Headphones, or more accurately in the case of the Digital Silence DS-321D, earphones, with noise cancellation technology are nothing especially new. But the technology continues to improve, and more importantly they are getting less bulky and consume less power.
But style is nothing without performance, so we need to establish how good the DS-321Ds are at filtering the nonsense of travel and other unwanted noise. So we put these earphones to the test, because, as they say, silence is golden.
Physically, the Digital Silence headphones are small and easily portable. The earphones are a pretty standard design, and to look at them alone, you'd never know these are noise cancelling headphones. There's an iPhone compatible microphone and control button attached to the cable too, and it hangs down to just below your jawline during use.
A little further down the cable, you'll find a small box with a belt clip on the back. It's very compact though, and weighs virtually nothing. This is important, as to carry around a large box to handle the noise cancelling is annoying. There's a single switch to turn the noise cancellation on, and a small button marked "monitor".
Pressing this monitor button mutes your music, and gives you a way to hear what's going on around you. This is handy if you're on a plane, and the air host wants to know if you need more Gin, and pretty useful if your significant other needs to urgently ask you if you've taken the washing out of the machine.
The monitor button means you don't have to pause your music, which is handy, and when you turn off your noise cancellation, your music won't stop, because the DS-321Ds work fine, even when they aren't cancelling noise around you.
Good sound quality
Musically, when connected to a decent audio source, the Digital Silence DS-321Ds perform very nicely indeed. We tested with a Nokia Lumia 800 and an iPod touch.
As always, there are some things to remember. The Nokia has quite a flat default EQ output. So that means that these earphones sound a bit flat with it. That's not a failing of either device. Indeed, it could be seen as a strength, because it means the audio reproduction is faithful, with the earphones adding none of their own "colour".
With the iPod, which has customisable EQ settings, we were able to tune the music to our taste a little more. For us, that meant a little push on the low end, and a slight reduction in the highs. But there are no problems here, and the sound was delightful, with lots of bass ready to please our ears.
And although we liked the overall sound, if you are a bass freak, then these probably aren't the headphones for you. They are crisp, clear and subtle though, perfect if you're into more thoughtful music, or speech.
Noise cancellation shines
The real star though, as it should be, is the noise cancellation on these earphones. Firstly, the snugly-fitting earphones block out a little of the ambient noise - like noise isolating headphones do - so that gets you off to a good start.
Flick the switch to "on" though, and things take a turn for the remarkable. As with all noise cancelling headphones, we tried these without any music to see how they did with the sounds out and about. And the result was impressive. The over-loud fan in our old desktop computer vanished - it permeates all other headphones, and is very annoying - so test one passed easily.
Out and about, both overground and underground trains were rendered significantly less bothersome than usual. Of course, there's not much you can do about people talking, or those godawful announcements that happen every three milliseconds on trains, but the dull noise of the train moving disappears totally.
So good is the noise cancellation, that we sometimes didn't bother listening to anything, we just enjoyed the silence.
Comfort and practicality
There are three sets of tips provided with the DS-321Ds. As you might expect, these are small medium and large. We would really have liked to see different end materials used. We get on well with foam, for example, and they are often more comfortable than rubber tips for prolonged use.
We did find that the belt clip was a touch stiff too. If you want to clip the battery component to your belt, you're in for quite a session of fiddling to do it. And once it's on, if you need to take your phone out of your pocket, you won't be able to move it far, because the cable from the pack is short, and will restrict you.
And the worst thing we found, was that the harsh metal clip will scratch anything you put it in your pocket with. So bear that in mind, as you don't want to mess up your lovely new phone. Do you?
Great headphones. Perhaps not the most comfortable in-ear 'phones we've used, but fine for most use. The noise cancellation here is the star though, it's very good and the rechargeable unit makes sense, especially given how compact it is.
Also excellent is the fact that when the power runs out, you'll still have a great pair of headphones, albeit without any noise cancellation. Battery life is good at 10-14 hours though, and that's enough to get you through a flight to Vegas. Recharge of 2 hours is respectable too, although you can't use the headphones while they're charging, which rules out an extra, portable, battery pack for long flights.
Most importantly though, the sound quality is excellent, and these headphones cost only £60. We've seen competitors that command double that, and aren't as competent, or compact.