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The Plane Quiet active noise canceling headset is the lowest priced 'closed headphone' designed unit on the market.

Closely comparable in performance to the $300 Bose competing product, but at a more sensible $80 they are of inestimably greater value.

 
 
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Prize winning Plane Quiet noise cancelling headphones

Plane Quiet Noise Reducing Headset

NOTE - This product has now been replaced by a totally different product - the Plane Quiet NC6 - see review on the right link bar
 

A simple design, comfortable to wear, and good noise reduction combined with decent sound reproduction, all for only $80, make these our current favorite out of the five units reviewed to date.

Part 4 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts  One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve

 

 

Some airlines now provide noise reducing headphones as standard in their first and business class cabins. But if you're not as lucky as to have them provided on your flight, or if you want to use them in other environments as well, you should join the increasing number of people who are buying their own noise cancelling headset.

The Plane Quiet noise cancelling headphones are new on the market, and set a new standard for affordable performance.

 

Summary - Which Model is Best?

Reportedly, some people are paying up to $150 to buy a pair of this earlier model Plane Quiet headphones, wherever they can find them, second hand, now that they are no longer being sold new.

This is foolish and a waste of money.  The Mk5 headphones (the last in this series of headphones) are simply not as good as the newer NC6 headphones.

And, if you absolutely must have an around the ear rather than on the ear design for your headphones, then the new Solitude headphones are definitely your best choice, by far.

We're preserving the rest of our review, below, for reference, but our recommendation is simple :  The Solitude or the NC6 are better than the earlier Mk5.

What You Get

The $79.99 headphones are packed into a sturdy box for shipping, and come complete with the single AA battery they need, already installed. They come complete with a draw string protective bag made out of a moderately thick leatherette type material to protect the headphones while stored in your carry-on bag, and an illustrated instruction booklet.

Also supplied is a two to one adapter which allows you and another person to share the same audio source (eg MP3 player or whatever).

The headphones come with an extraordinarily generous limited lifetime warranty.  If purchased direct from the manufacturer, you get a 15 day money back guarantee (from when you receive the headphones) but with a 15% restocking fee.

Description

As you can generally see from the illustration above, these headphones look very similar to the Bose headphones. They have an adjustable headband with padding on the top part, and the individual ear cups swivel and tilt to give you the most comfortable fit and best seal to block external noise.

The ear cups can rotate a full 90 enabling them to lie flat, taking up as little space as possible when stored in their protective carry bag. The headphones weigh about 7.5 ounces, of which about 5.5 ounces is 'on the head' weight and the balance is for the cord and control unit.

Unlike some of the other 'on the ear' type products, these are of an 'over the ear' design. This is a superior design for noise reducing headphones for two reasons :

  • The over-the-ear design provides a complete physical barrier that passively reduces all external sounds much better than an on-the-ear design

  • Most people find the over-the-ear design is more comfortable for long periods of wearing the headphones (such as on a lengthy international flight)

The electronics for the unit are in a compact and stylish box half way down the cord between the headset itself and the plug. The box has an on and off switch, a volume control, an LED to indicate if the unit is switched on, and the battery compartment.

I was pleased that this unit takes an AA battery - I always seem to have spare AA batteries with me, but don't so commonly have AAA or 9 volt batteries.

Cord and Connector

The cord is permanently connected into the headphones and the box, so you don't need to worry about leaving the cord behind. Having forgotten the cord once with the Noisebusters, I'm now a definite convert to the built in cord concept.

This unit also has a wonderful and very clever feature. Its plug has two sets of prongs on it - one for normal stereo outputs on, eg, CD/MP3 players, and the other to be used with the connectors on airplane seats. Other units provide you with a separate adapter, and it is a small little item easily lost. With the Plane Quiet unit, you never lose anything; everything is together in one convenient place.

A slight negative about this connector which some people have commented on is that it sticks out a long way due to its 'in line' design.  If this is a concern, you can use the supplied splitter connector to plug into, eg, the socket in an airline seat.  The splitter has an 'L' angled connector and so does not stick out nearly so far.

Functionality

How well do the headphones work? They work very well is the short answer. They are comfortable to wear - I have worn mine for up to six hours at a time with no problems.

The noise reduction is generally better than the Noisebusters, and about the same as the Bose, as best I recall. The Plane Quiet headset also reduces noise across a broader spectrum than do the Noisebusters, due to a combination of active noise reduction and passive sound blocking caused by the over-the-ear design.

The earlier Mark 2 model tested in June did not work very effectively with low frequencies, but the newer Mark 3 (September 03) model is incredibly improved in canceling out the lower frequencies, and listening tests now reveal excellent noise cancellation at all frequencies.

Some hiss from the electronics could be detected if there was no noise in the background (or music playing), similar to the Bose headphones. The background hiss was slightly lower in the newer model than in the original model, and now is almost not noticeable at all. The Noisebusters remain the quietest of all the headphone units tested to date, perhaps making them best for use in a relatively quiet environment (such as an office). But, of course, with a positive Catch-22 type situation, you wouldn't be using these headphones in a perfectly quiet environment, would you!

