Noise-canceling headphones come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price ranges, but the most effective noise-hushers tend to be the large, over-the-ear models, which, alas, all live on the north side of $200. That's why we're charmed by AKG's featherweight K 28 NC headphones, which retail for $160 and are among the few mini 'phones we've tested that banish noise almost as effectively as the big guys. And while most mini headphones are bass challenged, the 28 NC's low-end oomph is nothing short of awesome.
Alas, the one drawback to going small with these type of headphones is that it becomes very difficult to build the noise-cancellation circuitry into one of the earcups--that's what you get when you go with something like Bose's QuietComfort 2 or . The K 28 NCs are equipped with an external or in-line Active Noise Reduction filter/battery pack (it's powered by a single AAA), which is fitted with a belt clip and a red LED that indicates NC operation and battery status. The cable is 80 inches long overall--about half on either side of the battery pack. Supplied accessories include a dual-pronged airline adapter, a gold-plated 1/8-inch stereo adapter jack, one AAA battery, and a black cloth carry bag.
On to the sound test: plugged into our iPod, the 28 NCs held up suprisingly well to some recent competitors--namely, Sony's MDR-50NC and the models--in the noise-banishing department. The 28 NCs were nearly the Sony and Solitude's equal, but the AKGs are a lot smaller and lighter--they weigh a mere 2.6 ounces--and are therefore more portable. True, the AKGs' small ear pads exert a fair amount of pressure against your ear to maintain a good seal, but we found them to be comfortable over many hours of use. More good news: the little K 28 NCs are remarkably efficient, so they can play a lot louder than those full-size 'phones over puny-powered MP3 players.
The AKGs' bass is exceptional--the headphones' power and definition were almost on a par with the larger Sonys', but the Sonys revealed little details in the sound the AKGs glossed over. For example, on David Byrne's tune "Glass, Concrete & Stone" we could easily hear Byrne breathing and softly counting the rhythm before he starts to sing. Over the AKGs, those sounds were inaudible.
Next, we fired up the White Stripes' new Get Behind Me Satan CD, which amply demonstrated the 28 NCs' awesome bass. Some of you might even think there's too much bass--we did--or that the overly abundant bottom end tends to obscure treble detail and gives vocals a slightly muffled character. However, these headphones never sounded harsh and would be ideal for those buyers searching for a velvety smooth sound.
As with most noise-canceling headphones, the 28 NCs' Active Noise Reduction filter can be switched on or off. We're happy to report the 28 NCs' noise-canceling circuitry doesn't adversely affect sound quality. Most NC 'phones reduce bass when the circuitry is engaged, but the AKGs' sound is remarkably consistent.