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Master Noise Cancelling Shootout: Sony MDR-1RNC vs. Sony MDR-NWNC200 vs. AKG K490NC vs. Bose QC15...

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

If you take a peek at some of what I've written here (including things like reviews of other headphones) over the years, I travel. A lot. I'm sure some of you do it more. I used IEMs (customs, noise cancelling, stock, esoteric ... you get the idea) for years going back to the ER-4P. My current favorite is still the MDR-7550. That said, over the past year or so, I've been doing many more longer haul flights where IEMs - no matter what tip - just get uncomfortable. This is after years of using them on the road.
 

I've been on the hunt for a decent sounding pair of noise cancelling over ear headphones that balanced the following: size, weight, sound quality, and noise cancelling. Until recently I've been using the Sony NW-Z1070. I recently switched to the NW-F807. Shortly after getting the 1070, I purchased the MDR-NWNC200, which is the Walkman-specific version of the MDR-NC200D I believe. As far as I know, you can't get them outside of Japan in a store, but they can be had via eBay or importers. They don't have a battery and only work with the noise cancelling function in the Walkman.
 

The NWNC200 was OK and more comfortable than IEMs for longer periods of time, but I was on the hunt for something better. I was looking at everything from the P5 to the PSB M4U 2 and everything inbetween. The new Denon looked intriguing, but they lost me at 10 hours of battery life. The K490NC got good reviews (and arguably better ones than its sibling the K495NC) and seemed to strike a good balance. After a few months, I found myself wandering again. Enter the MDR-1RNC. I'm in the midst of a trip to Australia and Japan, so I have plenty of long plane flights. I picked up the 1RNC down here in Australia for cheaper than the US plus I got the 10% GST back, so I figured what the hell. I also have the K490 and NWNC200 with me, so now is as good a time to do a comparison. You may argue with me, but I’m not a big believer in break-in periods. They sound good out of the box or they don’t to my ears.
 

Size, Weight, and Portability

The winner here is the AKG K490NC. They are the smallest, about the same weight as the NWNC200, and come with a nice small neoprene bag to put the K490 in. The NWNC200 is second. They fold up fine and are just slightly bigger than the K490, but I am not in love with the case (pleather semi-hard). Then we have the MDR-1RNC. Compared to the other two, these are big. The case is big ... and very similar to the one for the NWNC200. Not a fan of the cases Sony provides. Unlike the NWNC200 and the K490 where the can parts essentially fold in towards the headpiece, the 1RNC basically becomes flat. So from a portability factor, the 1RNC is definitely not very if you ask me. It takes up a lot of room and I like to travel light, but if the sound quality is there, it may not matter. We’ll see.

 

400

In the cases

 

400

Cases opened

 

400

Side by side comparison - flat

 

400

Side by side comparison - from the side


 

Comfort

AKG K490NC

I think the K490 is very comfortable on my ears, but I'm not sure they'd work for everyone. The cans don't fit over the years (like the 1RNC). They sit on, so finding the right placement will be important for you. That said, no matter where they sit they are nice and cushy. I've worn these on flights all around the US, to Europe, and down to Australia with no issues like I have with other things like IEMs. They feel light on the head, but don't take that to mean so light they will slip or feel chintzy. This is the best part of the K490. I can wear these for long periods of time even without listening to anything and they are not fatiguing. Sometimes I forget they are there – and that’s a good thing.


Sony MDR-1RNC

I’ve read a few reviews where the 1R series didn’t fit some people’s ears. I have no issues with the 1RNC. As I’m typing this, I’ve been wearing them for just under 5 hours on a flight from Sydney to Australia. They are comfortable to me, but I can still see why I feel something like the K490 could arguably be a better choice since it sits on the ear but not around it. I do feel a little warmth where the seal is, but not an uncomfortable one. While definitely bigger than the K490, they don’t feel heavy on the head or the ears. I think Sony’s headband design is a good one.


Sony MDR-NWNC200

The NWNC200 is the least comfortable of the bunch. For me, it’s literally the size/shape of my ear and has never felt wonderful on longer haul trips. And unlike the headband design of the 1RNC, it feels heavy on the head even though it is a much lighter can. The headband has a weird slight tilt forward on the head, too.
 

