Review: Able Planet NC200 Noise-Canceling Headphones

Jet engines. Interstate traffic. Blaring sirens. These are the sounds familiar to urban dwellers. But as noise pollution permeates cityscapes, so does tech to combat it. And now that Able Planet’s NC200 headphones have hit shelves, scoring a decent set of noise-canceling cans doesn’t mean you have to secure a private loan to afford a pair (Bose, we’re looking at you). But are these truly the elusive bargain-priced silencers we’ve spent years searching for? Well, they’re not perfect but they get pretty close.

From the moment we strapped its jet-black cans to our cranium, it was clear the NC200s are designed for a frugal user. Even with their satisfying heft and plastic/leather-ish accents, these headphones still feel cheap and a little sparse.

Included with the ‘phones is a AAA battery (for powering the noise canceling), a carrying case and a quarter-inch stereo adapter. Although this made for an underwhelming unboxing, small goodies like the included cord help redeem it. Not only is the cord removable for easy storage, but at six feet it’s versatile enough for a number of in-home applications. Also, the addition of a clippable in-line volume control made it great for places where going in and out contact with the outside world is crucial.

After taking the NC200s to subway stations, construction sites and cafes, it’s pretty clear the noise-canceling tech also got the Spartan treatment. Don’t get me wrong — unlike other boastful, inexpensive headphones, the NC200s’ noise canceling actually works. Switching it on produces a healthy boost in volume, crystal highs, richer bass and a softening of background noise. However, it’s not without its quirks. Audio sans the noise canceling is weak sauce, and the unit creates audible white noise while it’s in use. This mild static hiss didn’t pose any threat while listening to loud music or watching action movies, but it’s surprisingly noticeable during quiet sections.

Given the NC200’s otherwise decent performance at blocking out atmospheric noise, we can say that this slight omnipresent background buzz is not a deal breaker. For noise canceling n00bs, the NC200’s sub-$100 price, comfortable design and passable quality is a steal. But for the veterans — the hardcore types who’re willing to drop major ducats on the sound of silence — the NC200 is likely to be a disappointment.

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