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Having bought a portable DVD player to keep my young daughter entertained on long car journeys and long haul flights, I began using it myself on business trips. Annoyed by the almost inaudible audio due to engine noise, I decided to look for a reasonably priced pair of ultra-portable, noise-cancelling headphones to use them with. After a fair bit of research, I settled on the Sennheiser PXC 250.
WHAT YOU GET
The headphones are hinged and engineered so that they fold into a fairly compact shape which fits neatly into the carry case provided. A number of different sized headphone jacks are also supplied to cater for a variety of inputs (including .25-inch and 2-pronged adapters specifically for use on airplanes). Crucially for me, this versatility meant I could use them with the portable DVD player, my iPod, my Nintendo DS, the in-seat headphone jacks on most airlines, and also my stereo system at home.
The build quality is quite good for their intended use and price point, but that said, it pays to look after them as they don't look all that robust. The ear pads are very comfortable and, whilst not enclosing the whole ear (too small for that) they do the job they are intended for.
The noise-cancelling hardware, which Sennheiser calls the "NoiseGard", is a fairly bulky black cylinder (about the size of a roll of Wine Gums), and is integrated into the cord, about a third of the way down from the headphones. It takes two AAA batteries and is quite hefty with the batteries installed, although it does have a clip on the back of it so you can attach it to a pocket or a belt.
The switch on the NoiseGard unit turns on the noise-cancelling function and a red LED light glows to let you know that it's active. The cordage on these headphones is quite long, and although this can be an advantage, they seem to have the annoying habit of tangling themselves up no matter how carefully you stow them. Also, be careful when you stow the headphones in their case, as its relatively easy to knock the switch into the on position, and there's nothing more annoying than going to use them again, only to find the batteries are out of juice.
I mainly bought these for noise-cancelling in noisy environments, but find that I rarely use them now without the noise-cancelling function turned on. Maybe it's because I have got used to the more "bassy" settings, but I find them a little too tinny in "normal mode".
Battery life is pretty good. I would estimate around 16 to 20 hours of near constant use with high performance batteries, or around 10 to 12 hours for rechargeable ones.
I tried them at home, just after I bought them, and was mildly disappointed that they failed to drown out my pre-schooler's constant whingeing. However, at low sound frequencies - especially on the plane and tube - these headphones really come into their own.
On a mid-haul flight from London to Cyprus, I put them on and was amazed at how effectively and effortlessly they dealt with the low throbbing hum of the engines. Such was the improvement and clarity in the sound quality that the in-flight movie (my four year old daughter had co-opted the portable DVD to watch The Incredibles) could well have been running in my living room.
On my return to London, I also tried them on the tube, where they worked perfectly drown out the dull roar of the train, but did little to dampen the high-pitched screeching of wheels on tracks.
They can also be used on their own if you fancy some relative peace and quiet, as with the noise cancelling turned on, the low-pitched engine noise from the aircraft is reduced to a much more pleasant "white noise" not too dissimilar to a distant river.
There are a few drawbacks when using them on the move: (a) They are a little too bulky to carry around - mainly because of the battery pack; (b) They can suffer interference from mobile phone signals; and (c) when the NoiseGard is knocked, the sound transmits to the earphones.
Sound quality is good, but not excellent. I am no techie, but I imagine the method used to dampen noise also dampens the overall "aural" quality produced by these headphones, so this is not going to be a suitable but for audiophiles. That said, this product serves a particular purpose, and it does its job very well.
However, as I mainly bought these for the express purpose of using them on the plane and train, none of those three factors are really an issue. They are also decent value for money. I managed to get mine from Amazon when they were on sale for less than £50, and at that price they are an absolute steal. Although the current price is nearer £75, I would still recommend them as very good value for money.
© Hishyeness 2009 - Parts previously published on ciao.co.uk under the same user name.