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Tuning into Sony's MDR-NC200D noise-canceling headphones (review)

Sony has unveiled the a new pair of noise-canceling headphones that are easy to travel with but cost a sizable chunk of change. Here's a hands-on review.
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By Rachel King, Staff Writer on
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1 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

Sony's brand-new MDR-NC200D high-end headset is boasted to reduce ambient noise when in transit by up to 98.2 percent. Nothing is perfect, but that is pretty darn close.

When testing this headset myself, I found that to be true for the most part. Inversely, if the volume of the audio emitting from the headphones is quite loud, it's possible for others to hear what your listening to -- albeit a bit muffled. That could be bad if you're embarrased some of your iPod's content. (Bieber?)

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2 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

The MDR-NC200D headset comes packaged nicely in a compact, soft carrying case for easier transport. Even more convenient is the 1.5m connecting cord, which connects the headphones to audio source (i.e. laptop, tablet, smartphone, MP3 player, etc. -- basically anything with a headphone jack!).

The cord can be unplugged from the headphones, which is really great for the user as not only does that help in prevent cord tangling when jostling around in a bag, but then there is less wear-and-tear and tugging on the cords.

(FYI, because of the bright sunlight pouring in the window, the Sony gear looks more blue than it should. All of the products are definitely black.)

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3 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

Right out of the box, it's easy to see that these Sony MDR-NC200D headphones are ideal for travelers as the compact design reduces the length of this headset by 40 percent when folded.

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4 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

Seen here next to the new Motorola Droid Bionic that sports a 4.3-inch display, you can get a better idea of the size of the headphones.

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5 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

All in all, the headphones come with the aforementioned cord and case, as well as a single AAA battery required for powering the headset. To round off the travel requirements, it also includes an in-flight plug adapter for those annoying seats that require the double headphones-jack prongs.

Also, that battery provides up to about 22 hours of listening time, which actually isn't that much when you think about it for people with long daily commutes and a few cross-country flights. It would be a good idea to pack an extra AAA battery or two into the inside pocket of the carrying case.

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6 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

The MDR-NC200D headset hosts 40mm driver units, which really do produce some excellent sound. The noise-canceling feature isn't always necessary, so it's best to turn that off and save some battery juice unless you're in the middle of a flight and desperately want to drown out the sounds of the engines.

Another interesting facet to this feature is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) button. Before you start recalling memories about one of Steven Spielberg's lesser films, this refers to a function in which the headset can automatically detect an optimal noise canceling mode (i.e. aircraft, train or office) and cancels out noise based on those pre-determined settings.

Furthermore, there's another button labeled as "Monitor," which stops the audio feed in case the user wants to listen around for announcements and other noise without removing the headset. Just don't confuse this as a pause button as the audio feed will continue whether this button has been pressed or not.

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7 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

As far as comfort is concerned, Sony has done a superb job. The MDR-NC200D headset sports plush, ergonomically-shaped flexible earpads and a soft cushion around the headband for a more comfortable fit for a longer period of time. Although it's never completely comfortable to lean against a headset while trying to sleep on a plane, these certainly feel a bit better.

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8 of 8 Rachel King/ZDNet

However, all of these features and the comfort of the MDR-NC200D headphones will not be cheap, following in the tradition of most Sony products. They're priced at $199.99, which is comparable with most other noise-canceling headsets on the market. I'd argue that this set is more travel-friendly than most and the audio is definitely decent enough. The only features I found myself missing were audio controls (i.e. volume, pause/play, fast forward, etc.), which are not available on this gadget.

However, if you do buy them, just be careful. Given the price tag, this isn't the kind of accessory one wants to pack without regard and then forget somewhere later.

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