JVC HA-NC100 Noise-Canceling Headphones

Flying is brutal. And the cramped seat and substandard food aren't the only things that do you in. Noise is the unseen enemy. You may think you can merely adjust to it and ignore it—but that is physically impossible. Jet-turbine noise gives your eardrums and the other delicate parts of your inner ear a beating, and that messes up both your hearing and your sense of balance. That's why you often feel disoriented after a long flight. The wise traveler is therefore one who carries a good set of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds.

The JVC HA-NC100 is not quite a set of full-sized headphones. They cover most of the ear but do not completely enclose it. A hinge in the center of the headband allows them to fold into a shape that takes up about 40 percent less space in your purse or carry-on. If you want something smaller, consider the clip-on HA-NC70 ($60).

The HA-NC100 doesn't look half bad. The dark-grey-plastic finish is faintly lustrous. On the right side is the battery compartment, which requires a single AAA battery, rated to last 50 hours with the supplied alkaline. On the left side is the product's coolest feature, a retracting 60-inch cord terminated in a gold-plated version of the usual 1/8-inch miniplug. Hit the rewind button, and the cord snaps back into the headphone housing. The package also includes a soft carry pouch and airplane plug adapter.

Sound is adequate, bordering on very good, though, with aviation noise, closer to the former. Bass is on the light side, and there is a faint nasal coloration. Bose—though often derided for the sonics of its speakers—happens to make excellent headphones, and its $299 QuietComfort2 is the noise-canceling headphone to beat. It has better bass and more neutrality than the JVC. However, at $80, the HA-NC100 costs a quarter as much.

JVC vaguely specifies that these headphones provide 75 percent noise reduction. Of course, any noise-canceling headphone affects only the spectrum of noise that corresponds with the roar of engines, and because this model doesn't completely enclose the ear, a little of its effectiveness may be squandered that way, depending on the shape of your ear. Still, while it doesn't kill all the noise, it does make the level more tolerable.

If my much-abused ears are accompanying me on a plane, I'd rather have the JVCs than nothing at all. Their noise cancellation is certainly enough to make a difference between a miserable ear-numbing flight and a more tolerable flying experience. Anyone who gets on a plane needs a product like this, and JVC provides it at an excellent price. If you can afford to pay for a flight, you can afford to take these headphones along with you.

$80 at www.JVC.com

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater. For links to the latest edition, visit www.quietriverpress.com.