Here's your chance to join the fray and be heard. You can respond to my columns and share your own opinions and insight.
Note : The Reader Replies for the first part of this review series are also helpful and relevant.
Dave from the US writes : I have traveled with my Bose headphones for a year and I haven't a) lost them b) broken them. Both problems I found with other headsets. I travel just with the bag and I always seem to have room for them. I do get places a lot more rested now. Plus I enjoy watching my own DVD's in the proper sound realm.
Will from Raleigh, NC writes : Thanks for the review of the Bose noise cancelling unit. Your experience and comments contrasting them with the cheaper unit is parallel to mine.
I am sure the buzz on the street about the airlines turning off the FF award seat faucet during the upcoming Christmas period is accurate. I have tried four different programs to get between a number of cities on a variety of dates in the period 21-31 December, and I've come up with -zero- seats. They did the same thing at Thanksgiving, and then tried to launch deep discount fare sales in the days just before the holiday. They'll no doubt repeat that at Christmas--to no avail.
I have been on 6 flight segments (all of Delta) this week alone, and I have noticed for the first time that load factors are much lower than pre-Thanksgiving. Several veteran Delta personnel I spoke with verified this trend, to their alarm. I have no explanation for it (nor do they), but it is troubling. As much as I hate the airlines (all of them), I am utterly dependent upon them for my business (and less frequent leisure) travel.
Doug from Sherborn, MA writes : I agree with all your observations about the Bose. You should look at the Sony units. I have all three Sony models plus the Bose.
I took my Sony NC20 with me on an AA international flight in Business class where they provide Bose headsets. I did an A/B test and the Bose was quieter due to a bigger earcup (probably not due to the noise reduction electronics); they were more comfortable too. I think the Sony was designed more for oriental than occidental size ears. The Bose really is bulky but I try to fit in in when I can; this reduction in carry-ons lately has cramped my style. You should try the NC10, it is tiny and goes anywhere, but being in-the-ear it has a comfort issue for some people.
I stopped using my NC5, it is a compromise and I just always preferred the 10 or 20. The NC20's electronics are built into the headband, and thus it doesn't require that klunky external box that the Bose has. And, of course, Sony stuff is discounted many places.
David replies : I asked Sony if it is possible to review an evaluation set of headphones back on 11/14. I suspect the request is somewhere in their corporate bureaucracy, because I have yet to get a response back from them.
Steven from somewhere in the US writes : I enjoyed your review on noise canceling headphones. I bought the Brookstone headphones. They work great, except they were so painful to wear after 7 hours on my flight to Europe, and a bit too plastic and fragile to survive my carry-on bag packing. They're not for serious travelers.
On the other hand the Sony noise canceling set is! They have small plugs to fit in the ear or you can use plug-in headphones, and it includes adapters to fit in between the airline music and your ears. All this and it fits into a small bag like an mp3 player. It's the best value at around $ 200.00, and my road warrior colleague swears by them.
David replies : Look for my review on the Brookstone unit, probably sometime in January.
Thomas from somewhere in the US writes : The Aiwa headphones are better than either of these in my opinion.
David replies : I'll try and add a review on them, too!
Bill from the Bay area writes : I have a Sony set that I got 12 years ago in Singapore and have used for over 1.7 million miles. It is smaller and lighter than the Bose and for most situations does very good. Its cost is around $130.00 now, I bought my son a set for a round-the-world graduation gift we gave him. He also loves them, and uses them at work here in the Bay area -- he is a programmer. Our daughter and son-and-law used them on their round-the-world and indicated they were able to arrive as am I and was soon more relaxed after flights of 4 to 13 hours.
The part number, if you do not know already, is MDR-NC20 for the ones I have -- I would not leave home without them -- I have also worked with Bose on the design of some of their products and am familiar with the ones that you tested -- it seems to me they are simply derivatives of the ones they designed for small aircraft owners. I told them 15 years ago they should get into the personal noise canceling business. Wow I am retired now and it took that long!
Jenny from somewhere in the US writes : You really must investigate the Sony MDR-NC10 noise canceling headphones. No experienced traveler wants to sacrifice the space which must be given up for true over-the-ear headphones like those you have previously reviewed.
The Sony ones I have just mentioned are in-the-ear, allowing the traveler to lean his head into a headrest or pillow without bashing the side of his head. Plus I find these headphones do an excellent job of canceling out jet engine noise as well as the constant chatter of (usually) the passengers sitting all around me. In addition, the headphones come with the one prong-two prong adapter jack, making them compatible with just about all airplane sound system connections-a real plus! Please let me know what you think!
Craig from somewhere in the US writes : I've owned a pair of Noisebusters for about five years or so. I have the model previous to the one that you reviewed (larger box, foam airline-like headphones) and my wife has the pair you reviewed. Both are now mechanically broken (but mine are still usable). Of course this is not totally unexpected given the design and what we do to them. Also, you can not beat the great price (we certainly paid more than $40, but I don't recall how much.)
In any case, I'm shopping again, so your reviews are coming at exactly the right time. We recently looked at the new $100 ones in Brookstone at PHL. I don't recall what I didn't like, but I must have disliked something or else I would have bought them on the spot.
I've tried the Sony's and I like them. No external box (the batteries go into the headphone) and they fold nicely. As for sound quality, I like the Sennheiser's the best, however the noise cancellation wasn't quite as good (for me) as some of the others, including the cheap NCTs. The Sony's were in the $120 range and the Sennheiser's were in the $250 range (those two belong to friends.) I have not tried the Bose myself, but the Sennheiser owner has. He really likes the Bose, but still thinks that the Sennheiser has the best sound (as I do).