Driving the Cans

AKG K490NC

The F807 drives the K490NC easily. I would think most sources could easily use this and not sweat too much.
 

Sony MDR-1RNC

While the F807 drives the 1RNC just fine, I need to crank the volume a bit more to get the same level on the 1RNC as compared to the K490. Take that for what it's worth.


Sony MDR-NWNC200

The F807 easily drives the NWNC200, if not a touch easier than the K490. Not surprising.


Sound Quality – Airplane (With Noise Cancelling)

AKG K490NC

The NC feature is good, but in comparison to the 1RNC, you hear some engine and low rumble. It’s much better than not having them on. There is some bass, but not a metric ton of it. While not as good as it, the sonic signature is much more neutral than either of the other two I am comparing here. The soundstage is not very wide, but also not claustrophobic either. I tend to like something a bit wider. Watching a movie, the sound quality is good enough here.

For the time I’ve used the K490, I find it’s pretty balanced top to bottom. Highs are not shrill. You get bass, and for example, on Rush’s “Spirit of Radio” from the live album Exit … Stage Left, you can hear the Taurus pedals clearly, so sub-bass can happen. I find where they sit on my ear definitely influences how much bass – or not – I get. Listening to Phil Collins’ tune “I Cannot Believe It’s True” (from Hello, I Must Be Going!), the snare drum sounds pretty natural but the issue is more the cymbals – they sound a bit off. I like the way the horns sound, so it’s got a bit of mids going on – warm in the right way. “Have You Met Miss Jones” (The Great Jazz Trio – July 5th) is OK, but the smaller soundstage makes things seem a bit claustrophobic and the piano sounds somewhat boxy. There is not much bass, so trying to make out what John Patitucci is playing is a bit harder without Eqing. You can hear him, but the sound isn’t balanced. You hear mainly ride cymbal and piano.dominating. To round out the comparison, I listened to Arthur Rubenstein’s Selections from the Chopin collection. The piano sounds better than on the Great Jazz Trio, but it lacks an overall 88 key end-to-end balance. The soundstage doesn’t help.
 

Sony MDR-1RNC

There is no question – the 1RNC has more bass. I do like the soundstage as well – wide, but not too wide; there’s nice stereo separation. It’s not bass heavy at all and of course it is a bit of a colored sound, If you want neutral, these are not your cans. I’ve already watched two movies and they work in that context just fine.


When not playing any music or movies, yes there is a bit of hiss. I’ve heard the Bose (albeit a long time ago) and I don’t remember their NC signature. Maybe it is better, but I’m literally sitting right over the wing and the engines are right here. If you turn off the NC and/or take off the headphones, clearly you’re going to hear the low rumble. That goes away with NC on, which is what it is supposed to do.


In comparison to the K490 when it comes to music, things are definitely detailed and you can feel the bass much more on a song like the aforementioned “Spirit of Radio”. The bass is not bloated, and that’s a good thing. The top end is much more digital sounding and less natural than the K490 – no question about it. The glockenspiel part in “Spirit" pops right out at you. That is most likely due to the S-Master amp in the headphones. On “I Can’t Believe It’s True” the upper range is where the possible issue is depending on what you like. The snare drum doesn’t really sound as natural as the K490 and the horns sound thinner, but the cymbals sound better. If you use the EQ on the F807, that can all be for the most part smoothed out, which is a good thing – the sound signature can be altered to your taste (within limitations of the source material and your hardware, of course). I didn’t feel like I lost any of the sound or detail by EQing. This tells me that the 1RNC definitely resolves more and is more accurate even though the sound spectrum may be more even than the K490. “Have You Met Miss Jones” (The Great Jazz Trio – July 5th) has the right balance for a jazz trio of bass, drums, piano, but the ride cymbal just sounds a bit tinny without trying to EQ it. With EQ, it sounds so much better and it sounds like you’re in the room with them. Rubenstein sounds good here – the low end of the piano has gravity, the soundstage adding the right depth. Here where we have a solo instrument like piano you can hear  the slight digitalness caused by the NC/S-master, but it still sounds better than  the K490.


