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Sony MDRNC11 Noise Cancelling Headphones review: Sony MDRNC11 Noise Cancelling Headphones

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The Good Cancels out lower-frequency noisesSimple operationMay assist in reducing jet lag.

The Bad Price may turn away some customersPossibility to really blast your eardrums.

The Bottom Line Sony's noise cancelling headphones are remarkably portable and do a solid job of reducing ambient noise, especially while travelling.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

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Design
The MDRNC11 headphones comprise a pair of bud-style headphones, topped with replaceable silicon rubber tips in three sizes (small, medium and large). We used the medium buds in our testing, and unless you've got incredibly massive ears, you're unlikely to find a size that won't work for you. The buds (and associated noise cancelling microphones) hook up to the main control module of the headphones, that then leads out to a standard stereo jack. An adaptor is provided for in-flight audio using the two-pronged setup that is most common on aircraft. Instructions come in a variety of languages, and the whole kit is remarkably portable thanks to the supplied felt bag.
 
Features
Setting up and controlling the headphones really couldn't be much simpler. Pop in an AAA battery (not supplied) and then switch the only switch the unit comes with to the on position. A dial on the side controls volume incrementally -- and that's your lot. Sony's rating for the MDRNC11 headphones suggests an average battery life of around 40 hours on a decent AAA cell. If the power runs out, though, you're not left without audio -- you just lose the noise dampening qualities of the headphones.
 
Performance
Many people using noise cancelling headphones are a tad disappointed when they discover that they don't create a field of absolute silence around you, and if that's what you're looking for, we'd suggest you just opt to go deaf instead -- it'll be quicker. What the MDRNC11 headphones do is analyse the ambient sound around you and send an inverted audio signal through the headphones -- on top of whatever other audio you have going, or just by themselves.
 
This eliminates most of the lower frequency noise you're likely to encounter, significantly muffling external noise sources. An added side effect we found -- and a not terribly surprising one -- is that it tends to make the audio of whatever it is you're listening to that much crisper and especially that much louder. A word to the wise here -- as they sit in the ear itself, it's worth making sure the volume is quite low when you first insert them -- we didn't and got a real ear blasting for our troubles.
 
There are studies that suggest that eliminating the low frequency noises that systems like these do can play a significant role in reducing jet lag after long flights, although as that's an affliction that can hit people in widely varying degrees, we wouldn't want to swear that the MDRNC11 headphones can significantly reduce this for everyone. For what it's worth, as they sit within the ear, they act as very powerful earbuds if you just want to block out most external noise.
 
At AU$299, the MDRNC11 headphones aren't really a casual purchase, but if you're a frequent traveller -- or just frequently have to work in a noisy enviroment where you can't hear yourself think, let alone hear your favourite music playing -- then they're a solid investment.

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