Sony MDR-NC40 Noise Canceling Headphone (Black)

General Information

Shut out up to 80% of the ambient noise around you with the MDR-NC40 noise canceling headphone. Great for work, traveling or just when you're trying to sleep in a loud place, they provide a calming atmosphere no matter where you are. The pressure-relieving cushion offers premium comfort, and the lightweight, folding design makes storing them a breeze. Includes a premium travel case and "AAA" batteries.

Latest reviews

Pros: Very light, portable, built in EQ/NC function
Cons: Expensive for what they are, require a battery
Somehow, the Ballad of Jed Clampett comes to mind, as I start to write this. You know, the Beverly Hillbillies. He was living his life, struck gold, and everything changed. That's kind of what happened here. Except I didn't strike gold or become rich. Yeah, the metaphor doesn't exactly work. But it was all I could think of on short notice.
Back in 2008 I started working on a project, where I had to spend time in noisy labs. One day I decided to get some headphones and an iPod, to cut some of the noise. I found a pair of these at Target. They actually had a little demo station where I could try them on. Loved the noise cancelling feature. I compared them to the Bose over the ear noise cancelling units, which I think were going for $300 clams at the time. The Bose units did not sound three times better than these, so I was sold on these.
Got an iPod shuffle to go with it (yeah, I'm cheap). I think I paid $79, might have been $99, been too long to be sure.
The Pro's:
They lasted me a long time, by my standards. 5 years is not bad at all. Might have been longer, I'm not exactly sure what year it was now LOL. But it's been long enough for me to forget.
One day a couple months ago, I was taking them off, and twisted them a bit too hard, and one of the earpieces broke off. That's where the striking gold thing comes in. Sort of. I had to find something new to use, which is when I started lurking here, and on Amazon, etc trying to find replacements. I guess finding Head-fi really represents the striking gold thing. Sort of. Except I'm becoming poorer. But I digress.
Had I not found Head-fi, I probably would have bought another pair of these. But I saw a reviewer on Amazon reference this website, so I got curious and came looking. And you know what happens to the curious.
These are on the ear units. So you need to be able to tolerate that. Putting them on does not reduce much ambient noise. That's where the little NC function on this headset comes in: flipping the switch on the attached EQ/NC unit, turns on a combination equalizer and noise reducer. That knocks down some of the ambient noise, mainly in the higher frequencies (like fan noise - which is what I wanted). I can still hold a conversation with someone, with these on. There's a little button on the EQ/NC control that cuts off the sound momentarily so you can talk.
They are very light. You can plug these into an ipod, clip everything on, and go about your business. You might forget and leave them on all day. I wore mine to the cafeteria, to the restroom, walking down the hall, you name it. It got clipped on in the morning, and it didn't come off until I went home. Once in a while, the headset needs to come off for me, because my ears get itchy. I was starting to wear out the ear cushions after 5 years. The cushions themselves are tolerable, by virtue of the lightness of the unit.
The electronics still work. I have not thrown them out. Yet. It's hard for me to throw them out. I finally put a paper clip in the one hole that didn't break, and kind of wired the earpiece back on. Sort of. In a hillbilly kind of way. But I don't spend any time listening to them any more.
These were apparently built to do justice to the sound of a stock ipod. Which is really nice if you're cheap like me, and use a shuffle. There is no EQ on a shuffle. These make a shuffle sound great (at least, until you discover Head-fi ... then things change ... that's also where the Jed Clampett comparison comes in). I use a Nano now, which has the EQ. But I digress.
The Con's:
Without the EQ/NC function, these don't sound a whole lot better than earbuds. A little, but not much. You need to keep a stock of AAA batteries on hand. If you use it all day like I did, you'll blow through a battery every week or two. And the NC function? Well, a nice set of over the ear cans does more than these do, without any sort of electronic trickery. But that EQ/NC function is magic. It really does wonders for the sound. Which really is what sold me on these in the first place. Without having that little demo stand in Target, I don't think I would have dropped that much money on these.
On the other hand, once you've listened to even a cheap set of cans with a cheap amp, you'll never go back to these. At least, I can't imagine myself doing that. I'd have to find something else.
Lesson to Marketers: little demo stands sell headphones. You betcha. After all, these are expensive for what they are. But, yeah, you walk into Target now, there is half an aisle devoted to a Beats demo station, and there are like 4 other demo stations set up and rockin.
The price has come down some, you can find them for 70 bucks on Amazon now. But that's still on the pricey side. If you're not looking for portability, there are better cans out there.
The wire is light and gets all twisted up a lot. I spent a lot of time unwinding that.
I lived with these cans on my head for 5 years or more, and they produce tolerable sound (while canceling out fan noise). They were exactly what I needed, at the time. They are light, portable, and make an ipod shuffle rock pretty decently, far better than the stock earbuds. If that's what you need, then these are one option. If on the other hand you are looking for sheer quality without regard to portability, then I'd look elsewhere.
Oh, and I have to admit: a couple weeks ago, I put those noise cancelling Bose units at the demo station on again. I was frankly shocked at the utter lack of sound quality. Head-fi has spoiled me. I struck gold, and I can never go back. Very happy I did not waste my money on Bose.
I have owned these for about 3 years, and as you said, it is good when you just want to listen to music without paying attention to quality; they block the noise pretty good. They can be found now for about $50, which is not bad.
My only problem with these is the battery unit, it gets in the way.


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