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Review: JVC's Affordable Noise-Canceling Headphones

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nobody has made a better pair of noise-cancellation headphones than Bose's Quiet Comfort 3.

That said, the QC3 is ridiculously expensive, at $350. JVC recently unveiled the HA-NC80-J/-C (NC80), a pair of noise-canceling headphones with a street price that hovers around $40.

Naturally, I wasn't expecting much. But to my surprise, I found the NC80 is far more capable than it should be for the price.

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My main argument for buying the NC80? It sounds good. No, these are not audiophile-quality headphones, but they do offer a crisp high end and enough bass for you to appreciate rap and hard rock.

Even if noise cancellation didn't enter into the equation, I'd still give these guys a thumbs-up. Achieving decent sound for $40 is no small feat.

If you're reading this, however, you probably also want to know if the NC80 can cancel out the annoying din that accompanies modern life. Nothing puts a stop to ambient noise like the Quiet Comforts, but the NC80 is capable and versatile in its own right.

There are two modes of noise cancellation: "low" and "wide." "Low" works on eliminating deeper ambient noise, such as train rumble, and "wide" focuses more on the entire frequency range, specifically in the higher realm where noises such as air conditioner hiss live.

Though the noise in both modes is never completely eliminated, there is definitely a noticeable drop-off that I wasn't expecting from such a cheap set, and the ability to choose a frequency range to focus on is a nice touch.

Many cheap, ahem, "affordable" headphones actually produce a by-product noise when they eliminate ambient sound, negating the entire purpose of their existence.

The JVCs don't, although I did notice that a low hum was occasionally audible when they were plugged into AC-powered sources and noise cancellation was activated.

This, however, seemed to depend more on the sound source than the headphones. My Apple iPod on its own sounded fine, but when it was sitting in a charging cradle, the hum was present. This hum was not present under identical circumstances with the Quiet Comforts.

Of course, most of the time you will be using these with a battery-powered device, so this isn't a deal-breaker.

It should also be noted that, unless you seriously fiddle with them to find the best fit, the NC80s can get a little uncomfortable during long periods of use. My solution was to make them as loose as possible.

The JVC HA-NC80 comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor. For product support, visit www.jvc.com/support.

Overall, these headphones can't compete with the big boys of noise cancellation, but then again, the big boys can't compete with this price.

BOTTOM LINE: For a modest $40, these JVC headphones deliver decent noise cancellation plus good audio output.

PROS: Two modes of noise cancellation decrease different types of ambient sound. Good audio quality. Cheap.

CONS: Uncomfortable. Low hum occurs when used with certain powered devices and noise cancellation is activated.

COMPANY: JVC Americas Corporation

SPEC DATA:

Price: $40.00 Street
Sealing: Open
Noise-canceling: Active
Maximum SPL: 103 dB
Impedance: 32 ohms
Weight: 5.82 lb

EDITOR RATING: Three out of five stars

Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.