The Creative EP-3NC are active noise cancelling headphones, claiming to be able to cancel up to 90% of ambient noise. They are pitched at travellers who want to enjoy their music, without having the drone of aircraft engines marring the experience.
The EP-3NC are of the in-ear variety, so right from the off they offer a degree of noise isolation by providing a physical barrier. Three silicone tips are provided to get a good fit. Unusually we found the best fit was achieved with the largest size, as the tips are a little thin in their construction. More sturdy tips would have provided a better result in our opinion.
The EP-3NC actively monitor external noise and work to counter that noise. To do so you'll need to insert the included AAA battery into the control housing on the cable. It's quite a bulky lump overall, but does come with a clip so it can be secured to clothing to reduce cable swing and avoiding the headphones being pulled out of your ears.
The control housing features a power switch so you can engage noise cancellation, or switch it off. The battery life is rated at 100 hours and in all fairness, you don't need to be cancelling noise when you are not in a noisy environment. A monitor button cuts out the music, so you can hear what is going on around you, giving you a chance to order from the air steward or listen to the station announcements on the train.
With noise cancellation switched off, the headphones still function as normal, so even if the battery does go flat, you're not left with no tunes. In the box you also get a leatherette case and double adapter for use on some aircraft.
A minor pedantic point is that the cable is rather thick so it doesn't lie as naturally across your clothes or body as you might wish. We found that once clipped on, the section of cable above the control housing was poking us in the face and refused to be tamed by tucking it sensibly under a collar.
For those interested in the technobabble, the EP-3NC has external mics that listen to environmental noise and produce a sound in the exact opposite phase to cancel it out. The noise cancellation can cause some unusual sensations as the pressure changes in your ears, but it isn't as severe as some noise cancellation devices. It effectively cuts at a range of background noises; we found it most effective against the persistent hissy types, like constant train noises. You'll still hear background noise, but you won't have to adjust the volume of the music.
The performance of the headphones is also good, so you don't lose out for the inclusion of noise cancellation. There is plenty of bass on offer, giving the EP-3NC headphones a rich sound, great for everyday pop, rock or dance music, but can be a little blunt for dealing with the mid and higher ranges you'd want to get the most out of your classical music collection. The noise cancellation will clip some of the higher tones. This doesn't really matter for your pop music but if your main interest in orchestral, you might find some of the finer details don't make it through.
Noise cancelling headphones have proved popular with travellers who don't want to be constantly turning the volume up to still hear their music. We tested the EP-3NC on over- and underground trains in London and were impressed with the results. Without having the volume too high, we could happily ride the Tube without changing the volume.
We also liked the sound of these headphones, but the bassy noise won't be to everyone's taste: for some we suspect it will dull the brighter elements of their music too much. The asking price of £89.99 is not to be sniffed at either: it falls right into the ball park of some vary capable headphones.
The battery housing is a little bulky and the cable a little too stiff for our liking, but as a compact pair of noise cancelling headphones, they’ve found their way into our travel bag.