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Solitude seems like the perfect name for noise-canceling headphones. Indeed, manufacturer Outside the Box claims the Solitudes provide 18dB of noise hushing, enough to quell the roar of a commuter train or the whoosh of air conditioning on a jet plane. The headphones' luxuriously padded vinyl ear cushions and headband add a touch of class to the design. The Solitudes fold for compact storage and come with a soft leatherette carry pouch. They're sold direct for $199.
As with all other noise-canceling headphones we've tested, the Solitudes' NC circuitry runs off batteries. The Solitudes use two AAA cells, which have an estimated life of 35 hours. Unlike some noise-canceling headphones, such as Bose's QuietComfort 2s, the Solitudes continue playing your tunes--sans noise cancellation, of course--long after the AAAs have died and gone to battery heaven.
In addition to a dual airline plug and a 1/4-inch phono adapter, the Solitudes also ship with a detachable five-foot-long cable that's fitted with standard gold-plated minijacks at each end. That's a great feature; if you ever need a replacement cable, you can pick one up at any RadioShack or electronics store. The detachable cable is also nice for folks who sometimes use their headphones' noise-quelling function without actually listening to anything--they can stow the cable to get it out of the way. And when you're back listening to your tunes, the left earcup has a handy volume control.
Outside the Box includes a free one-year BoomerangIt loss-protection policy. If you leave your Solitudes on the 747, BoomerangIt will replace them. Furthermore, the manufacturer offers lifetime warranty protection for the headphones.
We started our evaluations on the New York City subway and were impressed with the Solitudes' ability to reduce noise. Not that the noise was completely silenced (no noise-canceling headphones can do that, especially on the Lexington Avenue line at Union Square), and we could still hear train announcements and conduct conversations with our fellow underground denizens.
Sound quality was very rich and mellow, which is a nice way of saying the Solitudes' treble detail was lacking. That's an understatement: these are seriously dull headphones. The Solitudes muffled Paul Simon's voice and guitar on his Still Crazy After All These Years CD. A brief switcheroo over to Sennheiser's HD 485s ($99 list) brought Simon's music back to life. Oh yeah, the 485s not only have a lot more treble detail and a clearer, less stuck-inside-the-head midrange, their bass went substantially deeper and was better defined than the Solitudes'.
But the 485s aren't noise-canceling headphones, so we next donned our Etymotic ER-6 noise-isolating earbuds ($130). Their noise-blocking abilities are roughly equivalent to those of the Solitudes, they don't use batteries, and they sound a lot clearer--but the ER-6s won't satisfy bass fiends. The tiny earbuds just don't have anything like the low-end power of the Solitudes. That said, the Solitudes are somewhat inefficient, so they wouldn't play all that loud with our iPod; the ER-6s got a lot louder. Things improved a bit when we watched DVDs, where the Solitudes' big bottom-end sound added a real sense of impact to the Armageddon DVD. We noted that in a quiet room, the Solitudes' noise-canceling processing produced audible hiss, but you wouldn't have the NC turned on when you're in a noise-free environment.
Summing up, the Outside the Box Solitudes do a good job blocking out external noise but fall short on the sound-quality front. For full-size noise-canceling headphones, the more expensive Bose QuietComfort 2s remain the ones to beat.