Noise canceling headphones can cost a pretty penny, which is why we always perk up when a company brings a budget-friendly option into the fray. Such is the case with the Sony MDR-NC7 Noise Canceling headphones, a $40 pair with stylish looks and handy features. These cans are neither the most comfortable nor the best at antinoise creation, but sound quality is passable and the design is compact. Frequent fliers with an aversion to earbuds and limited funds may want to consider them.
The design of the MDR-NC7 Noise Canceling headphones is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, they're fairly stylish. You can choose from either white or black, both of which feature understated silver accenting. Also, the earpad style offers a nice alternative to earbuds while still allowing the 'phones to be folded down compactly for storage and transport (Sony includes a soft black pouch for such occasions). We also appreciate the inclusion of a dual-pronged airline adapter for the rare instance that you find yourself on an older plane sporting those ports.
On the other hand, comfort is an issue when it comes to the MDR-NC7 headphones. The main issue is that the headband is hard plastic and has no padding, so we found that it tended to chafe the top of our heads after about 15 minutes of wear. Also, the headphones are just a touch tight, and this combined with the on-ear style can put uncomfortable pressure on the cartilage of the ear during extended wear. Finally, the headband doesn't seem particularly durable, always a concern with budget models.
During audio testing, we were fairly underwhelmed by the performance. Namely, bass is deficient, and the noise hushing capability isn't the greatest. It did an OK job canceling some of the low-end hum coming from a nearby server, but we've heard better. Sound quality on the whole isn't fantastic, nor is it terrible; it's certainly passable for the price range. Audio sounds clear, and highs are present with a reasonable amount of detail. If you're working on a super strict budget and must have some noise canceling, the MDR-NC7 will do the trick.