Meet the Sony MDR-NC7s.
Here you see the speaker element of the headphones, guarded by a thick layer of foam.
On the back of the s are a somewhat stylish casing, as well as the "noise canceling" switch, which is mostly a deception, which we will get into later.
Attached to the ear cups is the very movable band, which can swivel the ear cups and adjust to the user's head.
Like most consumer headphones, the cable of the is a rather standard 3.93 feet long, ending in a rather generic plug. What is unusual is how poorly protected and ridiculously thin they are. It's nice in theory, but these cables will not last; take special care of these.
Said plug is your standard 1/4th inch headphone jack, capable of use with just about any iPod or media player.
Protecting your very thin and fragile cables where they lead out from the ear cups are virtually nonexistent cable guards. Though they don't really guard the cables at all, so maybe "guard" is a misnomer; perhaps we can just call them "things".
Included in the packaging for your s are your headphones, a carrying pouch, airplane adapter, and assorted documentation.
If it wasn't obvious from our description, the s are not durable headphones. Not only are they made of a cheap-feeling plastic, but Sony did not seem to want to let their cables survive very long. With headphones that allow you to recable your cans when their cords break, it isn't such a big deal, but these do not have that capability.
The s look decent enough, cheap plastic aside. They're not going to dazzle your coworkers or friends, but they look like they get the job done, despite piles of scientific evidence to the contrary.
Before continuing on, we should probably discuss exactly how these headphones work regarding their "noise canceling" function. It doesn't actually work. Without the "feature" on, the frequency response graph shows us that the headphones do very poorly across the board, only reaching our ideal limits in very short bursts, and cutting out almost all the bass. When you flick the switch to the "noise canceling" circuit, this is magically improved, and surprise surprise, you can't hear the same amount of outside noise because the headphones are now louder as well. We'll revisit this later, but for now we wanted to call your attention to the frequency response graphs.
If you turn the "noise canceling" circuit on, however, this distortion level peaks at the same places, but at around 6%. These are not good headphones.
To their credit, these cans are easy to lug around in a bag, as they are collapsible and light. In addition, they come with a small pouch that you can place them in for your travels, but be warned that this pouch does not offer much in the way of protection from the elements or other potential damage, so take special care to avoid situations that would harm your s
If you are a person that tends to expel a higher-than-average amount of bio-waste, take comfort in the fact that you can remove the ear pads for easy cleaning. Aside from this, however, there isn't much of anything you can do to maintain your headphones should something break.
In order to operate your headphones at their peak performance, you will need a single triple-A battery, which drops into a small compartment on one of the ear cups. We should point out that batteries can be a big pain, especially when they're essential to the performance of your headphones. Not only do they force you into periods where your headphones don't perform well, but the added requirement of spending additional money and the chance that your batteries will die and leave you without a good option to listen to music with is frustrating, to say the least. You usually only see headphones with true active cancellation using batteries, but these cans seem to have all the downsides to active noise-cancellation without any of the upsides.
Active Noise Cancellation
As iterated throughout this review, the active cancellation feature of the s is appallingly bad. In fact, it really doesn't do much of anything at all except improve the frequency response. Consequently, if you were looking for a pair of headphones to block out the droning of airplane engines and avoid the associated fatigue and picked these up, you're out of luck. Because their passive attenuation is very low to boot, you're looking at cans that really don't have any business at all trying to promote their ability to attenuate noise.
Neither set of headphones were designed with durability in mind, so this one is really a question of aesthetics: where the Sony MDR-NC7s look clean, but bland, the Gummy Bears offer a whimsical, if somewhat painful listening experience. Though it’s probably just that they’re made of a hard plastic, the Bears tend to maul your antihelix. Also they smell like candy.
Where the Gummy Bears require no additional power to get a frequency response that isn’t comparable to the worst headphones ever made, the Sony MDR-NC7s require their “active noise cancellation” toggled to net a somewhat decent frequency response, but if it’s off, the Gummy Bears do much better. Still, the Sony MDR-NC7s technically perform better should you keep the “noise cancellation” feature on.
The Gummy Bears have a horrible amount of distortion in the mid range, and the Sony MDR-NC7s have a horrible amount of distortion in the low end. You can’t do well with either here.
Neither set of headphones are in the least bit good in terms of tracking.
Despite the fact that the Sony MDR-NC7s market their ability to “cancel noise,” the Gummy Bears are by far the better isolators; even without a battery. If you care about isolation, the Gummy Bears are the far superior pick.
Here is one area in which the Sony MDR-NC7s are clearly better, and how. While the Sony MDR-NC7s cradle your ears with soft foam, the Gummy Bears like to chew into your antihelix. They’re plastic bears, but bears nonetheless.
With comparable performance and a tiny fraction of the MSRP, the Gummy bears are better isolators, as well as having a better base performance. As much as it pains us to recommend the Gummy Bears over another pair of headphones, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that for budget buyers, they’re the better pickup.
Despite the obvious difference between on-ear and over-ear design, the JVC cans are far more durable: their cable is more robust, their casing is thicker, and they will survive wear and tear much longer than the comparatively fragile Sony MDR-NC7s.
