Plane Quiet NC-6 Headset
noise cancelling headphones
The new model NC6 noise cancelling headphones from Plane
Quiet look very different to the previous five versions.
But, although looking different to earlier PQ models,
they look almost identical to other brands of headphones out
Part 8 of a series on noise
reducing headphones -
click for Parts One
A new version of the Plane
Quiet headphones, and now $25 less than the previous version!
Sounds almost too good to be
true. Happily - for most people in most situations - the new NC-6 headphones work
better than the earlier Mark 5 version, and with a $25 saving in
price, they are even more a great value than ever before.
But, although an improvement
over the Mk 5 in terms of both price and performance, it seems
they no longer are clearly a market leader. An almost
identical product is available under at least six other brand
Fortunately, Plane Quiet's
pricing is comparable to and sometimes better than that of its
Now (Aug 31 2006) superseded by the
Plane Quiet's History
The Plane Quiet brand of
noise reducing headphones appeared in about May of 2003,
and we first reviewed them six weeks later. Since
that time, their product was repeatedly improved and enhanced,
while still retaining the same distinctive around-the-ear
(rather than on-the-ear) design, and the same (then great value)
$79.99 price point, and we've updated
our original review to reflect these changes.
The NC-6 was released in
August 2004. They are very
different in all respects to the previous Plane Quiet models. We are
guessing - and informally understand - that Plane Quiet grew to such
success and prominence with its earlier product range that it
attracted the ire of Bose; and apparently Bose lodged some sort
of patent infringement lawsuit against Plane Quiet.
Bose definitely have deeper pockets than Plane Quiet, and so PQ chose
to withdraw their earlier design of noise cancelling headphone
rather than dispute the lawsuit.
What You Get
The NC6 noise cancelling
headphones come in a nice small and easily opened plastic
box. Inside are the headphones themselves, a leatherette carry pouch,
a two-pronged airline adapter plug, and an included AAA battery.
There is no warranty card or
warranty information, and no manual, although in reality, the
headphones are easy to understand and use without the need for a
Interestingly, the display
card inside the plastic box claims 'up to 15dB reduction in
noise', whereas the Plane Quiet website claims 'up to 17dB
reduction in noise'. It is very hard to measure actual
noise reduction, and so suppliers can and sometimes do exercise
a bit of 'poetic license' in their claims, particularly when
adding the qualifier 'up to'.
Quiet offer an unusually generous lifetime warranty on the NC6
headphones. If you buy the headphones direct from Plane
Quiet's website, there is also a 15 day return policy, albeit
a 15% restocking fee. If you buy from Travel Essentials,
you get a much more generous return policy and no restocking fee
- and a lower price, too!
The new NC6 headphones are
smaller and lighter than their predecessors. They have a
4.6 ounce 'on the head' weight.
Perhaps the most significant
design difference is the soft ear pads rest on your ear, rather
than fitting around the ear.
The headphones look 'cheap'
in terms of the fit and finish of the plastic they are made
from, and don't seem to be manufactured to as high a standard as
the earlier models. One of the incontrovertible features
of the $300 Bose Quiet Comfort II headphones is that they look
the part - they are built to a very high quality. In
comparison, the NC6 units don't look so upmarket (but their
price is only one fifth that of the Quiet Comfort headphones, so
this is only to be expected).
These new headphones replace
the control box on the connector cord with a battery box built
into one side of the headband and a single on/off switch and LED
on the right side headphone surround.
There is no longer a volume
control, but this is not necessary if you're listening to
anything by yourself. A volume control is a nicety if you
are listening to a sound source simultaneously with a friend, in
which case you can both set the volume level you personally
My first testing was in my
office, as soon as I received a set. I compared them with
the earlier Mark 5 product, and was disappointed. The
noise cancellation (primarily of multiple computer sounds and
air conditioning) seemed no better, and the background hiss
noise from the electronics was appreciably louder, more broadly
distributed across the entire spectrum, and quite objectionable.
Fortunately I persevered,
and took both them and a set of earlier Mk 5 headphones with me on a 12 hour flight between Los Angeles
and Auckland. On the 747, the NC-6 clearly out-performed
the Mk 5. It provided appreciably better noise reduction,
particularly in the lower frequencies. I found, when using
the Mk 5s, that after they had cancelled out the mid
frequencies, there remained an annoying low frequency noise that
I hadn't noticed before. The NC-6 unit however cancelled
out the low frequency noise as well, and was superior at
reducing the background noises in all low, mid and upper
The remaining din of the airplane
sounds drowned out the hiss created by the NC-6, making this
much les of an issue in a noisy environment.
