JVC has built a reasonable reputation for producing inexpensive noise-canceling headphones, and those 'phones have done well in terms of sound quality. Still, there's nothing wrong with taking a step up in the world, which is exactly what JVC is doing with the HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones. Compared to previous models, the HA-NC250 doesn't come cheap, sporting a price tag of $199.99, but those willing to drop the extra dough will be rewarded with a comfy set of headphones with nice, balanced sound. Plus, compared to the competing Bose QuietComfort 3 ($350), the HA-NC250 seems downright affordable.
Right off the bat, I was pleased to note that the HA-NC250s are noticeably more comfortable than their low-end sibling, the HA-NC60. The ear cups of the HA-NC250 are oblong--more true to ear shape than circular--and padded with a cushy leatherette material. They also don't put much pressure on the ears, making them pleasant to wear for extended periods of time (I had them on for more than two hours with no discomfort). Plus, the headband is padded to keep the top of your head happy.
Most users should have no trouble finding a good fit with the HA-NC250, as the arms are adjustable and the ear cups swivel several degrees forward (about 15) and 180 degrees back. This latter feature is important in any travel-friendly pair, as it allows the headphones to lie flat for storage. To this end, JVC includes a nicely slender, hard-shelled carrying case, which has a built-in zipper pouch for stowing the battery (one AAA), an airplane adapter, a 1/4-inch adapter, and the removable cable (all included). If there's one design gripe I have, it's with that cable. It's 43 inches long, which is plenty for portable applications, but not nearly long enough for home use (I couldn't even have them connected to the computer and sit comfortably at my desk.) You can find a headphone extender online for less than five bucks, but it would have been nice for JVC to just throw one in considering the price of the HA-NC250.
In the area of noise cancellation, the JVC HA-NC250 works as advertised. Due to the design of the ear cups, the headphones even manage to block out some higher-frequency sounds, such as the tappity-tap of the keyboard--but only when music is playing as well. Even with music off, flipping on the active noise-cancellation feature eliminates low-frequency noises, such as the hum of an air conditioner, meaning the HA-NC250s are perfectly suited to air travel. However, during testing I did notice a faint, cyclical static sound in the right ear cup, which is where the noise-cancellation circuitry is located. For the most part, it's not noticeable when music is playing, but it could irritate some users.
Sound quality in general proved quite good in testing, and I like that you can listen to music with or without the noise-cancellation feature engaged. In general, music sounds a bit clearer, more open, and considerably amplified with the noise-cancellation feature on, but sound quality overall was great. Bass response in particular was impressively tight, yet it didn't overshadow other ranges of sound. Audio response was pleasantly even, with rich mids, sparkly highs, and nice undertones. For 200 bucks, the JVC HA-NC250 makes an acceptable alternative to the Bose QuietComfort 3.