Sony MDR-NWNC200

One nice feature about at least the Japanese Sony Walkmans is that you can have a line in cable and use the noise cancelling. I didn’t bring that cable with me (I do have it) so I couldn’t test the sound with the in-flight movies..

The NWNC200 actually has a good soundstage – maybe not as wide as the 1RNC but not as narrow as the K490.


“Spirit” on the NWNC200 has bass-a-plenty, but too much and way too bloated. For a song like “I Cannot Believe It’s True”, here’s where these work. While the bass is a bit bloated, slow, and not as accurate as the 1RNC (but far from horrid), the horns sound great. The snare sounds a bit thin, but not too bad, and the highs are not too shrill either. It almost cuts the difference (bass nonwthstanding) from the other two. “Have You Met Miss Jones” sounds OK here – nothing too offensive but the bloated bass rears its ugly head here. The smaller soundstage doesn’t help, either. Even though the soundstage is narrower than the 1RNC, the piano IMO sounds a bit better here than the K490 because the overall tonality is warmer, but the bloated bass reminds you this is not a great can for classical.


Battery Life

I’m not including the NWNC200 in this comparison since it is dependent upon the Walkman to provide the noise cancelling. I will say this: I do like the fact that both the 1RNC and the K490 are rechargeable via USB. Each is rated at 20ish hours, and in my limited testing of the 1RNC so far and my travel with the K490 for awhile, I do not see any reason to doubt this. Using AA or AAA batteries IMO would make these bigger and heavier, and of course I’d need to carry spare batteries. What I do not like is that the K490 uses a proprietary cable (2.5mm jack à USB, similar to the 2.5mm à 3.5mm cable used for sound) to do so. The 1RNC uses a standard USB cable like most portable devces, and virtually any charger will work with it. To put it another way: you’re screwed if you lose the cable from the K490 until you can get some sort of replacement from AKG. Out of nearly everything on the K490 – good and bad – that to me is the worst aspect of the whole package.
 

Wrapup

I still like the K490, and the 1RNC is new to me so at this point. The 1RNC I think has an overall better sound (but far from perfect). Sony got more right than wrong here. The only real negatives sonically would be the top end and the slight digitalness that sometimes comes out. When you are on a plane, sound quality will be compromised to a degree anyway, and when you add NC, that will always affect the sound. I remember when I first heard a pair of Bose my IEMs blew them out of the water – it wasn’t close. I can’t compromise on SQ that much since I’m a music guy.


Having said all of that, if portability and weight are my main concerns, of these three, the K490 wins heads down. They’re comfortable, NC is OK and SQ is decent. The $249 list is pretty fair, but if you can get these at a real bargain, they would be worth a listen and may even be a steal. At a $499 list, the 1RNC is not cheap but has better NC, better soundstage, and arguably better sound save the slight digitalness which sounds worse typing than it is to hear. All genres of music perform admirably. I think at $349 - $399 they’d be much more fairly priced. Since I didn’t pay $499 and got a good deal, I think the sound to performance ratio was about right for me. The NWNC200? Well, clearly not the winner here but if you have a Sony Walkman with NC that supports these and can get them cheap, they may be OK for you. However, what the NWNC200 shows is that the NC feature built into the Walkman is pretty effective overall, and for that I give big kudos to Sony. If they could do something akin to a NW1RNC, I think it’d be a great blend of things.

 

Update

On the way home from Tokyo, I was sitting just forward of the right wing. I used the 1RNC only and had them on my head for over 10 hours. They were very comfortable and I still liked the sonic signature of them. My only real gripe is that I wish they were smaller like the other two to be more portable, but this is a case where size probably won't matter to me. Both the NWNC200 and the K490 have served me well. I'll probably hang onto the NWNC200, but let go of the K490.


Edited by FenderP - 9/10/13 at 7:49pm
post #2 of 24
Nice review man!
post #3 of 24

The pads on AKGs on-ears are really sealing to begin with so active NC is just an added bonus. epic!

post #4 of 24

I tried the K495s (two separate pairs) and on both the air pressure when putting them on crumpled the left hand driver (I am guessing due to the smaller enclosure because of the electronics hidden inside) - making the sound distorted, and obviously shortening the life of the headphones so I returned them...

