Philips have stepped into the world of noise cancellation with the SHN6000 headphones, a set designed specifically for your iPod. But will they blissfully cut out the world around you so you can enjoy your tunes in peace? Or are too many compromises made along the way?
The SHN6000 are iPod-only because they come with a dock connector on the bottom rather than the more typical 3.5mm jack you'll find on most other headphones. The reason this is the connector of choice is so they can draw power from your device.
This is both a pro and a con. On the positive front, it means that the headphones themselves don't need to have a separate power source, as we saw with the Creative EP-3NC, for example, which have a battery on the cable. The downside is that the headphones will lessen life of your iPod, so you have to decide whether this is a significant issue for you.
We've said iPod rather than iPhone - you could use them with the iPad - because the SHN6000 don't include a mic, so you won't be able to use them for any voice activities. This also includes Apple's Voice Control, for which there is no support. As a result, you'll be controlling your iPod via the in-line controller.
Using the dock connector the SHN6000 also takes control of the volume, so you can't change volume on the device itself, you have to change using the in-line controls, but if you've got the headphones on, then that isn't a problem.
The in-line controller is backed by a clip to allow easy attachment to clothing. Crafted in white plastic, we can't help feeling that it doesn't quite have the premium look and feel that Philips intended, looking a little cheap for what is a £90 accessory.
The controls offer a central play/pause button, surrounded by a four-way controller that offers track skip and volume controls. Along the side of the controller is a switch that turns the headphones off (so they don't just drain your iPod battery) and also to switch on or off the noise cancellation.
Before we talk about performance, we'll look at the ear buds themselves. These are in-ear headphones of the two stage variety, occupying both the inner and outer ear, just as we saw with the Philips SHE9800 headphones, which we found to be extremely capable.
With a choice of tips in the box, they will cater for different sizes of ear. Getting the right tip is important, as this provides the level of noise isolation, physically blocking external noise. As such, without using noise cancellation, the SHN6000 perform better than your bundled iPod headphones. Whether you use noise cancellation or not, the controls still work.
On the rear of the ear buds are the external mics that detect ambient noise in an attempt to drive the noise cancellation technology. Slide the switch over to "NC ON", the LED turns from green to blue and you are ready to battle noisy environments.
There was a noticeable difference when using noise cancellation, but it was a case of feeling the slight change in pressure in your ears rather than a marked difference in sound quality. We did think there was something wrong with the technology as we often found it introduced a residual hum.
With some experimentation we found it to be the power supply for our MacBook: placing it on the same table as the plugged-in MacBook lead to a distinct and distracting hum, but once up and walking, this wasn't a problem. We tried placing the iPod touch on a TV stand and found a similar phenomenon.
Whilst this might not be a problem for those getting the bus to work, it might prevent you from using noise cancellation at your desk, should you want to. But we're in two minds as to whether this is really effective or not - we didn't find them to be as capable as the Creative EP-3NC headphones as cutting down on noise, but they do attack the same type of noise. They are effective against hissy persistent noises, the sort of thing you get from train air conditioning or air travel.
We were generally pleased with the audio performance of the SHN6000, capably delivering bass across the volume range with punchy delivery and detail coming into music that your average Apple headphones don't offer, and competing ably with other headphones you might consider.
The real question is whether the noise cancellation brings enough to the party to elevate these headphones above a non-noise cancelling equivalent. This will be down partly to personal taste and the environment in which you find yourself using your iPod, but for us, the effect isn't distinct enough over the impressive level of noise isolation that these headphones offer by design.
You also have to consider that these headphones can't be re-purposed. They won't flit from iPod to notebook to mobile phone like a standard pair of headphones would, so if you travel with a multitude of gadgets, including some out of the Apple cart, then you'll want to look elsewhere to get the widest possible use for your new headphones.
For us the lack of versatility, lack of support for voice commands and a choice of materials for construction that belies their £90 price tag takes the shine off these headphones from Philips, but as a niche offering they will appeal to some.