A World of Clarity
There has been a recent surge in the number of noise cancelling headphones introduced on the market, and Sony is the latest to plunge into this stream of silence with the introduction of its flagship model, the MDR-NC500D noise cancelling headphones. The deal with noise cancelling technology however is a tricky affair, and we have had our fair share of less than desirable attempts at ousting ambient noise. Still, we put our natural skepticism aside to give the MDR-NC500D a chance to prove itself.
The Oval (Audio) Companion
The MDR-NC500D comes with the main headphone unit, accompanied by three separate cords: a 0.5m stereo mini-plug (3.5mm), a longer 1.5m L type stereo mini-plug and an adapter with both DC and stereo mini-plug output to power and to connect the MDR-NC500D to your portable media player. The connecting power adapter is both the boon and the bane of these headphones. Whilst the two extra AA batteries within the adapter increases the battery life, it also adds unnecessary weight to your baggage.
Weighing in at 195g, the MDR-NC500D is not overly heavy and can be easily packed into its plastic casing, as both earpieces can be swiveled inwards. While the top of the headband is layered with a leather-like cushioning, the profiles of the headband aren't so, which is slightly discomforting at the sides. More importantly, the elongated design of the earpieces means that it stretches too far down from the ears, leaving your ears feeling cramped by the earpieces.
The Three Tenors
The noise cancelling function has three specific modes for different environments, though we only had the opportunity to test the bus/train and office noise cancellation mode, leaving the plane noise cancellation mode aside. Automatic noise cancelling did sufficiently well to determine the optimum noise cancelling mode for a specific situation. We also did some testing via manual noise cancelling, which returned a very good signal to noise ratio with no white noise during muted intervals between tracks. Whether swaying to the soothing bossa nova serenades of Lisa Ono or rocking to heavier stuff from Linkin Park, we were pleased with the MDR-NC500D's strong delivery on its vocal (mids) and bass clarity (lows), though cymbals and various percussions at the higher range sounded less prominent.
The MDR-NC500D has a monitor button that cuts off the audio feed towards your headphones when you need to know your surroundings, for example, when you're crossing the road. However, you'll have to hold onto the monitor button for it to work when it really should have been a press-once feature. Similar to the Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones, the MDR-NC500D requires an active power supply for audio connectivity. If the internal battery or the additional battery adapter is dry, you'll need replacement batteries to get it running.
As we've mentioned, the Sony MDR-NC500D is a flagship model, thus it's no surprise that the retail price is just as premium at US$400, though it may differ slightly when it reaches the Asia Pacific region in the following months. Nonetheless, once you're used to the oval shaped earpieces, the audiophile in you may just be willing to stump up the price for a tip-top audio experience minus the undesirable ambient noise.