The passive noise
cancellation caused simply by putting the headphones on was
similar with both units; with the bigger difference being
created when the active noise cancellation circuitry was
Music and speech
reproduction was satisfactorily good. As commented
elsewhere, noisy environments are not the best environment to
enjoy highest fidelity sound, and injecting 'anti-noise' further
detracts from the purity of signal. However, sound quality
was at least as good as the Mk 5 product.
The battery life is fairly
short. The unit uses a single AAA battery. Plane
Quiet claim a minimum of 14 hours use; while my own testing was
imprecise, it seems to me that 14 hours is more like a maximum
than a minimum. Make sure you take one or two spare
batteries with you.
The unit does still feed
through the music you are listening to if the battery dies, so
worst case scenario is simply that you lose the active noise
cancellation, but can still use the headphones as regular
The NC6 has a regular plug
at the end of its cord, plus a two prong airline adapter
provided separately. Their earlier idea of a single
connector with both types of plugs built in was a great idea in
theory, but many readers have reported problems in practice with
its greater bulk, such that they'd sometimes bend or snap it off
accidentally. So a return to the standard approach to plug
design is probably a positive thing. Of course, if you
forget to unplug your headphones before getting up from your
seat, you run the risk of damaging the cord at one end or the
other, no matter what design connector there is.
Comfort and Convenience
The NC-6 have two new design
features compared to earlier versions of the Plane Quiet
product. The first is an elastic type headband that adds
another variable to how to position the headphones on your head.
After some fiddling, it
ended up not making a profound difference in comfort one way or
the other compared to a regular non-elastic headband. It
didn't make the headphones any less comfortable, but didn't
appreciably seem to make them any more comfortable either.
The other new feature is
their double folding, reducing them into a more compact unit for
carrying than their predecessors. It might take you a
minute or two to work out how to fold them up for the first
time, but it is quite a simple process and enables the
headphones to take up less of the precious space in your
Wearing the headphones for
an extended time during my 12 hour flights to/from New Zealand
showed them to be perfectly comfortable in use.
Noise Reducing headphones -
It has long struck me as
bizarre that you can buy an entire fully featured DVD player
(and many other electronic items) for about $50-60, and regular
headphones without noise cancellation for $10-20, but when noise
cancellation is added, the price leaps up, ending up potentially
costing as much as $300.
As the technology gets sold
in greater quantities, it seemed likely that the price premium
would drop, and this is now definitely occurring.
Plane Quiet started the
trend to lower pricing with their original product last year.
Since that time, prices have continued to drop, and the
cheapest Coby product is now being sold for a mere $15.
Unlike many other types of
consumer electronics, however, the difference in performance
between different noise cancelling headphones is very apparent.
While most people can't tell the difference between a $50 or a
$500 (or even a $5000) CD or DVD player, most of us can tell the
difference between good and bad active noise canceling (even if we
might then disagree on the sound quality of the music playing
through the headset).
is improving in the cheaper units and the performance gap is
narrowing between the top end and bottom end of the market. We predict it
won't be long before even price leader Bose feels compelled to
drop its $300 price - as best we can guess, their underlying
product cost is only about $5-10 different to that of noise
reducing headphones that sell for $50, and so they sure could
(and perhaps should)
drop their price.
I'd probably even willingly
pay $100 for the Bose QC-2, but until that happy day, there's no
way I'll pay $300 for a product only marginally better than
competitors now priced at only one fifth the Bose price.
The sooner that Bose's
patents expire, the better. I'm reminded of wine bottle
openers that used an innovative technology to quickly and easily
remove corks - this patented technology sold for $125-150.
The patent has now expired, and similar products can be found for
under $20. Doubtless when all Bose's patents finally expire,
we'll see noise cancelling headphones drop in the same manner.
Similar Units to the Plane
Perhaps the most surprising
similar unit is now sold by Plane Quiet itself!
Subsequent to the release of their NC6 headphones, they released
a lower priced product that is almost identical in appearance,
what they are terming their
Plane Quiet Latitude
noise reducing headphones.
These list on their website for $29.99. We have tested a
set of the Latitude headphones and they are definitely inferior to
the NC-6 (or, perhaps I put it the other way - the NC-6 is
This clarifies an
interesting point. Some people have been assuming that if
a competing set of headphones looks the same from an external
appearance point of view, it must therefore sound the same from
a performance and internal electronics point of view as well.
Plainly, this is not the
case at all, and when evaluating the various other products out
there, it is important to realize that these other products are
as likely to provide an inferior Latitude type level of
performance as they are to provide the superior NC6 level of
Smarter Image sell an
identical looking product - their 'FJ450 Noise Cancellation
Headphones' - for $49.95, but this has only a short warranty
period with it. If you also buy a three year replacement
guarantee for $11.95, you end up paying $61.90 - more than the
$54.99 list price of the Plane Quiet product which comes complete
with a lifetime warranty.
