When we first unpacked Sony's Fontopia MDR-NC11 noise-canceling earbuds, we doubted they could compete with the better over-the-ear headphones, such as the Bose QuietComfort IIs, but we quickly became true believers. The MDR-NC11s offer excellent noise cancellation, and the effect isn't limited to just a narrow spectrum of midrange frequencies, as it is with many other models. No, we heard significant low-, mid-, and high-frequency noise suppression--quite impressive.
The compact earbuds weigh just 1.7 ounces with the battery. Their soft, silicon-rubber cushions provide a comfortably snug fit and seal out a lot of ambient noise on their own, without the noise-cancellation circuitry. A single AAA battery housed in a separate slim case (which doubles as a remote volume control) lasts for up to 40 hours.
The MDR-NC11s were a pleasure to use as long as we were sitting still. But any sort of movement that jostled our clothes transmitted noise through the wires to the earbuds, and it was audible because of their tight seal with the ears. So forget about jogging or even walking with these. One other nitpick: We were constantly untangling the MDR-NC11s' wires. However, we could level that criticism at a number of portable devices.
We kicked off our listening tests with the elder statesmen of punk rock, the Ramones, and their pile-driving beat sounded amazing. It kicked more than it does on most headphones--certainly way more than on your typical bass-challenged earbuds. On our acoustic-jazz CDs, we heard exquisite bass definition, and vocals possessed remarkable midrange detail. High frequencies were likewise airy and finely detailed. DVD movies were also well served by the MDR-NC11s. As for the noise cancellation, it was extremely effective, even on a noisy subway train. Although they have a retail price of $149, the MDR-NC11s are a fine deal, offering impressive performance and efficient design.