So I got an email from a pr in the states before Christmas asking me if I wanted to try out a set of noise-canceling headphones and having heard a lot about active noise-canceling but never having experienced the active flavour first-hand I said sure. That, and I’m a disgusting ligger who’s always up for a freebie and just can’t say no.
The first thing that got me is the price point. These are considerably cheaper than anything I’d previously considered (currently fifty quid on Amazon). I had to wonder what they cut out to get the price down.
I should add another disclaimer: While I enjoy a wide range of music from Maria Callas to Madam Mim via Terry Allen and Jonathan Richman I’m no audiophile. Also, when I needed great audio and good noise canceling I called up Ben, who is an acoustics professional and said “what do I get” and he set me up with some Sennheiser HMD280 PROs (which have fantastic passive noise reduction as they were designed for external broadcast). Point is, what I’m used to on a daily basis make everything else look like rubbish…
Out of box experience
So back to NC200s. Overall, a satisfying out-of-box experience without too much battling with sticky tape or molded plastic. First impressions are nice. These puppies have a satisfying weight to them which gives them a quality feel. Add to that the material used is that stuff that feels like leather with almost a ‘wet’ feel. Overall, the headphones are nice to handle.
The folding mechanism wasn’t instantly understandable (collapsing the headband takes a little presure at first) but I like the size and form factor. Collapsed and stowed away in the neat little carrier pouch I can pack these in the laptop back with no worries.
Finally, getting the battery in took a couple of minutes. It felt like I was going to break something as if I had put it in the wrong way and pressing the cover shut was going to break something… Of course in the end, it was just me being daft and actually the little compartment and cover work nicely.
Also, I know it’s a little thing but the battery is included in the package which is a nice touch.
Listening to music
This was the hardest part of this test. The NC200s are designed to work without the battery installed, but the sound is very low and I was reluctant to really crank the amp in case I was getting it wrong and the volume was just about to flash and blow my eardrums. Basically, I quickly gave up trying to assess the audio quality with the noise-cancelling turned off. My guess it that it’s Ok but nowhere near as nice as the Sennheisers (which of course isn’t a valid comparison)
Once over your skull, the head the headphones have a nice, comfortable feel. They’re just heavy enough to feel stable but light enough that I could imagine wearing them all day.
Another nice touch to the setting up to listen experience is the removable cable. I like the idea I could order different types of cable (maybe getting one with a mic?).
So about the noise-reduction
The Clear Harmony NC200 foldable headphones have the manufacturer’s own patented system (LINX AUDIO technology) which is apparently the state of the art in active noise cancellation. So I was psyched about this and the night they were delivered I ran around the house talking to my wife with the phones on and testing different sound levels and noise types. Bummer, I couldn’t detect any notable difference in noise reduction. I was so sure the headphones where broken I put them away for a week before trying them again…
Then I took them to the office and that’s when things started getting really interesting. I work in a recently completed, fancy corporate headquarter building and had never noticed how much ambient noise my brain had been filtering out.
Wearing the NC200s at work was a complete revelation. The LINX AUDIO active noise reduction genuinely got rid of all the low frequency rumble which I guess comes from climate systems and other building machinery.
What a revelation! Now when I sit at my desk I can pick up all these extra sounds I hadn’t noticed at first. Then I flick the little power switch and boom–silence:-)
This is where these headphones really begin to shine, I haven’t taken a plane trip with them yet but I’d bet they really help on a crowded 777.
So what’s the deal?
Well, I think you really have to know what you want from your headphones when deciding whether or not to buy these. Clearly you’ll be disappointed if sound purity is your main driver. On the other hand, If you want a pair of cans that won’t break the bank and will live happily with you as you move from airport lounge to office and back you may find these a compelling option.
I’d say primarily because Able Planet are packing in a lot of value for the price point, the NC200s get an Edgedujour rating of 7/10