CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Sony MDR-NC review: Sony MDR-NC


Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
Listed at an affordable $79, the MDR-NC5s are Sony's least-expensive noise-canceling headphones. Their comfortable design impressed us: the bulked-up over-the-ear model weighs just 4.4 ounces and runs on a single AAA battery tucked away in the headband. The device can be folded up and stowed in the supplied black carrying case, and an in-flight adapter is included for listening to airplane movies.
The Open-Air cushions rest comfortably on the outer ear, but they don't block noise on their own; that's left entirely to the noise-canceling circuitry. Activating it significantly increases the volume, which complicated our evaluation of the noise cancellation. In the end, we found it to be only moderately effective. The rated battery life is a generous 46 hours.
Audio quality was acceptable overall, though bass was nowhere near as rich and detailed as on Sony's MDR-NC11 noise-canceling earbud headphones. On a more positive note, no one will say the sound is muddy or dull. The unit fared better with music than DVDs, which weren't at all satisfying through the MDR-NC5s.