 

To the OP - do you have that with the K490s (unsure as to the difference between the two models), and - with the Sony's, do they exhibit anything like that? (I would presume not, as they're full sized, but would be good to have your thoughts)

 

Thanks.

post #5 of 24
Great overview.

I'm in a situation, I have some money to spend on new headphones, and my current set is a pair of beats studios that i user with a stereo Bluetooth dongle between my tablet and the studios.

I recently got the chance to audition a set of Bose qc15 and I'm currently feeling withdrawal after having to give them back.

My big question here is about comparing the 1rnc with the qc15. And if the Bose would be a better buy, being $350 vs the 1rnc at $500, if they are comparably close in NC and real world battery life.

I'm in a bind here as I've not had the chance to listen to the 1rnc but i do know the sound of the Bose and really, really like how well the noise cancellation works.

Any help would be nice.
post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Duncan View Post

I tried the K495s (two separate pairs) and on both the air pressure when putting them on crumpled the left hand driver (I am guessing due to the smaller enclosure because of the electronics hidden inside) - making the sound distorted, and obviously shortening the life of the headphones so I returned them...

 

To the OP - do you have that with the K490s (unsure as to the difference between the two models), and - with the Sony's, do they exhibit anything like that? (I would presume not, as they're full sized, but would be good to have your thoughts)

 

Thanks.

 

I don't have the problem with the K490 that you did with the K495. If I'm not mistaken, the K495 is bigger than the 490, so I'm not sure if the size difference is causing that. However, I don't see that happening with the 1RNC. It's a whole different design.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eun-Hjzjined View Post

Great overview.
I'm in a situation, I have some money to spend on new headphones, and my current set is a pair of beats studios that i user with a stereo Bluetooth dongle between my tablet and the studios.
I recently got the chance to audition a set of Bose qc15 and I'm currently feeling withdrawal after having to give them back.
My big question here is about comparing the 1rnc with the qc15. And if the Bose would be a better buy, being $350 vs the 1rnc at $500, if they are comparably close in NC and real world battery life.
I'm in a bind here as I've not had the chance to listen to the 1rnc but i do know the sound of the Bose and really, really like how well the noise cancellation works.
Any help would be nice.

 

I don't have the Bose and my last experience with them was underwhelming. I think if NC is your main concern, most people think Bose is at the top of the stack. But if SQ is at the top or near the top for you, Bose isn't the way to go. That seems to be the general consensus out there. If you look at my review I tried the 1RNC flying right over the wing, and on the way back from Tokyo, right in front of it. I actually only used the 1RNC for about 12h on the way home; I didn't bother with the others. The Bose is clearly cheaper, so in that sense, it's a better buy. No question. But there are so many factors which make one set of headphones right for you even at a better price.

 

And to be perfectly honest, you don't really get a chance to test NC unless you're in a situation that needs it; a store is not representative.

 

What I would say is if you have a Sony store or some chain that sells Sony cans, look for the regular 1R. See if you like the fit/feel because they're somewhat similar. I tried the 1R briefly and I'm sure it's similar in terms of its sonic profile, so again, if you like that, the 1RNC may be for you.

 

Good luck!

post #7 of 24
Thread Starter 

On the plane flying from LAX to Boston today I had a chance to compare the MDR-1RNC with the Bose QC 15. The airline provided a tablet with movies and such as well as the Bose, and I had my MDR-1RNC with me.

Noise Cancelling

As some may suspect, I would concur with the assessment that the Bose does a better job at noise cancelling. I wasn't sitting right near the engine, but there was still a fair bit of cabin noise. The 1RNC does a very good job, just not as good as the QC15. Having said that, the Bose is better, but it isn't the best thing since sliced bread, either. It still has some hiss and didn't block everything. On the pair that I had to use, when I turned my head, it let in some of the noise so I don't know if that is a "feature". My Sony doesn't do that.

 


Comfort

I'd say both are comfortable cans. The 1RNC is heavier on the head, but in this case it's not like a ton of bricks. The QC15 was fine, but didn't wow me, either. I prefer the Sony here. Fit and feel is always subjective. The cans are smaller on the QC15, andI feel the Sony is a better fit for my ears and they way they work.


