Sony has three headphones currently in its noise cancellation range, and the NC50s sit at the top of that. Picking them up, you’ll know they’re heavy hitters from the top of the padded headband to the tips of the massive ear cups. They’re specifically designed for in-flight use, whilst the others are for more generic traveling.
They’re about £50 more than the other two in the range, so you’ll want to be making sure you’re a flyer before investing.
The sound that comes out of these headphones when you’ve got the noise cancellation activated (via a switch on the side of the right earcup) is fantastic. Proper bass occasionally feels like you’re actually standing next a speaker, and vocals are clear and when necessary, growly. The difference is immediately noticeable between off and on.
The buttons are also easy to handle – the off/on switch is on the side of the ear cup and unlike the Logitech headphones I tried earlier, you don’t need Cruella D’Evil nails to get to it. Far and away the most useful feature however is the Monitor button. This allows you to mute the music and noise canceling element so you can hear what’s going on around you. It’s silent for as long as you hold it down, rather than turning off and on. This is seriously invaluable when doing such mundane things as crossing a road, being accosted in the street, or being asked by an air hostess whether you’d like tea or coffee.
The design of the headphones is also typically Sony. The ear cups are covered with an almost slate-mirror like material surrounded by a silver ring, making them look pretty stylish. The headphones are padded heavily, as are the ear cups. They pack into a zip up case which is supplied, also containing a airplane headphone.
Without the noise cancellation on, the sound is very tinny. Should your battery run out, or you just fancy being able to hear what’s going on around you, the sound quality isn’t something that you’d want to put up with for any great length of time. It almost sounds like you’re hearing it from a mobile phone speaker or the like. It’s particularly noticeable because you have been spoiled by the battery powered sound.
As far as the noise cancellation element is concerned, I didn’t actually notice a great deal of difference between off and on. Rather, the music was so much clearer when it was on, that you were more engrossed in the music. Difficult to explain, but definitely not the same thing as cancelling out the noise.
Although the design is great to look at, personally I found them uncomfortable to wear. Perhaps I have a freakishly small head, but the bottom of the ear cups pressed right on the top of my jaw bone. Try pressing that for 5 minutes – it gives you a headache, trust me.
Finally, I still suffered from the sickness I felt with the Logitech headphones. When there is no music, but you still have the noise cancellation element on, the noise it transmits to neutralise outside is strangely like having vertigo. This isn’t something everyone experiences, but it’ll always rule out the headphones for me.
In our opinion
£150 is a lot more expensive than many other models in the market. For the extra money, you get great sound but the noise cancellation element just isn’t any better than you’d find on a cheaper model. If you’ve got a penchant for Sony (and I’ve heard those people are out there) you’ll probably like the look and sound of them. But for the money, they’re just not worth it.