Noise-canceling headphones have become popular with commuters and frequent fliers, but the better ones are pricey. Sony currently offers four noise-canceling (NC) headphones, including the $59 list MDR-NC6, one of the most affordable models on the market.
The lightweight, 5.3-ounce headphones are nicely finished and fold up for compact storage in the provided soft leatherette carry pouch. The foam-padded earpieces applied moderate pressure to our ears, and we found the NC6s to be fairly comfortable, though the 50-inch-long cable was a little unwieldy for portable use. We stuffed the extra wire in our pocket.
The NC circuitry runs on a single AAA battery that clips into the headband; Sony claims the battery will last 15 to 30 hours. You can, of course, turn off the NC circuitry and use the NC6s like standard headphones. A supplied plug adapter connects the NC6s to the dual jack of in-flight music services, and Sony throws in a travel pouch as well.
Unfortunately, the noise-canceling circuitry wasn't very effective blocking out the din of the New York City subway or the noise on busy streets. The noise canceling seemed to make the music louder, and that, more than the NC effect itself, made us less aware of the noise. But we could turn up the volume on any headphones and achieve the same result.
The NC6s' sound was sweet and mellow, but bland compared to that of our Grado SR60 headphones. The Grados rock harder and reveal detail in the sound of guitars, vocals, and percussion that the Sony smoothes over. Then again, they lack the NC6s' noise-canceling feature and are relatively large and cumbersome. But if you're looking for truly effective noise canceling, plan on spending a lot more money.