (though mid- and treble-tones sounded wonderful).

And so, having discovered the joys of noise-cancellation, but wanting a little more in the bass department (I’m like my Dad in this – the more bass, the better) and not wanting to drop quite as large a chunk of cash, I went and found these babies, and for less than the Bose, they deliver excellent noise cancellation and good audio quality – especially bass.

The Sony MDR-NC60 headphones run on a single AAA battery, but you can run the headphones without if you don’t want or need the noise-cancellation. This is nice if you happen to run out of batteries, as you can still listen to your music (other NC headphones require a battery to play music). A battery tends to run about 30 to 40 hours – get a good set of rechargeables and you won’t be always spending money for new batteries.

The headphones also feature a special “monitor” button. When the headphones are cancelling noise, this button, when pressed, will enable you to hear the conversation around you (muting the music) – great for flying when the flight attendant comes by asking if you want something to drink! (Note: this button does not work if NC is turned off.)

For those times when you don’t want to listen to music, but still want the benefit of cancellation, you can actually take the audio cable and unplug it from the headphones so that it doesn’t get in the way. I can see this being useful in a lot of situations, though I’d make sure not to lose that audio cable!

Audio quality is quite good, though as with all NC headphones, there is a little bit of distortion, especially when playing loud music or when playing pure tones (like piano solos), but otherwise audio is quite good. Along with the noise cancellation comes the benefit of not having to blast your music, and so distortion at high volume is less of an issue. Also, depending upon the external noise conditions, distortion may appear even on quiet music; but this is common in all NC headphones.

While cancelling noise, bass response is excellent, but not overpowering. Midtones are rendered well, and higher tones are rendered with good clarity. (In many ways, you’ll hear things you never heard before in your music – especially if you’ve previously used only cheap headphones.)

When Noise Cancellation is off, the audio quality changes a bit; the bass response drops a bit, but the headphones are more able to render louder and purer tones. In other words, when I want to listen to a piece of Bach, I’ll turn NC off; otherwise NC is on all the time.

Build is quite nice; you don’t have the feeling that these will fall apart on you anytime soon. They are also very comfortable, being over-the-ear headphones, but the band itself is also very soft. My previous set of headphones would cause my ears to hurt after a time; these have no such effect.

The headphones come with a nice carrying case to protect them, as well as to carry the extra accessories that come with the headphones, like the adapter so that you can plug into airplane audio ports. It also has a nice little pouch useful for carrying along extra batteries. While it isn’t a hard case, it should protect against most typical issues (like dropping). Crushing, on the other hand… well… just don’t sit on it.

One thing to be aware of is the way noise cancellation feels. Due to the way NC works, you may feel a pressure on your ears – as if you were at high altitude. For some, this is uncomfortable, so I’d advise you to try a pair first and see if it bothers you. For me, the sensation was something I quickly got used to, and now barely notice it. But for others, it may be a different matter.

These are a tad pricey; you can get them at most stores for about $200, although if you look in the right places (like Amazon), you can find them at some very nice prices. And given that they are at least $100 (if not more) cheaper than the Bose equivalents and perform just about as well, I’d say they’re well worth every penny. All I know is that I love mine, even if they have nothing to do with photography, cameras, or expensive lenses!

Want a pair? Check them out at Amazon: Sony MDR-NC60 Noise Cancelling Headphones (List Price: $199.99, click-through for Amazon’s price.)

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