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Powerfully reclaiming its market leadership at the mid-range level, Plane Quiet's latest noise cancelling headset is a bargain priced winner.

Light weight and affordable, the NC7 trounces its competitors in almost all respects.

 
 
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Plane Quiet NC-7  Noise Cancelling Headset



Plane Quiet's latest NC-7 headphones are the smallest they've released yet.

But although they're small, they provide excellent noise cancellation and high quality audio.

If Plane Quiet's higher end $200 Solitude headphones don't appeal, the NC7 alternative, with a much more moderate list price of $80 are probably exactly what you're looking for.

Part 13 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve  Thirteen

 

 

Active noise reducing headphone design seems to be evolving into three clear categories - 'in the ear' type earbuds, 'on the ear' type compact headphones, and 'around the ear' full size headphones.

Here now is the latest 'on the ear' product from Plane Quiet - their NC7, which is very much smaller and lighter than their previous Plane Quiet NC6 headphones (which the NC7 now supersedes and replaces)

Although much smaller and seemingly flimsier than the earlier NC6 product, the new NC7 is similarly comfortable to wear and slightly better at both noise cancellation and sound reproduction.

An interesting comparison is with Bose's new QC3 noise cancelling headset.  The NC7 tests to be almost as good as the QC3, and its $80 price is massively different to the ridiculous $350-450 price of the Bose product.

What You Get

The $79.95 headphones are packed into an outer box.  Inside the outer box is an inner carry case.

The carry case is a convenient and reasonably sturdy case made out of some type of stiffened fabric.  It unzips on three sides and hinges open on the fourth side, and when opened reveals the headphones in the bottom of the case and a zipper mesh pouch velcroed to the inside top of the case.

Inside this pouch is the patch cable to connect the headphones to an audio source, a 1/4" gold adapter (to connect to eg a home stereo system) and a dual prong airline adapter.

An AAA battery is also provided for the headphones.  This is claimed to give at least 14 hours of operation, and happily, when the battery dies, the headphones will still play music normally in 'pass through' mode; they just won't add the noise cancelling.

A short instruction booklet explains the few things that one needs to understand about operating the headphones.

The headphones come complete with Plane Quiet's excellent lifetime warranty.

Description

The headphones at first appear to be cheap and insubstantial.  Only a very thin headband with a couple of strips of padding connect the two ear pieces, and the earpieces swivel loose at the end of the headband arms.

There are three sets of folding hinges to allow the headphones to fold very compactly for traveling - a main hinge in the center of the headband and two hinges halfway down each side of the headband.  This degree of folding adds further to the insubstantial feel of the headphones.

But when one examines the headphones carefully, the initial impression of their insubstantialness is replaced by an appreciation of their clever engineering and minimalist design.  The wobbly earpieces, for example, use their freedom of movement to fit snuggly against your ears, and the various hinges are held securely in their open position when on your head.

One is still left with the feeling that the headphones don't look as impressive as, for example, the Solitude or Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headphones, but so what?  If you want large full sized 'around the ear' headphones, then you'll choose the Solitude or QC2 headphones.

And if you want the smallest possible 'on the ear' headphones, you'll find the NC7 to be the smallest serious contender alternative to the Bose QC3, and priced at less than a quarter the cost of the QC3.

The headphones are light as well as small.  Their 'on the head' weight is a mere 2.5 ounces, and the total weight of the complete headphone kit, in its carry case, is only 7.8 ounces.

Due to the very small size of the headphones, the battery and circuitry are in a separate control box which is at the other end of a 3' cord.  The cord is hard wired into both the headphones and control box.

The control box has space for the single AAA battery that powers the headphones' noise cancelling circuitry, an On/Off switch with a power on LED indicator, and a volume control.  The volume control adjusts the level of audio that is heard through the headphones but does not adjust the noise quietening - that stays at maximum whenever it is switched on.

Needless to say, you should normally always keep the volume set at maximum.  Setting it lower just wastes battery power in your audio source - it has to work harder to create unwanted extra volume which is then diverted by the headphones volume control.  So if the sound is too loud, keep the headphone volume at maximum and simply reduce the volume at the audio source.

You should only use the volume control if two people are listening to the same audio source and one wants a higher volume through their headphones than the other.

There's a sensibly designed clip for carrying the control box on your belt.

A 32" connector cable is supplied to run between the control box and your audio source.  Although the cable has a regular 1/8" plug at one end (for connecting to the audio source) it has a less common 3/32" plug at the other end (for connecting to the control box).  A cable with this combination of plugs is harder to find in electronics accessory stores, but unlike the connecting cable for Bose products, is at least not an impossibility to obtain and can also be purchased from Plane Quiet for $5 or $6 (rather than the $15 that Bose seeks to charge for their replacement cables).

Using the NC7 headphones

The NC7 headphones are easy to use and give good results.

Ear placement is fairly critical.  Because the pads which fit on your ears are fairly small, it is important to get them so they provide as good a seal as possible from the external noises, but once this is done the headphones quickly become unobtrusive on your head and even their noticeable hiss in a quiet environment becomes overlooked.

