Usage & Sound
The first thing I connected this headset to after receiving them was my A/V Receiver. Much to my surprise I had to crank up the volume of my receiver to near maximum to hear anything from them, wheras with the headphones I normally use, I only set the volume to about one-quarter. By this time, the receiver was over loading the headphone output and the sound was distorted. Since I didn't buy this headset for use at home, that didn't worry me much and I hooked it up to my PDA instead. This time the sound was much louder. I still had to set the PDA's volume and the headset's volume to max, but at least the sound wasn't distorted.

I wasn't impressed with the sound quality at all. Most earbud style headphones lack bass, but with these it was actually the other way around. The bass was absolutely overwhelming and pretty much drowned the mid- and high range sounds.

The second thing I tested was it's active noise canceling capabilities. I wasn't in a plane, train or bus of course, but I figured it should be able to cancel out the noise of my computer's fan. When I switched on the noise cancellation I could hear no difference. Again, that didn't worry me much since I figured that even though my computer's fan is loud, it ain't no plane engine.

The next day I had a long train and bus trip planned so this would be the perfect time to test the MDR-NC11A's noise cancellation capabilities in environments for what it was actually made. First up was a 30-minute train trip. Once the train left the station, I put on the headphones and switched on the noise cancellation circuitry without playing music, so I could fully hear the difference. There wasn't any. I fiddled with the earbuds to fit them differently in my ear, I switched the circuitry off and on again several times and I even replaced the battery with a fresh spare. It did not make any difference. There was no noise cancellation going on whatsoever. The only thing I noticed was some added white noise. While listening to music, the music simply got a bit louder and drowned the background noise a bit, but in no way was there any active noise cancellation going on. I was utterly disappointed.

The bus trip was next. I did the same tests here and this time I did hear a slight difference with the noise cancellation activated. The only thing I can think of as to why, is that the bus engine's noise is of much lower frequencies than the train's - and noise cancellation works by counteracting low frequency noise only. Sony claims a reduction of 70% of the background noise. My guesstimate was more in the neighborhood of 5%.

Needless to say that by now I was pretty much disgusted I wasted more than a hundred bucks (including shipping) on headphones that sounded worse than my old $4 earbud style headphones, and had no active noise cancellation at all. When I got home I tossed them aside. Because it was a few weeks before a trip to the States, I ordered the same noise canceling headphones my friend (the co-pilot) had: the Sennheiser PXC-250. When they arrived, I pretty much did the same tests as with the Sony headphones. I sat next to my computer and switched the noise cancellation circuitry on. Ever had it happen to you when you flicked on a light switch and the light bulb blew? I actually thought for a second something similar happened here, that somehow by switching on the headphones it shorted something out in my computer, because I actually thought my computer had switched itself off. What in fact had happened was that the Sennheiser just about completely cancelled out the noise of my computer's fan! A few days later I was able to test the Sennheiser in a bus as well and again it was able to almost completely cancel out the bus engine's noise. The difference with the Sony was huge. It was more than huge, it was humongous.

Just for giggles, I brought the Sony on that plane trip too and the result was the same. With the Sony MDR-NC11A, there was hardly a noticeable difference with or without noise cancellation, while the Sennheiser had no problem canceling out the plane's noise almost completely.

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