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A set of true noise canceling headphones for $14.99?!

If they work as one would hope, they are an incredible bargain.  But if they don't, then you're better off to save your money.

Read the review to see which is the case.

 
 
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Coby CV190 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active noise reducing headphones
 

Unsurprisingly, the cost for noise reducing headsets seems to be reducing, and what formerly cost $150-300 can now be found for as low as $80.

But a set of on the ear noise reducing headphones for only $15?  If these really work, they would represent a breakthrough in price/performance.

Part 7 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts  One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve

 

 

The most impressive feature of these headphones is their $15 price tag.  With competing models stretching up to as much as $300, and our current favorites, the Plane Quiets, costing $80, the thought that a pair of active noise cancelling headphones could be found for only $15 was truly startling.

So what does $15 buy you?

What You Get

The Coby CV-190 headphones are packed into a clear plastic display box - one of the type that require strong scissors to cut open.

Inside the box - in addition to the headphones themselves - is a thin fabric carry bag, an airline double prong adaptor, and, yes, the battery is also included ( the unit uses a single AAA battery).  For $15, this is a very complete kit of accessories.

The headphones have a one year warranty.  However, because you have to ship the headphones back to Coby in NY at your expense, and include a $6 payment to have them returned to you, many of us would probably prefer to simply buy a new pair if the first pair failed.  It probably costs no more and is much simpler.

There was no instruction booklet (although one is not really required) or anything else - but this is not necessarily a criticism, because there are no other essential accessories, other than those already included.

Description

The Coby CV190 headphones are of an 'on the ear' type design, with the ear cups resting on your ear (like the Noisebusters), rather than surrounding the ear (as is the case with the Bose and Plane Quiet units).

The ear cups are considerably larger than the Noisebusters.  This seems to help them physically block more sound out.

They are not very comfortable to wear for an extended time.  The headband holds the earcups quite tightly against your ears - this is necessary to achieve a good 'seal' to keep the noise out, of course, but makes them less comfortable to wear for many hours at a time while on a long flight.  It might be possible to reduce the tightness of the headband by stretching it out and open, but then the quality of the passive noise reducing seal will be weakened.

Perhaps slightly adding to the discomfort - and the need for more pressure - is the earcups do not move in two dimensions, but only one.  They swivel, but do not tilt.  A better and more comfortable fit requires earcups that both swivel and tilt.

The headphones don't seem to be built to a high standard.  The adjustable pieces were sticky to move up or down rather than smooth, although perhaps repeated sliding of them in and out might improve this.

The on/off switch, mounted on the left earcup rather than on the separate battery box, was also sticky to slide on and off rather than smooth.

A single cord runs from the left earcup to a standard mini-stereo jack.  About half way down the cord is a battery box, inside which is the single AAA battery.  There is no belt clip on the battery box, although a belt clip would not make much sense, because the battery box tends to hang above your waist.

The cord is fairly short in length - only 4'3".  This is almost too short (in comparison, the Plane Quiet cord length is 5'4").

There are no controls for volume or other purposes, just an on/off switch on the left earcup, alongside which is a red LED that indicates when the unit is switched on.

The headphones are very light - they weigh only 4.5 ounces.  The earcups can swivel around to fold flat, making for a small compact unit to pack and carry in your bag.

Functionality

The box claims the headphones have a frequency response of 20Hz - 20KHz, but fails to indicate within how many dB range this is, making the claim valueless.

In actual listening tests, the sound quality is poor.  The mid-bass is exaggerated while the treble is attenuated and murky.

When one first listens to them, one is struck (almost literally!) by what seems to be a strong bass response, but this quickly becomes offensive because it is not an accurate reproduction of the music, and one realizes that not only is the bass artificially boomy, but it is further exaggerated by the lack of treble.

Although the sound quality is poor, the headphones are very sensitive, and create a high volume of output with even a low volume setting on your music device.

They also work perfectly well, for playing music without noise cancellation, with the noise cancellation circuitry switched off, so if the battery dies, you can still use them for normal music playback.

No information was given about the expected life of the AAA battery.

Turning on the active noise cancelation increases the volume somewhat - they suggest by 6dB and that seems about right.

And now for the perhaps most crucial factor.  Their ability to reduce noise.

The earcup padding works quite effectively to passively reduce sound merely by blocking the path the sound would otherwise travel into your ears.  They are slightly better at this than the Noisebusters, and comparable to the Plane Quiets.

Switching on the noise reduction, alas, makes very little improvement.  Tellingly, one of the reviews on Amazon claims that the headphones don't have any active noise reduction built in to them at all!  This reviewer is wrong - there is indeed some active noise reduction, but very little, and a casual listener could be forgiven for not noticing the difference in background sound.

One positive observation is that the noise cancellation circuitry seems to be quite silent.  It doesn't seem to add appreciable levels of electronic 'hiss', but maybe this is just because the background noise remains at a high level, drowning out the quiet hiss that is more readily apparent on better quality headphones!

In terms of noise cancelling, these headphones perform worse than any others reviewed.  Although their passive noise cancelling is slightly better than the Noisebusters, when the active canceling is switched on, all other headsets provide better total noise reduction.

Cost and Comparison

The Coby CV190 headphones are lightweight and compact, and are the very cheapest noise reducing headset we've ever seen.  Their low cost is their best feature.

Alas, the active noise reduction performance is so weak that one Amazon reviewer claimed they do not include active noise canceling at all!  All other tested units offered better noise reduction.

Their sound quality is poor, and overall they are the worst performing set of headphones reviewed to date.

$15 buys you a set of headphones with poor sound quality and not much noise cancelling.  If this is of interest to you, they are available on Amazon for $14.99 and at various other places, sometimes for a dollar or two more.

Update September 2006

It appears these headphones have now been superseded by the CV192, which Amazon are selling for about $27.  Are the CV192 headphones any better?  Perhaps, but chances are they're still not a good buying choice.

Summary and Recommendation

These headphones are priced at an extraordinarily low $15, but they prove the adage 'you get what you pay for'.

You won't be happy with their noise reduction capabilities, and neither will you be happy with their sound quality.

Not recommended.  Buy a set of the $80 Plane Quiets instead.

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Originally published 7 May 2004, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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Bose QuietComfort 2
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Plane Quiet Platinum
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Plane Quiet NC6
Plane Quiet older models
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Noisebuster Corp response
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