Sound Quality

Ths Bose is pretty much as I remember Bose headphones sounding. I didn't have the internet what I wrote this so I tred to remember which songs I used on my NW-F807 to compare the other headphones. "I Cannot Believe It's True" from Hello, I Must Be Going! is okay on the QC15, but not great. The soundstage is no comparison - the Sony trounces it for me. I prefer a wider soundstage, and the QC15 does not deliver that. It's definitely a more closed-in sound. The R1NC is much more open and musical, and has a much wider spectrum sonically. The top end is very muted on the QC15. The Sony may be bright to some (I compared first with EQ flat) without any kind of tweaking, but the top end is welcome because I feel like something is just missing from the QC15. It's limp musically if you ask me. The bass is tighter and much more accurate on the Sony. It's not bloated.
 

"The Spirit of Radio" (Permanent Waves, Rush) sounds good on the 1RNC. Everything is in balance here. I love the openness of the hi-hat in the beginning around :27, and the sound of the ride. This song really does show how musical the 1RNC can be. The part with the glockenspiel I already commented on earlier. On the QC15, things are too confinded. Too much bloated bass, and overall mushy sound. Blech. The cymbals sound good, but overall the song has no life. The QC15 is where this song apparently went to die. It sounds like Geddy Lee could care less about singing it. I don't get any energy. Things like the glockenspiel sound fine, but I wouldn't want to have to listen to music for extended times on this thing if I had to.
 

"Have You Met Miss Jones" on the QC isn't horrid. The upright bass is way too boxy and bloated, and the piano is boxy too. It soounds like you took the trio and stuck them in a small room like 4x4 with no reverb allowed to happen. It's just kinda dead. The trio sounds like it should on the 1RNC - there's air, things breathe, and there's a cadence that is just missing from the QC15.
 

Build Quality
Here's another round where the Sony wins. The Bose felt cheap next to it, and nowhere near as durable. The fit on my ears was probably from too much use/abuse.

 

Summary

I can see why the QC15 is popular - it's not great, but it's not bad, and does all things reasonably admirably without a lot of muss and fuss. The noise cancelling bests the Sony, but that's not where the story ends. If you like more musical cans, the Sony kicks the QC15 in the butt and eats it for lunch. The QC15 reminds me more of the MDR-NWNC200 where it sits, but is it good at over $300? If you value noise cancelling only, maybe. If you care about sound quality, I'd say no. It's maybe $200ish. I'm not saying the Sony isn't overpriced at $500 - it is - but I'd sooner plunk my money down on the Sony. The price I wound up paying for the 1RNC in Australia is looking more and more like a bargain. It's looking to be a keeper.

post #8 of 24

Hi FenderP
 

Nice review and thanks for sharing. Where did you get the Sony's in Australia and what was the great price if you dont mind me asking?

 

Cheers

post #9 of 24

Thanks for the reviews, very nice and useful!

post #10 of 24

After reading your reviews I decide to buy Sony MDR-1RNC. I also went to the local store here in Berlin. I tried both, the Bose QC15 is lighter and did better job in NC, the Sony 1RNC is better designed and made. I couldn't compare the sound quality because they had different sound inputs. Here is my question, I noticed the Sony 1RNC here in Germany are made in Malaysia, I also read some reviews on amazon US, they are also being made in China. I'm wondering if they are also making them in Japan? Because I could also order them directly from Japan. What about yours? Does the manufacturing location really make a difference?

post #11 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by aovo View Post

After reading your reviews I decide to buy Sony MDR-1RNC. I also went to the local store here in Berlin. I tried both, the Bose QC15 is lighter and did better job in NC, the Sony 1RNC is better designed and made. I couldn't compare the sound quality because they had different sound inputs. Here is my question, I noticed the Sony 1RNC here in Germany are made in Malaysia, I also read some reviews on amazon US, they are also being made in China. I'm wondering if they are also making them in Japan? Because I could also order them directly from Japan. What about yours? Does the manufacturing location really make a difference?

