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Virgin VP-HSN-1000 review: Virgin VP-HSN-1000

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The Good Noise-canceling headphones; foldable for compact storage; nifty semisoft carry pouch.

The Bad Poor sound quality; short battery life; weak noise-canceling effect; plays too quietly.

The Bottom Line Virgin's superaffordable noise-canceling headphones' sound quality and noise-quieting powers are below par.

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4.8 Overall

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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.

We'll start on a positive note: priced at $40 list, Virgin Pulse's VP-HSN-1000 noise-canceling (NC) headphones are among the most affordable models we've seen. The padded leatherette earpieces have a luxurious feel, and the capsule-shaped, matching gray, semisoft carrying case is attractive. Also, a plug adapter is supplied to connect directly to the stereo or the dual jack of in-flight music services. But that's it; we've just run out of nice things to say about the HSN-1000s.

The rated life expectancy of the AAA battery powering the NC circuitry is a paltry 10 hours, which is significantly shorter than that of most NC models. Even with the gentlest handling, the plastic battery-compartment cover popped open a number of times. Worse yet, the noise-canceling effect was so barely noticeable on a New York City subway that we had to check that it was actually on. While the quieting effect was marginal, it did boost the headphone's volume a little--and it needed a boost because the HSN-1000s are power hungry. Even with our iPod's volume control pegged to the max, the Virgin headphones didn't play very loud. Another gripe: their 62-inch-long cable was at least 20 inches too long for portable use.

Not only did these headphones produce a "canned" sound that felt stuck inside our head, they flattened the music's dynamic range and generally performed like an uninspired $10 model. By comparison, Sony's $59 MDR-NC6 noise-canceling headphones sound more open, with greater treble and bass detail, and they can play much louder. Their noise-canceling powers, however, aren't much better than the HSN-1000s'.

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