|Overall we were quite impressed with all the noise cancelling headphones in this test --- they've certainly come a long way in the past few years. The ability of most of these headphones to secret you away from the din of the world is quite impressive, and the audio quality too has improved dramatically in the last ten years. For a long time we really tried to steer people away from this type of headphone as the sound quality performance was so poor. With this latest generation of noise cancelling headphone we begin to feel they deliver on the promise of both great silence and great sound.
[caption id="attachment_812" align="alignright" width="265" caption="Ben in the midst of his session evaluating noise cancelling headphones."][/caption]
In the end we felt the Monster Beats were the best sounding headphone, but their inferior noise cancelling capability and slightly more bulky size may make them a little less desirable than some of the others for the noisy and cramped environment business travelers find themselves in. However, if you're looking for an all purpose headphone for use in moderately noisy environments, the Beats are sure to deliver Monster tunes.
The Denon AH-NC732 and Sennheiser PXC 450 had somewhat disappointing sound, but the Denon, because of it's low price and small size might be a good choice for those who are listening to movies, podcasts, books-on-tape, and other less critical sound quality applications.
Both the Sony MDR-NC500D and the Bose QuietComfort 15 were outstanding performers, with the Sony edging out the Bose in sound performance, and the Bose delivering markedly better noise reduction. We heartily recommend either product.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="198" caption="The Etymotic hf5 is an outstanding traveller's in-ear headphone, delivering significantly better sound and silence than the noise cancellers in this article."][/caption]
Important Note: As I mentioned in the first post of this series, while noise cancellers are good, they do not provide either the best isolation or the best sound while traveling. In-ear headphones that have deep seating tips can deliver significantly better isolation and audio fidelity, and do it at a lower price. You have to be comfortable with the whole idea of sticking something in your ear, and it can be a bit annoying to have to pull them out and stick them back in every time you need to have a conversation, but they are the superior solution for many.We recommend the Etymotic ER6i, hf5, and ER4P, or the Shure SE310 and SE530 in this case.
The following table is a summary of scores taken during the listening tests. Headphones are scored in three major areas: sound quality, ergonomics, and build quality. Each of these areas have numerous characteristics that are scored and then averaged into one score. After each listening session, the participant is asked to give an overall score. This overall score is not necessarily an average of the other scores as much as it is an estimate of the overall impression of the headphone, and the suitability and value of the headphone for its intended application. The bottom line (Math Avg.) is an averaging of the sound, ergos, and build scores. This score can then be compared to the 'overall' impression score to cross check the accuracy of impressions by the participants.