For many in-ear headphone users, the passive noise isolation offered by an effective seal with the ear is plenty. In fact, some even find the essentially inaudible filler of active noise cancellation irritating to the ear. But if you're a frequent flier who needs more noticeable hushing of low-frequency rumblings and who wants it to come in a super-compact package, all is not lost. The JVC HA-NCX77 earbuds offer battery-powered noise cancellation for a very palatable $79.95.
As far as earbuds go, the JVC HA-NCX77s aren't all that compact. That's simply because in order to incorporate active noise cancellation, JVC had to attach a box to the cable that could take a battery and let you turn the feature on and off. Unfortunately, there's no way to detach the unit from the headphone cable so, although you can listen to tunes sans battery (with noise cancellation off, of course), you cannot get rid of the box while doing so. The box itself is roughly the size of a flash MP3 player (the Nano, for example), and it incorporates a battery compartment and handy belt clip on the back, a power switch and volume knob on the side, and a monitor switch on the front. The latter is a rather useful feature that lets you mute playback so you can hear your surroundings without taking the earbuds out (note that this does not pause your song).
With so few things to complain about so far, I half-expected the HA-NCX77s to offer disappointing results during sound-quality testing. Fortunately, my jaded expectations were not met: these earbuds sound great. Most surprising is the excellent bass response, which rivals many full-size headphones in the same price range. And while the low end will satisfy bass addicts, it's not overpowering: all in all, music sounds rich and warm with sparkly highs and a balanced midrange. I sampled rock, hip hop, jazz, and electronica, and the headphones performed well across each genre. The noise cancellation feature works fine, though as the 'buds offer good passive isolation anyway, it's not terribly noticeable. The 70-hour battery life is certainly adequate.