 

I don't have the box handy, but I think mine are made in Malaysia. I honestly think it makes very little difference. My 1RNCs have traveled a bit and there's no shoddy quality.

post #12 of 24
Thread Starter 

I figured I'd update this thread a bit. I picked up the Sennheiser Momentum. Why? A bit of natural wanderlust and the fact that about a year in, I like the 1RNC but it is a bit heavier (but not bad) than I would like. I auditioned the B&O H6 which is what aided in the wanderlust to find a bit of a lighter headphone but with good SQ (didn't like the H6). I've been using it more - even on planes and trains - without the NC engaged. Last week I took only the Momentums on a trip to California which was a 6 hour plane flight. Today I'm on a train down to NYC so I have both the 1RNC and the Momentum with me.

 

Noise Cancelling and Comfort

This one is a bit different than my other comparisons since the Momentum does not have active noise cancelling. It does a pretty good job overall of reducing things like train and plane noise mainly due to the fact it fits over your ears. I could see if you have odd ears they may not work. The cans on the Sony are bigger. However, they are definitely lighter than the 1RNC. You almost forget you are wearing them. Sennheiser did a really good job here. I would definitely say that the 1RNC is not as good at passive noise reduction.

 

Sound Quality

For comparison's sake, I used the same songs as I did before. Unlike the H6, the Momentum is not hard to drive with my Sony.

 

"The Spirit of Radio" - The Momentum, like 1RNC, has a pretty wide soundstage which suits my tastes - but not as wide as the 1RNC. Across the spectrum, the Momentum holds up well. Neil Peart's kick drum does not sound anemic, and there's enough upper bass growl where you can hear Geddy Lee's bass. The Taurus pedals also come through, but are not overpowering. Neil's cymbals sound like cymbals, too. However, I think the 1RNC wins here mainly due to the fact it's a bit more "open" (for lack of a better word). You can hear the bass is a touch goosed on the 1RNC and is not as accurate (and even a bit boxy in comparison), but Geddy's vocals sound better more natural. The keyboard part whick kicks in around 3:24 also sounds noticeable better than the Momentum. The Momentum on this song is overall just more dull - more accurate in some ways (bass), less accurate and warm in others.  

 

"I Cannot Believe It's True" - I think the Momentum stock sound shows its stripes here - some of which was present on TSoR. It's more restrained, good soundstage which fits a song liketh is, not very warm, has decent coverage across the sonic spectrum. The horns here sound a bit clinical. Adding a touch of EQ helped a little, but I have a harder time grooving along with Phil and company here. The 1RNC clearly wins on this song. Phil's voice sounds natural, the horns pop in the right way, but you again can hear the less precise bass. One noticeable difference on the 1RNC is that I can essentially hear more air and reverb around the horns. Maybe it's the Sony/Sony pairing, but they get this right.

 

"Have You Met Miss Jones" - This is such a good recording and audition piece. The piano is a touch boxy here - ever so slightly so. The acoustic bass does not have a lot of bloom but sounds decent; it gets a touch lost when everyone is playing but fine during the solo. The more closed in feel of the Momentum soundstage is not like the K490 by any stretch, but trio jazz like this iMO needs to breathe more. The cymbals are OK here, nothing to write home about. The 1RNC has great soudnstage here and a more balanced spectrum. It's a great jazz headphone. The bass sits right in the mix here even during Hank's solo. Could it be a touch more accurate? Sure. On this song, the warm goose helps.

 

Selections fromt the Chopin Collection - While it is slightly "smaller" in terms of sound, the Momentum does a good job here.Rubenstein's piano does not sound overly boxy and actually  sounds quite nice. I'm thinking the Momentum may work well for classical music. I'm not sure I prefer the 1RNC much more here; it's more of a draw.

 

Build Quality

The Momentum is a well built headphone for the most part, and it looks great. I love it in brown. The ear adjustment is pretty classy and works well. However, there are of course a few niggles. The cables at the top of the earpiece which then snake into the headband seem ripe for getting caught on something and breaking. The removable cable (in the left can just like the 1RNC) is very tight. Getting the cable in is no problem, but getting it out takes a bit of force. The cable is also thinner and not standard 1/8" on both ends. The Sony cable is so much better.

