Sony MDR-NC13 In-Ear Noise-Cancelling Headphones Review
Strangely for me, I didn’t research the hell out of these before buying them. I bought them from a Best Buy vending machine at LAX airport, because my colleague did. As such purchases go, I’m glad I made this one.
I have home-tested, and sent back, Bose QC15 Noise-Cancelling headphones (the gold standard), because they didn’t ‘do it’ for me. While they have excellent comfort and I’m sure have superb noise cancelling, as far as the technology goes, they just didn’t change my listening experience enough to make them worth buying.
The Sony’s work for me, for a different reason: since they’re in-the-ear and have sound-isolating ear gels, they passively block the external noise simply by blocking your ear canal. And actually, they do a very good job. Obviously this is a different use case than over-the-ear headphones, but I want to block out disturbances on a plane, and for me, that’s what they do. The noise isolation is so good, I usually have to take one out to understand what my partner or the stewardess is saying (a monitor button – absent – would be handy for this). There are very few headphones so good that you can watch a movie with your own baby tantrumming in your lap, and be so undisturbed that you feel you should take an earpiece out in order to empathise with your fellow passengers!
So – passive noise isolation is great. How about the noise-cancelling? Well…. It doesn’t really add too much. It is noticeable – you flick the switch, and after a second, the background hum of the engines diminishes. But it’s not a stunning difference, and I do often forget whether I’ve turned it on or off. But it’s useful enough, that I leave it on whether I’m listening to the IFE/Music, or just leave my headset unplugged and let them cancel some noise so that I can get some sleep.
You could argue that since the ear gels do most of the work, I could do just as well with non-active cancelling headphones for a much lower price, and you’d probably be right. However – I’m so happy with these, I’m not fussed about the price premium, and the NC option is there if I need it.
As for the rest? The AAA battery lasts ages – 30h on this one so far. And the sound quality itself? The Bass is excellent, and the noise clarity seems very pretty good. I suspect there could be active gain on the headphone signal too – on a plane, if using the supplied headphones or my own cheap Plantronics, I have everything turned up to maximum and can still barely understand dialogue. With these, I can clearly and easily hear everything in excellent quality, with volume at barely a fifth, while the background is barely a murmur.
Finally, as in-the-ear headphones, they don’t occupy half your carry-on compartment like a Bose QC case would – mine live permanently in a small side pocket. My only gripes are a lack of volume or monitor buttons, which, given the bulky electronics/battery compartment (it has a clip, but often gets in the way somewhere), they could have easily added.