Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphone review (MDR-ZX770BN)

I’ve never spent money on headphones. That’s a lie, when I was like 13 I had a R100 Musica voucher which I used to buy a R150 set of headphones. They were great (nope)! I had to replace the headphone jack, and battle trying to solder those stupid coated wires they love to use in headphones. And then I had to do more soldering when the joints to the speaker itself got damaged. Thankfully after my 3rd year in university I got to stay in a room by myself, and was able to upgrade to a ‘decent’ set of speakers.

Anyway, basically I’ve never bothered about decent headphones. I could never warrant spending R1,000+ on a set of headphones, when my speakers cost less than that. Fast-forward several years, I’m earning a good salary. I have a lot of flying coming up. I despise airplane headphones. Emirates are okay, but Etihad, Lufthansa and Swiss Air are still using headphones that came with Walkmans in the 80s. I figure if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. Then, after much searching, I find out that South Africa has a very poor selection when it comes to Noise Cancelling headphones. Like seriously poor. All I could find in East London were Beats (R4,000), and the guy in store wasn’t sure if any of their headphones had noise cancelling. He did show me a headset with a microphone that had noise-cancelling though, that was nice, totally what I was looking for.

These are not acceptable airlines.

So I decide to las it, stick to my ‘newly’ acquired R250 earphones (I got them in 2012, they’re still going strong, I don’t know how). Then I end up in Germany. Then I find out the allowance work pays is actually higher than what we had been paid out. This means I have ‘spare’ cash. They give us a set amount every day regardless of what we do with, if we don’t spend it, we can keep it, I saw it like a bonus. Time to do some shopping.

Man, the selection on offer was amazing. And I’ve found the same thing in the US. Prices were probably a bit cheaper than in SA. But the biggest difference is just sheer volume of choice. I visited the local Media Markt in Sindelfingen, quite a large store to begin with, and they have a wall covered in headphones. Brands I’d never heard of and more models than I’d ever seen before from brands I did know. So now the problem became choice. I limited myself by budget. But I still had a hard time trying to choose.

After much umming and ahhing, some online research, a return visit and a final count of my spare Euros, I settled on the Sony MDR-ZX770BN. And I am mostly happy.

Actual Review starts

I paid just over Euro 200 for a demo unit. It’s a wireless headset with Bluetooth (BT) connectivity, noise-cancelling (NC), a built-in mic and over-ear design (I can’t handle on-ear headphones). It comes with a volume rocker, and music playback control (all on the RHS earpiece). All of which works beautifully with my Android cellphone and tablet and surprisingly my windows based laptop as well.

Although wireless, it does come with a 1.2m audio cable which you can plug in. it has 3.5mm jacks on both ends, so shouldn’t be hard to replace if it gets damaged. While plugged in the battery will still be used for NC. If the battery dies, you can still use the headphones, just without NC functionality.Plugging the headphones in to charge immediately turns off Bluetooth and NC. But you can continue to use the headphones via the 3.5mm jack while charging, sans NC. In this review, the presenter mentions you can’t turn off the NC while listening with the cable. But you can. By just turning off the headphones.

On the left ear you find the 3.5mm plug and micro-USB charging port, along with the power and noise-cancelling buttons. NC is on by default, with the option to turn it off or ‘retune’ it. It has 3 different settings, and when requested will monitor background noise and select the ‘best’ setting.

Noise cancellation is interesting. When not listening to anything, and NC is on, I can hear a slight white-noise. Turning NC off, turns this sound off as well. Now I understand the concept of NC well enough, and don’t have enough experience with other headphones to know whether this is normal or not. It is an obvious noise however, that I will turn off NC off when listening to podcasts in a quiet environment.My only other complaint of any measure is the power button that I find mildly infuriating. It’s a very wide button, but it only works if you press it dead-centre. So often when I go for it on the side of my head, I’ll press down off-centre, and not be met with the customary ping of a successful power-up. Annoying, but not a deal-breaker.

Besides that I’ve been very happy with the headphones. The insulation is not perfect, but does a good initial job of removing background noise. Sound quality met my expectations and volume capability is far beyond what is needed. Honestly the wireless aspect has actually been a bigger thing for me than the NC. The NC is just a bonus that, in the right situation, works a treat.

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling and rough handling of the headphones over the last 6-months, and they’ve taken it like a champ. Just as good today as the day I bought them.

The speakers also have built in NFC connectivity which lets you link your compatible phone to them without any effort on your side. I didn’t initially get this to work, but retrying it now, it couldn’t have been easier.

As to the battery life, I have been happy with it. Only times I’ve been dropped are at home when I’ve just neglected to charge it. Claimed battery life is 19 hours BT on, sans NC, or 13 hours with NC. 24 hours with BT off but NC on. I don’t think I get that, but I did take a demo unit which could have been on the shelf for months.

I do wish there was an easy way to select which device it’d connect to at startup, as it always connects to the previous device. And if I’m not sure what device that is, it requires some scurrying around trying to find my tablet to disconnect it, or open the proper dialogue box on my laptop. The NFC with my phone does negate this to a certain extent, as I can always connect it to my phone immediately.

Sony also sell the same headphones without the NC for about $100 less.

End Review

The next day, in another shop, I tried on a top of the range set of Bose headphones, oh my goodness they were fantastic. Completely insulated sound, and amazing performance. While it made me a bit sad about my new purchase, their 400+ Euro price tag kept them way out of the range of me even considering them. Maybe one day, probably not.

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