Sony MDR-100ABN

21 days.

21 days since I put on these wireless headphones, standing in the kitchen right next to the fridge, switched the phones on and realized the fridge was suddenly gone. Filtered out. Cancelled, I should probably say.

How I got here

I did not dare believe in the wonders of noise cancelling headphones until I tried my dad's Bose ones on a car trip. The car noise disappeared while voices remained but clearly dampened and weakened. I could lower the volumes on podcasts and still hear them clearly. There was no doubt in my mind: I wanted some good noise cancelling headphones for myself. They did seem darn expensive though, and with my Iphone 7 I also knew it was time to step into the world of Bluetooth which is never cheaper and more reliable than a good old yankable wire. I kept thinking, and kept glancing at the higher end of the headphone shelves whenever I walked past one, but those last 1000 crowns always kept me away.

Happily, the world of big electronics barns works in unpredictable ways. The MDR-100 showed up right next to the much more chunkily-named MDR-1000, seemingly with all the same specs yet a lot cheaper (and also significantly below suggested retail price). After finding some glowing reviews, I pulled out my card plus a gift certificate I had saved for just this occasion. With the gift certificate I ended up paying about the same as I did for my Jaybirds. Now that I have used them for a while, I can confidently say they are worth the suggested price too.

(By the way, I still have not figured out what in particular the MDR-1000 does better. Nor do I care much anymore.)

Physicalities

The MDR-100 are over-ear phones, and they sit very comfortably on my head and over my ears. Like Bose's noise cancelling ones, the fit is very tight, using some kind of foam which forms very closely without pressing anywhere. Isolation is therefore pretty good from physical design alone. Bluetooth works as well as Bluetooth can and is as easy to manage as it can be. No more, no less. Range is better than my Jaybirds, but sometimes sound goes screwy for a few seconds seemingly without reason. You can also connect with a detachable audio cable, which is what I always want for podcasting. Charging is over micro-USB only.

Bucking all kinds of stupid trends, the headphones feature honest-to-diety-of-choice physical buttons for quick control. On the left is a slightly convex button to toggle noise cancellation and a flush button which you click to get told the battery level or hold down to power on and off. On the right is a clicker for volume and a button which you can depress to toggle play/pause, hold down for Siri and push up or down to skip forward or back. I use play/pause every now and then, but the volume clicker is the one I use all the time. Both it and play/pause are distinct enough to use with gloves, and every single button is easy to tell from the others by feel. How about that? The only surprise I have had is managing to skip back or forward by brushing the button when adjusting the collar of a jacket or coat. That rare accident is a very low price to pay for such good controls.

But on to the main attractions: being wireless and having noise cancellation.

Wirelessness

Wireless headphones are not quite a revelation. It is more a case where you use a good pair for a while and realize your bar for "good enough" has been irrevocably raised. Cords work so well, but they get stuck. They get tangled up. They pull things to the floor. And they break in various ways. In sharp contrast to my Jaybirds, the MDR-100's have room for decent batteries. They last long enough that I have yet to run into a battery warning, and I get by with charging them for a while whenever I remember to.

Noise cancellation

Man. Oh man. It is addicting. I may think a room is pretty quiet, but every time I take the phones off after wearing them for a while, a flood of sounds comes rushing in. When noise cancellation is active, there is always a quiet white noise in the background. The impression I get is that when I switch cancellation on, all background sounds get squished down into that one gentle white noise. Refrigerators, air conditioners, the rumble of distant traffic, the hum of radiators, the thuds of neighbors … all gone.

Sometimes I feel silly when I realize I have been sitting around wearing headphones without listening to anything. With noise cancellation, it is suddenly an end and an experience of its own. A quieter world.

Um, yes. Hooked. Four stars, would buy again. Kind of missing now that I have not worn them for twenty minutes, easily.