Noise cancelling headphones are something that most of us have heard of but – partially due to price – most people haven’t tried them out and are unsure what they are. At first look you’d think it was simple – block the ear and you can hear less. That type of noise cancelling does exist but the HC31’s use something called active noise reduction or ANR. Sound travels in waves and the interesting thing about waves is that you can cancel them out with an opposite wave. Headphones with ANR have a microphone and analyse sounds going on around them and put out an opposite waveform. For the listener, sounds seem to get quieter.
The difficulty comes in knowing which sounds to counteract – you want to cut down on that vacuum cleaner but not on the person talking to you. Different ANR systems have different frequency ranges and the HC31’s are aimed at low-frequency noises with total hertz or less than 1,500. That’s much of the noise made by aeroplanes, cars and engines and transport and machines in general.
So how well do the HC31’s work? They’re focused on lower end sounds and I was surprised by how well they worked to cut that down. I found the most obvious example was when hovering – the switch between on and off changed the level I was hearing by around half. There was similar if slightly less dramatic drop when on a bus or in a car – it doesn’t get rid of the engine and air noises but quietens it significantly. I wasn’t able to test them on an aeroplane but I’d expect a significant reduction in perceived sound. They didn’t cut out any medium or higher frequency sounds but I did find that where there was a lot of people talking and making noise that it was hushed and dampened slightly.
Using them to listen to music and spoken word was tolerable but not much more or less than I would have expected from an equivalently priced headset. The controls are heavy enough to be slightly annoying unless you clip them on but overall they’re usable.
Retailer: MyMemory or M2C Shop +
Price: ± £24.99 – £18
Panasonic is a Japanese multinational that is one of the worlds largest television manufacturers and has a revenue of over £20,00,000,000 in 2015 while employing over two hundred and fifty thousand worldwide. As well as televisions they make speakers, electronics from radios to satellites, airplane components, finance, agricultural equipment and an almost everything else you can think of. They operate under the brand names of Technics and Emersons and have over 500 wholly owned subsidiary companies.
The HC31’s look like a fairly normal pair of black headphones with a long cable with a matchbox stuck in the middle. This matchbox has a clip on and is where the microphone, power and controls for the ANR are stored. The Matchbox has the on-off switch on the side, a red LED that shows when it’s active, a volume dial and a large mute button that pauses the effect and your music. The earbuds are standard sculpted in-ear units and I found them relatively comfortable. The rubber on the buds is quite hard and Lily found them uncomfortable although I liked them.
I found the best way to use the unit was to have the matchbox clipped on my lapel so the microphone was unobstructed and the controls were easy to reach. The cable going to my phone was long enough to get from there to my pocket and the earphones had a fair amount of extra slack available.
If you’re not interested in noise cancellation you can still use the headphones as you would do normally.
The headset comes with three standard rubber tips, a double-headed adaptor that lets you plug into older style aeroplane seats and a small nylon bag.
At an available price of £18 the HC31’s are among the cheapest of noise cancelling headphones available. That’s because they only act on a relatively smaller portion of the sound spectrum with lower frequencies whereas most ANR systems have a much wider acceptable set of frequencies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on what you’re looking to cancel just be aware that they’re not as versatile as some.
Earphone type: Canal Type Noise Cancelling Headphones
Claimed reduction in sound: 83% reduction
Controls: Push to Hear Button, volume control
Battery Life: Approx. 50H with AAA Alkaline claimed – I found it more like 40
Drive Unit (diam. in mm): 10.7
Impedance (Ohm) / 1KHz : 20.0
Sensitivity (dB/mW) : 100.0
Max Input (mW) : 50.0
Frequency Response (Hz – KHz) : 8Hz-22kHz
Cord Length (m) : 1.7m
Weight with cord: and controller
Plug Type: Gold
Magnet Type: Neodium
The active noise cancellation requires a single AAA battery that is not included with the unit. It also requires a phone or MP3 player with a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Panasonic RP-HC31 Noise Cancelling Headphones are amongst the cheapest noise cancelling headphones that you get from a recognised manufacturer. They pay for that by be only being able to filter out one range of sound – the lowest rumbling and background noise. That frequency of noise is the sound that we want to block out most frequently when we’re travelling – it’s cars, busses, trains and aeroplanes. If you’re looking for budget headphones to wear when travelling the HC31’s would be a good choice but for day to day listening look elsewhere.
The review is based on the Panasonic RP-HC31 Noise Cancelling Headphones kindly provided by MyMemory. Read more about Ergohacks’ eco and access icons used in reviews. This article was first published on 21st September 2016.