(with Brian Dixon)
The JVC HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones are JVC's new top-of-the-line model ($199 list, $139 street price) -- both with better performance and better comfort than the earlier HA-NC80 model.
The soft earpieces provide good sound isolation, the new feedback technology adds noise reduction, and they are light weight and fold flat for travel
The headphones wear comfortably for long periods with the soft "memory foam" ear pads. The oval earpieces have a double housing structure with extra sound insulation layer, so they do a better job of sound isolation to begin with, blocking outside sounds.
You can use the headphones stand-alone (with no audio playing) to quiet your environment -- the 4 foot cord uses a standard audio jack and detaches from the headphone. And you can use them as regular headphones, without the noise reduction circuitry enabled.
For noise reduction, the NC250 features new feedback technology, rated to eliminate up to 85 percent of extraneous background noise (speced as >16.5 dB at 150 Hz, compared to up to 75 percent with the earlier NC80, or >12 dB at 300 Hz). The NC80 also has a switch for two noise cancellation modes ("wide" and "low"), which is omitted in the NC250, since the technology has improved.
We first tried the NC250 stand-alone, without playing any audio through them. Turning on the noise reduction clearly reduces the background room tone, particularly at the low end. For example, it significantly lowers (but does not completely eliminate) fan noise from computers.
Then with music, the NC250 again reduces background sounds. However, the technology also slightly boosts and shapes the sound, so you can't make an exact A/B comparison. We did detect a very slight distortion in certain passages, such as a quiet piano piece when the sound swelled, although this was noticeable only with a trained ear, and nothing like this was heard with louder music.
The NC250 is designed for travel, at 5.3 ounces. It folds flat (the earpads twist), to fit in the included hard case. However, it doesn't collapse quite as far as the NC80, which has foldable arms to tuck the earpieces into the headband. The product also includes airline and phono adapters.
The NC250 is powered by a single AAA battery, which is inserted by removing the right earpad (the same side as the noise cancelling On/Off switch). The headphones are rated to run 50 hours with an Alkaline battery.
The HC250 uses a 40mm neodymium driver in each earpiece, for a wide frequency response (8 Hz - 24,000 Hz). While they don't have the flatter response of more expensive professional units, they provide good sound, nice comfort, and effective noise reduction.
See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products
Find the JVC HA-NC250 Headphones on Amazon.com