The JVCs have a better frequency response than the Sony MDR-NC7s with their “noise cancellation” turned off, but slightly worse than if it is toggled. Considering the HA-M5Xs don’t need a battery for this performance, we’ll leave this one up to you.
Even though the HA-M5Xs aren’t great in terms of limiting distortion, they absolutely output far less than the Sony MDR-NC7s. No contest here.
The HA-M5Xs also have a far better tracking response. Things are not looking good for the Sony MDR-NC7s.
The JVC over-ears attenuate more noise than the Sony MDR-NC7s, but not a ton. Note that they too do not boast good noise attenuation.
This one’s a tossup depending upon different heads, but having tried both of these headphones, we feel like the Sony MDR-NC7s are a little more comfortable over the long term as they’re far lighter than the HA-M5Xs, even though the JVCs distribute their weight fine.
We’re going to go with the HA-M5Xs here. For the same relative price, you get better performance almost across the board, with the added benefit of not requiring a battery to operate. On top of that, they’re more durable, making the Sony MDR-NC7s a hard sell over the JVCs.
Neither set of headphones seems very durable, so this one is left to aesthetic preference. We prefer the look of the Sony MDR-NC7s, but some will prefer the faux-metallic look of the QuietComfort 15s. Those wishing to be seen with the Bose branding on them will probably elect to grab the semi-ubiquitous cans.
Hands-down the QuietComfort 15s beat the Sony MDR-NC7s when active cancellation is turned off on the latter. When it is on, however, the MDR-NC7’s frequency response is less erratic, but still underemphasizes a huge range of frequencies that the Bose cans do not. We’ll give this one to Bose.
The Bose cans have a general distortion problem at about 1%, where the MDR-NC7s have a much bigger issue in the low end. Edge to Bose again.
The tracking of the Sony MDR-NC7s is far worse than that of the QuietComfort 15s.
Here is what an actual noise cancelling circuit is supposed to do: note how much more sound is attenuated by the Bose cans. Though this is a somewhat dramatic difference, it is absurd how poorly the Sony MDR-NC7 attenuate sound, despite their marketing leading one to believe otherwise.
Both sets of on-ears are fairly comfortable, and feel very similar over extended periods of time. You can’t go wrong with either in terms of comfort, though the Bose cans will gradually get less comfortable over time.
If you narrow your decision down to these two headphones, we’d suggest taking the Bose QuietComfort 15s over the Sony MDR-NC7s if you’re willing to shell out close to $300 for them. With better performance in every regard outside of comfort, it’s not difficult to see which is the superior set of headphones. Sure, they’re probably not nearly as good as their price suggests, but the QuietComfort 15s leave the Sony MDR-NC7s in the dust.
Despite the obvious differences between on-ear and in-ear design, the Etymotic Research mc5s are about as durable as the Sony MDR-NC7s, given their superior cable insulation and their improved build quality and materials. Though some users may prefer the MDR-NC7’s design for comfort or aesthetic reasons, it’s a subjective category at best.
Hands-down the mg5’s frequency response beats the tar out of the Sony MDR-NC7s. This isn’t terribly surprising, as the mc5s offer very impressive audio quality for their price point. The mc5s do not suffer from any wild underemphasis or overemphasis, and provide a flat, even response.
The mc5s have almost no distortion, whereas the Sony MDR-NC7s have an audible level. No contest here.
The mc5s show us more or less what an ideal tracking response should look like. Yet another hands-down victory for the impressive in-ears.
Without any active noise-canceling, the mc5s physically block out sound measured in several orders of magnitude greater than the Sony MDR-NC7s. If you care about isolation for a low price, grab the mc5s and never, ever look back. Very few headphones we review have this type of passive attenuation.
Well, considering that in-ear headphones are essentially bits of plastic and sometimes neodymium that are shoved into a small orifice that was not designed to have anything inside it, it’s not terribly surprising that a set of on-ears like the Sony MDR-NC7 are far more comfortable. Still, some users report that they like the mc5s’ comfort level for use outdoors, as they won’t slip like the Sony MDR-NC7s. This one is entirely up to you to decide.
Judging by the differences in performance and the fact that each pair of headphones have roughly the same price, it’s hard to justify picking up the Sony MDR-NC7s over the Etymotic Research buds. On top of that, they don’t need a battery to gain passable audio performance or attenuate noise; they just do an outstanding job of it normally. If you don’t mind spending another ten or twenty dollars and are fine with the in-ear design, the mc5s are probably the better buy overall.
We strongly recommend that you avoid buying these headphones. If it wasn't bad enough that they flat-out lie about their abilities, they also massively underperform at a hugely inflated cost. As we demonstrated in our comparisons, you can do much better for relatively the same price, and who doesn't want to get the best value for their money? For their price point, these are pretty terrible headphones, disappointing in sound performance, noise attenuation, and durability. Though cheap consumer headphones typically disappoint those looking for good sound, they don't typically run you $50 for something a $10 pair of earbuds can do.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
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