Sony MDR-NC60 Premium Noise
at a reasonable price = good value
Good looking and conservatively styled, the Sony
MDR-NC60 headphones are appealing to the eye as well as the
Part 14 of a series on noise
reducing headphones - click the links on the right for extra
reviews and commentary
We've prided ourselves, to
date, on our ability to find good performing noise cancelling
headphones at prices under $100. Anyone can go out and
spend $300 on a set of Bose headphones; the real trick is to
spend much less money but to get headphones that work almost as
With the disappointing
performance of the current model Plane Quiet headphones, we've
had to look further afield for good performing mid-priced
headphones, and these Sony headphones seem to be about the best
of the bunch, although they are street priced slightly higher than we'd like to see
(ie $134 on
Noise cancelling is very good,
but their sound quality, with the noise cancelling activated, is
a bit disappointing.
However, unless you've the most
discerning of ears and the deepest of pockets, you'll probably
find these an acceptable value choice compared to the $300 Bose
or the $400 top of the line Sony MDR-NC500D headphones.
Sony MDR-NC60 Premium Noise
Canceling Headphones -
what you get
These headphones come
packaged inside an attractive black cardboard box with a cut
open window to display the headphones.
Inside the easily opened
cardboard box is a harder to open plastic container. Once
you've struggled your way into that, you find, of course, the
headphones themselves, plus various other things.
A single AAA battery is
included to power the headphones. A 61" connecting cable
is provided, with iPhone compatible standard 1/8" plugs at both
Strangely - and regrettably
- Sony has adopted the same restrictive design for its
connecting cable plug/socket that Apple did with its original
iPhone (and which Apple then thought better of and abandoned for
its later 3G iPhone). This design has the connector at the
end of a short tube/tunnel, which requires connecting cables to
have a special and unusually narrow type of connecting plug
Why does Sony do this?
It is a stupid limiting act on their part, making it harder to
get a replacement cable from any electronics store if you lose
or break the one they supply.
An adapter plug is included
if you want to use the headphones with a 1/4" jack, and a double
plug is also included to use with the still sometimes found
airline seats that require this type of connector.
There is also a nice
semi-soft/hard carry case and even a carry strap if you should
wish to carry the case slung over your shoulder (not that I've
ever seen anyone doing this...). The case zips open around
three sides, and inside has a preformed area to hold the
headphones and a pouch with slots for a spare battery,
connectors, and the connector cable.
A warranty sheet detailing
the one year limited warranty, and a useful sheet of operating
instructions complete the contents of the package. It is a
good and complete collection of all the things you're likely to
The headphones have a
recommended retail price of $200, but can sometimes be found for
less than that. Sony's approach to discounting seems to
vary - their top of the line MDR-NC500D headphones used to be
available for a discount, but currently can only be found at
full price, but the MDR-NC60 can be found below the recommended
for the peculiar price of $134.31, or possibly less if you go to
their page of 'used and new' that are sold through third party
merchants. The Amazon price seems to vary semi-randomly up
and down a bit from time to time, but is usally one of the best
Sony MDR-NC60 Headphones
The headphones are of the
large around-the-ear type design. They have a nice padded
headband, and the ear cups tilt and swivel in the usual manner.
The headphone earcups can be
rotated to lie flat for packing.
On the right ear cup is a
hinged cover underneath which you place the battery - there is a
nice press button to open the cover. This is an elegant
design and nicer than some of the fiddly covers on other
The right ear cup also has a
slide on/off switch and a red indicator light that comes on when
the power is switched on. You are told that the battery
needs replacing when the indicator light dims, but how dim is
dim? It is much better and less ambiguous to have a
feature that makes the indicator light flash when the battery
gets low (such as on the Bose QC2).
Battery life is quoted at 30
hours for an alkaline AAA battery, which is fairly typical.
On the left ear cup is a
connector into which the (non-standard) cable connects.
There is also an interesting
'monitor' button - if you press this, any music that you might
be playing back is silenced, and a little microphone picks up
outside sounds (ie someone talking to you) and plays it back
through the headphones.
This feature is more trouble
than it is worth - if someone is talking to you, simply remove
the headphones and/or stop whatever music you're playing rather
than grope for the monitor button that you're probably not able
to instinctively and quickly reach. The monitor button
only works if the noise cancelling is switched on, it does
nothing if it is switched off.
The two ear cups have
reasonably soft foam padding, much more so than on the
MDR-NC500D. This soft foam quickly forms a good seal
between the earcup and your skull, and so creates a passive
noise block to augment the active noise canceling technology.
The headphones and
connecting cable weigh 8.5 oz, and together with the carry case,
the weight increases to 14.0 oz.