Radio Shack sell an
identical looking product - their '33-1218 Noise-Canceling
Foldable Stereo Headphones' - for $49.99 (currently on special
for $39.99). The RS website
is unclear about the length of warranty, and offers to sell an
extended warranty, but for an unspecified price. The RS
headphones also do not come with a battery included, and so, to
compare apples with apples, probably end up being more expensive than the Plane Quiet product
(or comparable when on special).
I bought and tested a pair
of the Radio Shack headphones. They were very much poorer
than the NC-6 headphones, and more comparable to the $29.99
Jensen makes a
product - their Jensen Noise-Canceling Headphones JNC-50 - that
also seems identical. This product sells for prices
ranging from a low of about $24 up to a high of about $50,
making it as little as half the price of the NC-6.
Virgin Pulse makes a
product - their Virgin VP1000 Noise Canceling Headphones - that
also seems identical. This is available from Target for
$39.99 and reportedly is sometimes sold at discounted prices
below this. (Update Mar 05 : Virgin Electronics has
gone out of business.)
Noisebuster makes a
product - their new NB-FX Noise
Canceling Headphones (link is to our review) that seems
identical. This lists for $69.00.
Earhugger makes a
product - the EH1420NC - that
also looks, ahem, extremely similar. This lists for only $49.99,
but can often be found for less. Warranty policy is
unclear, as is if a battery is supplied or not.
Creative Labs make a
product - their HN-505. This lists for $39.99 and claims
up to 15dB of noise reduction. No details on warranty or
if a battery is included.
What Plane Quiet Says About the
Plane Quiet advise there are two important areas of difference between their
headphones and similar appearing units from other suppliers.
acknowledging that these similar appearing units are made by the
same supplier in China, they claim that although the external
design is similar, the internal functionality of their product
is superior due to their strong relationship with the supplier.
This claim is born out by
the difference between their own two products - the NC6 and the
But is Plane Quiet likely to
have a stronger relationship with a supplier than Radio Shack or Sharper Image
such that their product is better than that sold to these other
The only way to adequately evaluate this claim is to do side by side testing, which we'll do in a further part of this
Plane Quiet's second
response is easier to understand. They dropped the price
of their product to $59.99 (down from their initial asking price
of $69.99) when this controversy first erupted into the open in
our user forums. And then they further dropped the price
(in January 2005), which is now $54.99
Where to Buy
Plainly, an obvious choice
to buy the NC6 headphones is direct from Plane Quiet's retail
Travel Gear. They list for $54.99 and if you use
the discount code 'TravelInsider' (without quotes) when
ordering, you'll get a 5% discount, reducing your cost to
Alternatively, you might
prefer to buy them from
Travel Essentials. They have a lower list price -
$52.95 - and also offer a 5% discount with the same 'TravelInsider'
discount code (without the quotes), reducing your cost to
$50.30. Travel Essentials also has a considerably more
liberal return policy, and unlike Pro Travel Gear, doesn't
charge a restocking fee either.
One more reason (!) to buy
from Travel Essentials : They also offer free shipping on
all orders over $100, whereas Pro Travel Gear forces you to
choose between either free shipping or the 5% discount on orders
Update 22 November
Plane Quiet have now
introduced a lower priced product - the
Latitude - priced at
$40 (Jan 05 = now $30) and offering a maximum of 12dB noise reduction (compared to
15-17dB claimed for the NC-6). The headphones are of the
same basic physical design as the NC-6 and have the same
Testing confirmed that the
NC6 very definitely outperforms the Latitude in terms of noise
canceling and general sound quality. Our feeling is that for
only a few dollars more, the NC-6 is probably the better value for most people.
However, if you're looking for a very low priced 'entry level'
set of noise reducing headphones - perhaps as gifts for children
- you'd be hard pressed to find a better price/performance
product than this.
Update 25 January
The Latitude headphones have
dropped in price and now are only $29.99, and the NC6 have also
been lowered to $54.99.
Further update - at some
subsequent point, the Latitude headphones were discontinued
Summary and Recommendation
The new Plane Quiet NC-6
headphones offer improved noise cancellation in noisy
environments (such as on a plane) but their higher level of
background hiss make them less effective in quieter environments
(such as in an office).
Wherever you choose to
purchase them, at a price little over $50, including battery
and lifetime warranty, they are fairly and usually much better priced, compared
to the other similar products from other suppliers.
We accordingly recommend
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29 Oct 2004, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.