I think a full earmuff would work for me the best. I'm not thrilled about decreasing the background noise on the plane just so that I can all the people around me talking better. I'm thinking the full muff would help out with that.
To be honest, I hardly ever use mine in any other place than on an airplane. I may use them because they are the only headphones I have with me while traveling, but the only need for the NC is on a plane. The main reason I purchased them was to be able to hear the movies better (understand the words).
I have friends that use the Sony 'earbuds' which they claim work really well, but universally also complain that they are not comfortable for long periods of time. On one hand, you can sleep with your ear on a pillow, but on the other hand, you wouldn't want to leave them in that long while sleeping. Of course their portability is the best.
Then there are the Etymotic's. Now these are not noise cancellation, but rather are noise isolation. To the tune of 23dB -- better than NC. The ER4S's fit in the ear. I haven't tried them, but they make good sense to me. I use their 'musicians ear protection' as I do sound for a rock band, so I know that they would fit. They are about $300, but another friend of mine made his own with inexpensive Koss foam earphones and drugstore airplane ear plugs.
I may try to use some regular earphones with Etymotic earplugs. I suspect that they will work really great if I can get them to mate at all. PS I'm not a 100k traveler like some of you guys -- just didn't want to give you the wrong impression...
Mark from the US writes : I have been using the Sony MDR-NC20 noise canceling headphones for about a year. They are quiet, comfortable, fold easily and have no "hang on unit" for the NC circuits. Everything is in the lightweight unit -- even the single AAA batt. These are the best! They list for $199, but Crutchfield has them for about $150. They come with a carry bag and adapter for the stupid 2-prongers. Fantastic!
Michael from the US writes : I've been using the Bose headset for quite a while now and like it very, very much. Its noise reduction and basic sound quality are both the best of the various noise-canceling headphones I've tried. I don't leave home without it!
Lila from somewhere in the AOL world writes : I think you get what you pay for with the noise canceling headphones. The Bose are very comfortable, and with the noise gone, I can sleep on a plane for the first time ever.
Rick writes : I have to give a high recommendation to the Sony noise reduction headphones. I purchased a set of Sony MDR-NC20 in the electronics shop at Narita in 1995 for $100 (the shop is just before you pay your departure tax and enter the international flight concourse, its a good place to spend that last fistful of yen).
I've used these extensively on my flights. They fold-up into a compact size and have a nice travel case (I lost my case in 2000 but have a great Trager briefcase which has a nice pocket). They run on one AAA battery which fits into a compartment incorporated into the top of the right headphone. The headphones are over-the-ear style so they help in knocking out the ambient noise. I've used these with my laptop, portable CD and portable MP3 player; the travel tip is to keep MP3 music and MPEG videos on your laptop so you always have something to pass the waiting periods during travel.
The noise cancellation knocks out a good portion of the buzz on the airplane. Fry's has these headphones for around $200; also check EBAY for another source. The Bose unit is nice but it is cumbersome with the remote electronics/battery block; they work great but are too big for my kit. Avoid any open air design noise cancellation headphones since the ambient noise creeps into your ears.
David replies : I've sometimes thought about copying music or movies to my laptop, but the short battery life (2-3 hours) has always discouraged me from doing this. When they come up with the next improvement in laptop batteries, then I'll probably do this, but until then, a dedicated CD or whatever player that consumes small and inexpensive AA batteries at a steady slow rate is my preferred approach! I should also add, in fairness to Bose, and in reply to the several people that have commented on this, I don't really think that the 'bulk' of the control unit is that big of a deal. Maybe it is nice to avoid it, but it shouldn't be, of itself, a major factor in the overall choice of which headset alternative is best for you.
Wayne from Oakton, VA, writes : I have been thinking of getting a set of the Bose headphones. I have two different Sony models that I have been happy with, but these look very comfortable.
The background noise or hiss that you and they are talking about is not the typical hiss that you hear in poorly designed hi-fi equipment. The hiss is an artifact of the sound processing technology involved in reducing the back ground noise. You will find that the better a system is in reducing background noise, the more obvious this hiss will be in quieter environments.
The hiss is not the result of poorly designed electronics (like those in your first stereo that you took to college.) I can't fully explain what is going on. I am not an engineer, but not understanding how the technology works has allowed you to take a cheap shot at Bose engineers. I find this to be a departure from your usual objective perspective and overall excellent standards. It is not that Noisebusters has done a better job at eliminating the hiss. Since they are attempting to do less, this artifact doesn't exist.
I would think that
we really buy these things to reduce noise in noisy environments, and not so
much to reduce noise in quiet environments. This
My current pair of noise canceling headphones are the Sony MDR-NC10. The hiss is evident on these too. They are extremely small and are worn in the ear like ear buds, however this creates some discomfort on long trips. I love the small size, however the long term wearing comfort will probably be the selling point on the Bose for me. The Sony's are fine when traveling 5 hours across the country, however when traveling 12 hours across the Pacific I think I would find the Bose much more comfortable/enjoyable.
David replies : I stand by my observation. For whatever reason (which really doesn't matter, although I'm pleased to discuss atomic quantum theory principles which determine the creation of random background noise in solid state electronics if necessary) the Bose unit has an audible hiss in a quiet environment. The Noisebuster unit does not. The Bose unit works better in noisy environments, the Noisebuster unit works better in quiet environments. Unfortunately, the Bose unit doesn't have a 'pass through' mode either for use as normal headphones - they always have to be switched on for sound to play through them. I'm just stating the simple facts - each reader is free to place whatever importance each type of use has and to make their own purchase decision accordingly.
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Copyright 2001 by David M Rowell.