As soon as the environmental noise increases, so as to obscure the hiss in the headphones, the Plane Quiet set becomes superior in overall performance to the Noisebusters. The Plane Quiet claims a maximum of 17 dB noise reduction at 300 Hz, and lesser amounts of reduction the further away from this frequency sounds move.

With only a single on/off switch, plus a volume control (to adjust the music volume), they are very easy to use.

When playing music through them, the headphones proved to have good clean response, making listening a pleasure rather than a pain. The latest version of the Plane Quiet (the fifth version since initial release) had even better sound compared to the earlier versions I'd tested (Mark 2, 3 & 4), with much cleaner clearer sound and better high and low frequencies.

A word about sound quality

If you're listening to most MP3s or to airline sound systems, you're not getting good quality sound to start with, and so there is perhaps less need for 'studio reference quality' headphones to play back these imperfect sound sources than there would be if you were in a hushed studio and listening to a very high sampled rate digital playback. As such, it is fair to say both that the PQs are more than adequate for all normal uses and environments as well as that they provide an acceptably good quality sound for almost everyone, almost all the time.

Battery life depends on whether you're just using the headphones to quieten background sounds or if you're also playing music through them. A typical battery life, using them to play music, is 35 hours.

The unit will play music in a 'pass-through' mode if the battery is dead, but when turned on and with a live battery, it not only passes the music through but also offers some additional amplification. I have found this useful - when playing my Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 MP3 player through the Noisebusters or the Bose, even on maximum volume, sometimes the sound level is insufficient. When playing through the Plane Quiet headphones, it is possible to boost the volume up a bit further and always have plenty of sound to enjoy.

Other Issues

In earlier versions of the Plane Quiets, the left and right sides of the headphones, as marked, were incorrect. Listening to orchestral music, where one would normally expect the first violins to be on the left, consistently has them coming from right of center. This has now been corrected for the Mark 4 and 5 models.

The belt clip on the control unit is weak and immediately snapped out of its socket as soon as I clipped the unit to my belt. It was relatively easy to re-affix the clip to the unit, however, and gave me something to do on the otherwise boring flight!

Updates (please be sure to read the latest September update)

I first reviewed these headphones in June 03, and was pleased with them at that time, but passed some comments back to the manufacturer about potential improvements.

Less than three months later, all my suggestions have been acted upon. The Mark 3 Plane Quiet is appreciably improved in terms of sound quality and noise canceling, as well as in minor areas such as the ergonomics of the control box and plug.

Best of all, the price has not increased. Indeed, the manufacturer has agreed to offer a 5% discount to Travel Insider readers - simply type in the coupon code 'travelinsider' (without the quotes) to get a 5% discount.

Update again, December 2003 : These headphones just keep getting better! The manufacturer has now upgraded their warranty from a one year warranty to a lifetime warranty, have added a very convenient 'two to one' adapter, and have replaced the earlier flimsy carry bag with a much sturdier one that does a much better job of protecting the headphones.  I refer to these as the Mark 4 model headphones.

Update again, March 2004 :  I received a new pair of these headphones, which can be considered as the 'Mark 5' version.  The first pair I reviewed, back in May/June 03, were a Mark 2 version, then I subsequently reviewed their Mark 3 and Mark 4 versions.  Now they have released yet another 'silent upgrade' to the Mark 5 version.

Differences between the Mark 4 and 5 are subtle, but present.  In particular :

  • The Mark 5 has slightly less residual electronic hiss than the Mark 4. This is definitely a good thing.

  • The Mark 5 also offers a slightly higher sound level than the Mark 4 - perhaps 3dB extra.

  • There is a noticeably different sound coloration to the Mark 5 compared to the Mark 4.  The Mark 5 is much brighter, with stronger higher frequencies.

  • The Mark 5 is more comfortable to wear for an extended time.  The tension in the headband is not quite so strong, making them feel lighter on one's head.

The best news of all?  The price remains at the $79.99 price point, and the Travel Insider 5% discount remains on offer if you click through the links on this page direct to the Plane Quiet website and use the discount code TravelInsider when ordering.

An already great product has become even better.

Summary and Recommendation

This set of headphones - in its Mark 5 configuration - ranked as my favorite, out of all the headphones reviewed, in terms of value for money. The Bose may be a little more luxurious, and a little better built, but they also cost nearly four times as much, while giving almost no perceptible improvement in comfort or quality.

The new lower cost model NC-6 is an unknown, but two readers have raised troubling issues and the manufacturer is worried that a review of them may be negative.  Join those dots and it is fairly obvious what the implications are.

It is conceivable that you may, sooner or later, leave your headphones on a plane, or break them, as I did with my own Bose set. With an $80 cost (now reduced to only $70), the Plane Quiet unit can be replaced with no massive financial hardship, whereas shelling out another $300 is a much less convenient situation. Bose's $300 price point for something that, for some of us, is not a long lived product, will become increasingly impossible to justify as these new competing headphones become better known.

If you're on a tight budget, the $40 Noisebusters would be your best choice, but they have been out of production for over a year. Accordingly, the Plane Quiet headphones are not only the least expensive, but also, in nearly all respects, the best.

 

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Originally published 20 June 2003, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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