Sony MDR-NC22 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds Review

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I recently got a chance to test Sony’s new noise canceling-earbuds, the MDR-NC22. I also asked my brother to give them a try as he’s a frequent flyer and has been using Sony’s first-generation MDR-NC10′s since 1999. They’ve held up pretty well for eight years and 1.2 million miles. So the bar was set high for these newbies. The verdict? Great! But with one serious deal-breaker. Read on to find out what.


Fit/Finish

These Sony’s play in the relatively small space of earbud noise cancelling headphones. Unlike the big, over-the-head style noise cancelers from Bose, Able Planet, and JVC, these are super compact and fit inside your outer ear canal. I like to travel light, so these are my travel ‘phones of choice. They consist of two earbuds that are only slightly larger than regular earbuds (pretty good considering each ear bud has a microphone built-in), and a battery-powered control unit that does the active noise cancellation processing. These are different from the passive Etymotics and Shures which rely solely on a tight seal to shut out ambient noise.

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The first thing I noticed is that these headphones are very nicely finished. They come in 3 colors, black, white, and pink. The review unit I received was white and had a nice opalescent and matte finish to the noise canceling unit. The control unit was pleasantly small with a good on/off switch, shirt clip, and “monitor” button. The monitor button allows you to listen to what the tiny microphones hear (it mutes the iPod or whatever you’re plugged into), in case you want to, say, hear what the dinner choices are from the stewardess.

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Functionality

OK, let’s get to how they perform. The first time I flipped these on, I was sitting in an airport lounge with a lot of ambient noise and chatter. I was instantly impressed. The earbuds did not seal as nicely as the NC10′s so I didn’t think they would work that well. I realized though that the noise canceling was so much more aggressive than the old ones that the overall effect was much better. The hum that was in the air instantly disappeared and the chatter from the TV and the other drunk business travelers was reduced nicely. I couldn’t wait to try them in the air.

An hour later, I flipped them on inside the cabin and I was instantly disappointed. There was such a loud hissing I thought they might have been defective. I couldn’t believe I didn’t notice this before. Sure, the noise canceling works better than the NC10′s, but the poor seal and loud hiss are enough to make me buy another set of NC11′s (the updated NC10′s) before they disappear forever. Maybe I can get used to the hissing over time, but I doubt it. What a disappointment compared to the ultra-quiet older style buds.

On the upside, the sound quality seems to be as good as the NC10′s (which have amazing sound quality, BTW. On par with my old MDR-V6 studio monitors). And the monitor button works better in that the sound better simulates what you would hear without any headphones in, and there is no longer any sound “bleed” from the iPod (you could faintly hear the iPod play with monitor button depressed on the NC10′s). I really appreciate the smaller buds and control box. And good on Sony for including a AAA battery in the box. (Also included are a carrying pouch, 3 different sized earbuds, and airline seat dual 3.5mm plug adapter.)

What I haven’t been able to test is the battery life but I’m pretty sure from the specs they’ll last as long as the NC10′s, which have amazing longevity. Also, I think the white cord will get very dirty over time and would prefer the black unit. They’re available now for only $99.99.

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