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Comfortable phones with some basic features.

Overall, these headphones give you the basics that you'd expect with a pair of bargain-bin cans: they're made of cheap plastic, they have standard features that really don't set them apart from any other set of cheap cans, although their defining feature is a factory of sadness and mendacious claims: the "noise cancellation" function is an outright lie, which we'll get into later.

The "noise cancellation" function is an outright lie.

The Sony MDR-NC7s don’t have any in-line accessories, but they do have an airplane adapter that allows you to turn your standard 1/8th inch plug into a pair of slightly-better airplane headphones. Additionally, they come with a small pouch that you can place them in for your travels; be warned that this pouch does not offer much in the way of protection from the elements or other potential damage.

When you first put these cans on, you’ll notice that the thick foam padding makes for a fairly comfortable wear. Because they are also lightweight and require only a single triple-A battery, they don’t rest heavily on your head or cause fatigue. Of all the concerns we have about these headphones, comfort is not one of them.

The Sony MDR-NC7s truly fall flat when it comes to producing good audio.

The NC7s are far from "noise-cancelling." Noise cancellation, called isolation or attenuation, is a passive or active feature found on some headphones. The NC7s claim to be active noise cancellation headphones, but their noise cancellation setting—when enabled— does not block out ambient noise: all it does is make the bass a little louder, and that's it. You'll be paying for triple-A batteries for no reason.

There's really nothing good to say about them.

This is horrible for many reasons, but probably worst because instead of cancelling out dangerous levels of sound, they actually increase the level of pressure that reaches your inner ear. While it may seem like they block out a tiny bit of noise, it's actually increasing your risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

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As for their basic audio quality, the Sony MDR-NC7s are likewise disappointing. They very poorly handle audio output, resulting in an imbalanced range of pitches that at best are distracting, and at worst will make your favorite song sound completely, well, wrong. They track terribly, meaning they favor one audio channel (the left) with more sound than the other. They also distort sound more notably than comparably priced headphones. There's really nothing good to say about them.

You can find much better headphones at literally almost any price point.

If it wasn’t bad enough that they flat-out lie about their noise-cancelling abilities, the NC7s also massively underperform at a hugely inflated cost. You can do much better for relatively the same price, and who doesn’t want to get the best value for their money?

It would be one thing if the active noise cancellation unit did anything resembling what it was advertised to do, but instead they make high-volume situations more dangerous for you as a listener. If you were trying to hold an egg without cracking it, you wouldn't squeeze down harder, would you?

For their price point, these are pretty terrible headphones, disappointing in sound performance, noise attenuation, and durability. Though cheap consumer headphones typically disappoint, they don’t typically run you $50 for something a $10 pair of earbuds can do better. The bottom line? Avoid the Sony MDR-NC7.

We've claimed with begrudging disappointment just how badly the NC7s perform. They've no positive qualities on the performance side of things, and purport to cancel out ambient noise without doing so. The science page is here to back up those claims... with science.

What do you call a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that don't cancel noise? Bad.

Noise cancellation is a relatively new feature within the world of headphones, and it's a growing necessity in today's loud, modern age—especially if you find yourself caught up in a lot of noisy travel via airplane or bus. Noise cancellation is meant to cancel out ambient, surrounding noise so that you don't have to do it by manually cranking up the volume on whatever you're listening to, risking damage to your hearing.

The Sony MDR-NC7s simply don't work as advertised. Their isolation methods are worse than some headphones that don't even claim to cancel noise, as the noise cancellation feature, when enabled, simply makes them louder. It doesn't work to suppress outside levels of sound in the slightest, and instead increases the sound pressure level (SPL) in your inner ear, essentially making the MDR-NC7s as effective at preventing noise-induced hearing loss as trying to extinguish a roaring flame by pouring gasoline on it.

Terrible performance from the NC7s.

Frequency response is a measure of how much volume a pair of headphones allocates to each frequency sound, compared against each other. The lowest frequencies represent bass tones, like cello, bassoon, or the first few octaves of a piano. The highest Hertz represent high pitched noises, like a piccolo, flute, or the fifth through seventh octaves of a piano.

Ideally, headphones should represent the full spectrum of frequencies with a flat, even line. This means that they aren't boosting or underplaying any part of the audio that you're listening to. The NC7s do a terrible job of this, underemphasizing bass tones and everything above 2.5kHz to an enormous degree, essentially sounding anywhere from 1/16th as loud to 1/2 as loud as the rest of your music. Medium-high pitched instruments and sounds will be louder than everything else, and you'll need to turn up whatever you're playing to better hear low, middle, and very high pitched sounds.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


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.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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