The sound quality is rich, although perhaps it favors the mid and lower (but not lowest) ranges more than it does the higher ranges.  The sound seems to be better than the larger previous model NC6 headphones.  Although with regular loudspeakers it is an acceptable rule of thumb to say that the larger the speakers, the better the sound, this does not apply with headphones, where even minutely sized speakers can produce stunning sounds.

Noise cancelling is very good.  It is not quite as good as the around-the-ear Solitudes ($200) or Bose QC2s ($300), but is almost as good as the similar on-the-ear Bose QC3s ($350+).  For most of us, a set of headphones that are almost as good as headphones costing two and a half times as much - or more - has to be seen as a compelling value proposition.

One thing to keep in mind with noise reducing headphones is that many people break or lose their headphones sooner than they would with regular 'keep at home' headphones.  Maybe you leave the headphones on a flight; maybe you sit on them, or in some other way damage them.  For such people, it is vastly preferable to risk damaging/losing a less expensive $80 set of headphones than a $200 and up set of headphones, and a very small sacrifice in noise cancelling is acceptable as part of this compromise.

Plane Quiet NC7 Compared to the Bose QC3

Amazing as it may seem, perhaps the closest comparable product to the $80 NC7 is the Bose QC3, priced at $350 and up.

The Bose QC3 headphones are considerably larger and heavier than the Plane Quiet NC-7 headphones (on the head weight of 5.2 oz compared to 2.5 oz), and so too is the Bose complete kit in its carry case much heavier than the Plane Quiet one (15.7 oz compared to 7.8 oz).  As you can see, the Bose carry case also takes up about two thirds more space than the Plane Quiet carry case.

These size and weight issues are not overwhelmingly important, but are definitely a factor to keep in mind.  With airlines getting increasingly tough about the size and weight of carry-on bags, anything that can reduce the burden of things you already take with you is a valuable bonus.

In terms of noise cancelling, the Bose headphones are slightly better than the Plane Quiet headphones.  They are appreciably better at passive noise cancelling, and so even if their active noise cancelling isn't quite as good, overall they edge slightly ahead of the PQ headphones.  Their background hiss when they are switched on is also better than the PQ NC7 headphones.

In terms of sound quality, the two headphones perform very similarly.  There may be a slight difference in favor of the Bose, but this is not something that would be normally noticeable in usual listening environments.  Their sound level/efficiency is closely comparable.

In terms of comfort, the Bose headphones have larger softer earpads.  This makes them more comfortabl to initially place on your ears, and also appreciably improves the passive noise blocking of the Bose headphones compared to the Plane Quiets.  Both sets of headphones have similar pressure against the ears.

But on the other hand, the lighter weight of the NC7 headphones means there's less sensation of having something on your head, and during my time test wearing the NC7 headphones, I several times forgot I was wearing them.  On the other hand, although the initial sensation, when placing the QC3 headphones on my ears was more comfortable than placing the NC7 headphones on my ears, as time passed, the extra weight of the QC3s became increasingly apparent and whereas the NC7s became less and less noticeable, the QC3s became more and more noticeable.

For short flights, the QC3s may be a better choice, but for longer flights the NC7s will be equally comfortable.

The NC7 uses a single regular AAA battery, which has a quoted life of a minimum of 14 hours.  The QC3 uses a rechargeable battery with a quoted maximum life of 20 hours.  The NC7 still plays music without a battery, but the QC3 does not - a major weakness of the Bose design.

The NC7 has a lifetime warranty.  The QC3 has a one year warranty.

The other point of difference is, ahem, the cost.  The Plane Quiet NC-7 headphones are $80.  The Bose QC-3 headphones are $350, and if you add the recommended accessories to the order, you're spending $450.

Overall, the Bose headphones are larger and heavier, about the same in audio reproduction quality and comfort, and slightly better in terms of noise cancelling.

Does this closely balanced mix of pluses and minuses justify the difference in price between $80 and $350-450?  Almost certainly not.  You can buy four or five sets of the NC7s for the same price as one set of the QC3s.

Where to Buy the NC7 Headphones

The Plane Quiet NC7 headphones can be purchased directly either from Plane Quiet's website - Pro Travel Gear.

If you use the 'travelinsider' discount code (ie the word travelinsider) you'll get a 5% discount off the price.

Summary

Plane Quiet's earlier products have won our annual Best Travel Technology Product awards for three years in a row (2003, 2004 and 2005).

Their new $80 NC7 product seems like a strong contender for the 2006 title.  The NC7 is better than its predecessor, the NC6, and in almost every respect matches or beats the extravagantly priced new Bose QC3 competing headphones ($350-450).

Some readers will prefer an around-the-ear design and so will choose the Solitude ($200) or Bose QC2 ($300) headphones, but if you want a small lightweight set of on-the-ear headphones at a great value point, then you can't make a better choice than the Plane Quiet NC7.

 

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Originally published 25 Aug 2006, 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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