Sony self-rates the
headphones as offering a maximum of more than 16.5dB of noise
canceling at 200 Hz, with noise canceling working, to a varying
extent, in the frequency range between 40 and 1500 Hz. The
headphones are claimed to have a frequency response of 14 -
24kHz, but with no +/- dB figures quoted, this is a meaningless
My approach to manufacturer
claims for noise cancelling is to largely ignore them, because
they are so vague, but they can be useful for establishing the
relative performance of headphones within a range from the same
manufacturer (presumably the manufacturer uses a consistent
rating system for all the models in their range).
In this case, the 16.5dB
claim contrasts with a 20dB claim for Sony's top of the line
MDR-NC500D, and a 14dB or lesser claim for Sony's MDR-NC40 and
other lesser units in their product range.
The unit will play music
with the noise cancelling turned either on or off, and is
slightly more sensitive when the noise cancelling is turned on
(102dB/mW as opposed to 100 dB/mW).
Using the Headphones
The good news - the sound
quality is acceptably good - maybe even very good. There's
a lovely warmth to it, while the high notes are clear and easily
cut through the warm lower range.
The bad news - this
description relates only to when using the headphones with the
noise cancelling off. The sound quality nose-dives when
you switch on the noise cancelling.
In particular, some piano
pieces (piano solo music is generally considered one of the most
demanding tests for headphones) that sounded crystal clear
through other headphones, and sounded very good with the noise
cancelling switched off, became distorted and almost
unacceptable with the noise cancelling on. This was
repeated with some soprano songs. It seemed as though the
audio input was overloading the processing circuitry, but even
when turning down the volume, quality was less than with the
noise processing off.
There was also increased
background hiss and noise preceding and following each note.
To confirm this, I double checked with a different model iPod
and with different music, but the sound degradation consistently
occurred no matter what variation of music and player I used.
The sound quality loss
wasn't as obvious with orchestral music or when listening to
movies, but the noise cancelling definitely impacted on sound
Comfort and Convenience
The headphones are
comfortable to wear for an extended period of time and are easy
to use. The cups are large and deep enough to comfortably
fit around one's ears without squashing them.
One minor annoyance - when
walking with the headphones on, the 'DC' component of walking
around transferred up to the headphones and caused some annoying
interference noises. But while seated normally, this was
not an issue at all.
Noise cancelling is very
While not as outright
excellent as either the Bose QC2 or the Sony MDR-NC500D
headphones, the noise cancelling is still very good and
definitely massively reduces the background sounds while on a
flight, without introducing any noticeable sound coloration or
other undesirable issues.
In a quieter environment (eg
home or office) they perform almost as well as the Bose QC2
headphones, and their hiss level is very low and unobtrusive,
although a bit louder than the Bose or their ridiculously
overpriced top-of-the-line siblings, the Sony MDR-NC500D
Most people will consider
the noise cancelling to be sufficient - there is a large and
very beneficial reduction in background noise, and while it is
true that the Bose and top of the line Sony headphones reduce
slightly more noise, it is possible that the extra cost for this
little extra increase in noise reduction may not make sense for
all but the most dedicated and deep pocketed of audiophile
Comparing the MDR-NC60 to
In terms of noise
cancelling, the MDR-NC60 headphones are not as good as the
MDR-NC500D or the QC2 headphones, but they are better than the
Plane Quiet Platinum and the Philips SHN9500 headphones.
In terms of
of headphones, and using both Sony's claimed noise cancelling
capabilities and also their pricing, the MDR-NC60 is the second
from top in their line of (currently) six models of noise
Where to Buy
Sony headphones can often be
found in regular electronics retailers, as well as online
through a fairly wide range of stores.
They carry a recommended
retail price of $199.99, but can often be found for less.
We generally buy most of our electronics through
Amazon, where the price varies a bit (for reasons we can't
guess at). In December 08, they were selling for the
strange price of $134.31, and sometimes for less through third
party merchants linked from Amazon's 'New and Used' tab from the
page link above.
Summary and Recommendation
These headphones provide
very good noise cancelling, but at a cost - not only financial
($135 or thereabouts) but also at a cost to sound quality.
When you activate the noise cancelling, the sound quality
deteriorates. Perhaps less sensitive listeners might not
notice this, and when listening to only average or below average
quality soundtracks, the deterioration is not so noticeable.
But audiophiles will be
disappointed in the sound quality with the noise cancelling on,
and while the quality is much better with the noise cancelling
off, the whole point of these headphones is to use their noise
You'd be well advised to buy
these headphones from a company (such as Amazon) with a generous
return policy and no massive restocking charges. That way
you can hear the sound for yourself and decide if it is a deal
breaker or just me being trivially over-critical.
Although not bargain priced,
the headphones are also not premium priced, and until something
better comes along at a lower price point, they present as a
good mid level product at a fair value point.
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19 Dec 2008, last update
19 Dec 2013
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