Last year, i had my first reaaaally long haul flight coming up - 12 1/2 hours to Mexico, in economy. I'm not a good flier, not because i'm nervous but because i can't stand being confined in such a small space with so many other people. The noise of the engines also starts to drive me nuts after the first six hours. So, being quite apprehensive about the flight, i started looking into ways of convincing myself I was really sitting in a quiet, empty room listening to some calming music!
After quite a bit of research - looking at ratings on various audiophile websites etc - I decided to try out some noise cancelling headphones, thinking that they were the best bet for getting rid of some of the annoyances of flying.
The Sennheiser PXC 300s seemed to be the most recommended in my price range, given that i wasn't going to spend more than £100, so that's what i got.
When the headphones arrived, initial impressions were positive; nicely packaged, they come with a semi-rigid carrying case, and a variety of adapters for connecting to output devices - including one of those double-pronged ones which you need in order to use them with the plane's inflight entertainment system, the airline industry having thoughtfully developed a socket which is completely incompatible with anything else on the planet.
The headphones themselves are medium sized - about 2 inches in diameter - and therefore designed to sit against your ears (rather than the "in ear" type), although they aren't big enough to seal around the outside of your ears against your head - more on that later. They have soft padded leather type material on the earphones themselves and at intervals on the connecting piece that goes over your head.
Between the headpiece and the connection is a largish plastic casing which holds an AA battery, and also the switch for activating the noise cancelling feature; a small orange LED indicates when this is switched on, and also flashes or goes out if the battery is low or dead.
In order to put the headphones in the case, you have to twist the earpieces slightly and then fold the end of the arms in. This is a bit fiddly and takes some getting used to for the spatially challenged (me, oh yes!). Every time i do it, i think i'm going to break them - although I've not caused any damage so far.
I first tried them out just in my living room, listening to music whilst my other half had the TV on quite loudly. The sound quality with the noise cancelling feature off was quite good; once the noise cancelling (nc) was switched on, it's as if the music comes into focus; I very much experience the nc feature as an improvement in the sound quality, with the reduction in noticeability of other external noises almost seeming like a side effect. The headphones sounded so great that i spent the whole afternoon sampling difference types of music on Amazon, just not wanting to take them off.
So, how do they perform in a real noise-infested environment? For me, not quite the miracle i'd hoped for. I think the main problem is the way they fit to my head and ears. I struggled to get the curve of the headpiece to be a good fit, and consequently the earpieces weren't held very tightly to my ears. I think this massively reduced their function - the noise i wanted to hear (my music) was leaking out, whilst the noise i didn't (engines and other passengers) was leaking in. They definitely were an improvement over headphones i'd tried before - for the first time, i was able to listen to quiet classical music, rather than loud rock. However, i struggled to hear the dialogue when listening to a film, even with the volume on full - maybe the darn things just need to be *louder*!! My partner had some much cheaper in-ear type headphones, and after switching with him I found the dialogue much easier to follow.
The other problem with the fit is that you're always lounging against something on a plane - the headrest, plane wall, partner's shoulder etc. And the design of these just doesn't allow you to do that without dislodging them. So you can forget drifting off to sleep wearing them - firstly they'll dig into you, and secondly you'll knock them off and be back in the land of Noisy. I also found that pressing the earpieces against my ears gave a much much better result - suppressing the engine noise much more to the level i'd hoped for - but of course it's not all that comfy to sit holding your ears for twelve hours! Again, a fault of the design, because "over ear" types usually clamp on to your head more tightly.
Overall, i don't think these significantly improved the quality of my flight at all, and while i do still use them for listening to music, i wouldn't buy them again now that i know how they perform in flight.