"Broken or simply bad?"1.5 starson by Zippy1970
Pros: Nice design, comfortable fit, truly portable
Cons: Noise cancellation hardly working, "friction" sound travels up the wires, sound quality barely up to par.
Summary: A few months ago, I had been browsing the internet in search for good noise cancellation headphones. I travel quite a bit with public transportation (bus and train) and make long (8+ hours) plane trips a few times per year.
After searching the internet for a few days, 3 brands/models seemed to pop-up the most: the Bose QuietComfort, The Sennheiser PXC series and the Sony MDR-NC11(A). Reviews were generally pretty good for all three of them but the Sony had my preference because of the earbud design. I don't want to walk around with "big" headphones on and you can carry these around in your pocket. I had read the negative reviews here but thought these people simply had too high expectations from noise cancellation. I knew noise cancellation only works on the lower frequencies - like those emitted by plane-, train- or bus engines. They won't suddenly put you in a "bubble of no sound".
I bought the Sony MDR-NC11A new on eBay. Looking at the packaging I have no reason to believe otherwise than that these were really new (as opposed to used or refurbished). The packaging was sealed and there were no signs whatsoever it had ever been opened or that the headphones had ever been used.
The first thing I did was check the sound quality. I connected them to my receiver and much to my surprise, I had to crank up my receiver's volume almost to max to hear anything at an acceptable level (yes, the volume knob on the headphones were set to max as well). But by that time the output of my receiver was distorted. To compare, when I hook up my ordinary headphones, I set the receiver's volume level at 25 (max is 90). To get the same loudness with the Sony, I have to set the volume level at 70(!).
When I hooked the Sony up to my PDA (for which I bought them), I had less problems. I still needed to set the volume of my PDA and the Sony to max, but at least it was a whole lot louder than on my receiver. But I wasn't impressed with the quality at all. Most earbud style headphones lack bass (low frequency), the Sony suffered from the opposite: way too *much* bass! The bass is absolutely completely out of balance with the mids and trebles. This is not a problem with my PDA. If I connect an ordinary headphone to my PDA, sound quality is very good.
Next thing I tested was of course its noise cancellation capabilities. Since I wasn't in a plane, train or bus, I tested if it was able to cancel out the noise of my computer. I disconnected the Sony from the sound source and switched on the noise cancellation. Did I hear a difference? Yes, although slightly. My guesstimate is that it reduced the noise coming from my computer down to about 90%. But since these things were not made for cancelling out computer noise, I figured I would do the real test the next day, when I had a train and bus trip planned.
The next day I first tested them on a train. They were not able to cancel out the train's noise *at all*. I couldn't hear any difference whatsoever with noise cancellation on or off. The only thing I noticed is that the music got slightly louder when I switched on noise cancellation. A few hours later I was able to test them in a bus. Here, there *was* a noticeable difference. My guess is that the Sony was able to reduce the sound of the bus engine down to about 60% (so a reduction of 40%). Not very impressive to be honest and certainly nowhere near the 70% reduction Sony claims.
Another thing I noticed was that whenever I turned my head, the wires would rub against my jacket and the sound of this travelled up the wires to the earphones and was very noticeable and annoying.
I haven't tested them in a plane yet (will do so next month) so I have no idea how well they perform there but so far I have been very disappointed in these headphones. At first I thought this was simply what you could expect from the current batch of noise cancellation headphones. But about a week ago I ordered the Sennheiser PXC-250 for my wife (we will be travelling together next month). I received the Sennheiser today and of course tested them also. First thing I did was again see how well they could cancel out my computers noise. I expected the same results as with the Sony's. Boy, was I wrong. When I switched the Sennheiser's noise cancellation on, I thought my computer actually switched itself off. Yes, the difference was that big. Not only did the Sennheiser cancel out the computer's noise almost completely, but most of the other low frequency ambient sounds as well. The difference between the Sennheiser and the Sony was day and night. The difference is in fact so big that I am starting to wonder if perhaps the Sony is broken. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to send them back to the eBay seller I bought them from, or by comparing them with a known working set. But since I don't know of any store that carries them, and I don't know anybody who has the same headphones, I guess I'm stuck with noise cancellation headphones that simply don't work - either because they are broken or because they are simply that bad.
If this is what to expect from these headphones, then my advise is to stay away from them. They are a complete and utter waste of money - both sound-quality wise as noise-cancellation wise. I have a pair of $4 earbud-style headphones I bought at the local K-Mart that have way better sound-quality...