We all like noise when it comes to headphones. But only the noise coming out of our earbuds, we've no time for ghastly outside noise such as traffic, noisy commuters and helpful people shouting at us when we're about to walk into a lamp-post.
So, to keep the peace, we thought it best we took the Sony MDR-NC13 noise cancelling headphones for a spin. Noise cancelling tech is becoming ever more common, with advances in technology meaning that the feature is often available in smaller in-ear buds, rather than just over the head cans, and at a price that isn't going to break the bank.
The NC13s tick both of these boxes coming in at a price that shouldn't top £45 online (despite their £82 RRP).
The noise-cancelling tech works by sensing outside noise using tiny, built-in microphones, positioned on the earpieces, and sending out an “equal-but-opposite cancelling signal”, effectively blocking continuous noise. Sony claims it will cut outside nonsense down by 87 per cent.
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Design and Practicalities
“Fugly” would probably be too harsh a word to describe the NC13's look. So we'll go with “different” instead. But, as Pocket-lint's teachers and parents always told us when we were growing up, different is good. The difference, at least in terms of comparisons with other in-ear buds, comes by the way of the rather obvious housing for the 13.5mm driver unit behind the buds themselves.
Their size and positioning give the impression that the buds may be uncomfortable and heavy and, whilst they're certainly bigger than your average in-ear setup, there's no noticeable strain whilst they are stuffed in your lug-holes and, with the three different sized bud options included, you're bound to find a decent, if not perfect, fit.
You will need to make use of the clip on the back of the noise cancelling engine room though, as this part is rather bulky and will weigh down the (rather long, it has to be said) chord. It's where the AAA battery that powers the technology is housed. It also contains an on/off button and a red LED light which should help you to remember to turn it off. The battery life is said to be up to 100 hours and we won't argue with that. We've accidentally left it switched on overnight a couple of times and it is still good to go the next day.
Good, but not spectacular. But these are not designed with audiophiles in mind. We tested the NC13s on an iPhone - and fiddled about with the EQ to get the desired result - directly into a laptop running 320kbps streams from Spotify and finally, plugged into an amp playing back a lossless audio file.
Bass is deep and not too shaky, the mids and trebles really come through when they need to and there is a definite warmth to the sound through the earpieces that defy their size. Once you get the EQ setting right that is.
The noise cancelling tech on-board the NC13 earphones isn't the greatest that we've come across, but at £45 or less, it certainly does the job. It doesn't cut out background chatter, loud traffic or the like too well, but then that that's not really its job. It is tasked with making ambient, consistent noises more tolerable and, tested against the hum of a modern electric train and the annoying whir of a desktop PC, we have to say they worked with aplomb.
However, having the noise cancelling switched on does come with a slight cost – in that some loudness and warmness is emitted from your tunes. It's not massively noticeable and, after a few seconds you'll probably forget, but a slight drop in quality is definitely there – so we thought it best to warn you.
The Sony NC13 earphones are a good, mid-level option that offers some, if not comprehensive, noise-cancelling and a decent sound performance. Also, you don't have to worry about the buds running out of juice as you can use them as regular 'phones without the microphones in operation.
The design is not the NC13's strong point, the ear buds themselves look rather bulky and the control box is pretty hefty considering it has no mic or remote options - just a power button for the noise cancelling.
But again, we have to come back to the price and at less than £45 you can't really go wrong. Although there are plenty of earphones in the same price region, some with a slightly better sound but no noise-cancelling tech, so be sure to asses whether the hum of an aeroplane or your office's air conditioning is really that much of a burden to you first.