If you think that noise-cancelling headphones have to cost the Earth, then think again. Obviously you can get high-end models with price tags that go into the hundreds, but there are also plenty of reasonably priced options around, like these on-ear cans from Philips.
The SHN5600 headphones sport a sleek, black finish with a matte plastic headband and a high-gloss finish on the outside of the two cans. The shiny texture looks pretty cool although no doubt you'll need to give them a quick polish every now and again to prevent them from getting slathered with smudgy fingerprints. The design is very lightweight, so much so that you're likely to forget you're wearing them (apart from the telltale blast of music being delivered to both your ears) and you'll barely even notice them in your bag. They feel reasonably robust although you wouldn't want to treat them too roughly as the plastic headband looks as though it might not stand up to too much punishment.
We were particularly inpressed by the super-soft earcups which are the most comfortable we've ever experienced on a pair of on-ear cans. On most on-ear models, the relatively small size of the earcups means that the cusioning sits on your ears, rather than around them as they do with larger cans. However, the design of the SHN5600 is slightly unusual in that there isn't a cushioned rim to the earcup - instead the entire thing is padded, spreading the pressure over a larger surface area and making them really comfy. These are probably the only on-ear headphones that we've tried that didn't leave us with red ears after an hour of so of listening. As you'd expect, the headband is lightly padded on the underside, while the length can be easily adjusted.
At 1.4m, the cable is a little longer than average so you should have plenty of room to move around without fear of ripping your headphones off your head. The lead includes a gold-plated 3.5mm connector so you should be able to connect most portable devices and you also get a 6.35mm adaptor for hooking up the headphones to your AV equipment along with a two-pronged adaptor for using when you're in-flight (although beware, as it won't be compatible with the sockets on all aircraft).
One thing that sets these headphones apart from their rivals is the inclusion of an in-line control box on the cable. It has a clip so that you can attach it to your bag or clothing to avoid having to scrabble around to find it. Along with a sliding volume control, it also features a switch to turn the noise-cancelling tech on and off. There's also a handy "talk button" which is essentially a mute button. While you hold it down, the noise from your headphones will be muted and you'll be able to hear everything around you. This is a very useful feature for when you go into shops, or for talking to the flight attendant or even if you just need to be a bit more alert for a few seconds, such as when you're crossing a road. The controller is powered by an AAA battery (supplied in the box), and a flashing orange LED light will let you know when it needs replacing.
The headphones come in their own carrying pouch which, although not likely to offer much protection, should ensure that the wire doesn't get too tangled and should also prevent you from losing either of the adaptors in the cavernous depths of your rucksack.
According to Philips, the on-board technology will eliminate around 85% of background noise. Most of this 85% will be made up low frequencies, like the noise of a tube train or jet engine so you can listen while you travel without the white noise in the background. Whatever the exact percentage, the headphones certainly block out most background noise so you can relax with nothing but your tunes and your thoughts without being distracted by a pesky engine or noisy passengers.
In general, audio quality is pretty good. The bass is a little lacking, although not entirely absent - in fact it can sound a little fuzzy if you up the volume too much. However, it's still far better than the bass found on many similarly priced headphones from rival brands that don't include noise-cancelling technology. The sound quality is also very slightly lacking in the mid-range, although not enough to disappoint anyone except for the most pedantic of audiophiles. It's still a good all-round performance, especially at this price.
At £56.50, the Philips SHN5600 headphones are great value considering that they offer noise-cancelling technology along with a decent audio performance. The cable-mounted controller, complete with mute button is also a nice touch, as is the unusually comfy design of the earcups.
If you're after a pair of headphones to drown out the drudgery of your everyday commute then these cans are a good fit. They're also a good choice if you're looking for some noise-cancelling cans for a flight, but you don't want to spend too much cash and you don't want to end up with sore ears.