 

Summary

At the end of the day, I think this comparison is a bit of a wash. It's more accurate bass and slightly smaller soundstage with better overall comfort versus a good all 'rounder that can be a bit heavy and has the option of active noise cancelling if you want it. For a travel headphone, both are decent options if they are in your price range. I'm torn here to be honest.

post #13 of 24
Thread Starter 

I just picked up the Harman Kardon NC. While I'm not flying for a few weeks, I'm going to do my standard comparison this week. Will update this thread.

post #14 of 24

A nice review indeed... I'd have a second thought with K490nc now.

post #15 of 24
Thread Starter 

Been a few months. Lots has happened since September lol I passed the 490s onto a friend who now uses them at work.

 

The Harman/Kardon NC has unseated the MDR-1RNC as my main travel headphone (but that may or may not change soon ... we'll see).

 

Before that, I did briefly try the Bowers & Wilkins P7. See my thoughts here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/681976/bowers-wilkins-p7-over-the-ear-headphones/225#post_9905984. Bottom line: lovely sounding headphones, worked well with the Walkman, crap isolation on a plane if you're near things like engine. If it wasn't for that and if they had great isolation, I'd still have them. They are EXCELLENT. The link also has some of my thoughts on the NC but let me expand a bit here.

 

The form factor is admittedly a bit odd with its more rectangular shape, and the more fixed (yet different sized) headband may not work for all. I wore the headphones on 20+ hours of flights each way and it didn't feel uncomfortable. I did have to adjust it a touch from time to time, but not like the 1RNC. I'm talking after like 5 or 6 hours. I found the active noise cancelling to be very good and better than the 1RNC. I got a better seal from the headphones, there is no white noise that I could hear (that constant "ssssssssssssss" you usually hear with most active noise cancelling headphones), and I would argue that the noise cancelling (assuming a good seal) is right behind the Bose. H/K got that right.

 

Sound quality, hate to say it, but I prefer it to the 1RNC as well. It's a much more balanced sound top to bottom. When the active noise cancelling is engaged the bass is a bit goosed, but not terribly, and the sound is nearly the same whether the noise cancelling is on or off. All genres of music sounded pretty good here. If you want a more musical set of cans with active noise cancelling, and don't want the QC15 (which I don't like for music at all), give the NC a shot. I paid I think $240. It's back up to $299 on Amazon (http://amzn.to/171bAza), but if you can get the right price, it's a steal.

 

My only real issue with the NC was the cable. I hated it (I think mine only came with the one with the remote). I got a replacement 2.5mm --> 3.5mm cable from the UK that was meant for the B&W P5 and it works just fine ... and is much better. Worth the $12 or so I paid.

 

That said, before flying back home to the US I auditioned the new MDR-10RNC (http://amzn.to/1btTIi1) which lists at $269.99 here in the US (I've seen it as low as $199 in normal stores like J&R). In Duty Free at Sydney airport, they were charging $299 AU. Costco here in the USA has them (http://bit.ly/1aoPhUy albeit with a Costco only model number of MDR-10RDC) for $179.99. Anyway, I was really pleasantly surprised by them. Comfort wise they were better than the H/Ks and fit my head nicely. They are very light. Unlike the H/K and the 1RNC, the 10RNC uses an AAA battery instead of USB for charging an internal battery. That has pluses and minuses. That said, I did a brief comparison sonically and while the 10RNC wasn't total night and day from the 1RNC, I preferred it - and in some ways, more than the H/K NC. The bass with the active noise circuitry was less goosed, and unlike the 1RNC, it seemed better balanced from top to bottom. For the $179.99, I picked up a pair (have 30 days to return them) and will try them out on a trip to the West Coast next week. I couldn't get a feel totally in the airport and this kind of thing you want to try in something like a plane. At the airport when I tried them, I honestly expected the NC to blow away the 10RNC based on my experience with the 1RNC. It didn't.

 

I'll post my thoughts but as of now, the 1RNC is definitely out, the NC is king for now, but we'll see if the 10RNC will stay.

 

And no, my goal isn't to go through all of the noise cancelling headphones :)

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Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › Master Noise Cancelling Shootout: Sony MDR-1RNC vs. Sony MDR-NWNC200 vs. AKG K490NC vs. Bose QC15 vs. Sennheiser Momentum vs. Harman Kardon NC