Review: Macally Noise Reduction & Retractable Headphones
[See individual reviews for ratings and Pros and Cons.]
Though new to the iPod market, Macally has been selling accessories for Apple’s Macintosh computers for years. We’ve had a chance to test their newest products, ranging from headphones to cases to power chargers, and are breaking them up into two short collective reviews, one for headphones and one for the other accessories.
Noise Reduction Headphones
If you’re trying to stick to the all-white iPod theme with your accessories, Macally’s new Noise Reduction Headphones are as good a set of white ear-cup style headphones as we’ve seen. Neatly foldable and including a zippered soft leather carrying case, these headphones pull off the “big white things on your head” look a bit more credibly than the recent Bluetake BT420 headphones we reviewed.
We’ve tested a number of different noise reduction headphones, including a comparably priced pair from Plane Quiet and a considerably more expensive pair of Bose QuietComforts, and each of these products shares similar characteristics: they use large earcups to passively isolate your ears from some quantum of external sound, and noise sampling and reduction technology to actively cancel as much additional mid- to low-range external sound as possible. While the headphones can be used without noise reduction turned on, additional batteries (two AAs) are needed to provide extra power for that feature.
We weren’t impressed by Plane Quiet’s headphones, which though comparably priced to Macally’s felt cheap, looked cheaper, and delivered mediocre audio quality and noise reduction. Macally’s Noise Reduction Headphones are better on almost every count. The mostly white earcups, gray headband and black soft leather ear cushions work well together aesthetically, feel solid enough to justify the price, and fit well on our ears. Batteries are inserted into the right earcup, while a Noise Reduction dial, red “active” led, and On/Off switch are on the left. The controls are easy to access, and look professional. A volume adjustment knob is included on the headphone cable.
With noise reduction off, they deliver clean and reasonably balanced audio that is tilted towards the midrange and bass notes, though there’s also enough treble response to satisfy most listeners. We heard enough depth of sound to clearly discern several layers in our test songs - better than our results with most low-priced headphones - and felt quite satisfied overall by the sound quality.
Like most other noise canceling headphones, Macally’s headphones do a good job of screening out really low rumbling sounds (like airplane and car engines) when the active noise reduction switch is turned on, but high-pitched and midrange ambient sounds (everything from wind to car tires to voices) are still audible with the headphones and noise reduction on. While this is fine for airplane travel - the most frequently recommended application of noise-reducing headphones, and the reason Macally includes a two-prong airplane adapter for the stereo jack - don’t expect the Noise Reduction Headphones to eliminate noise everywhere. In our opinion, the nicest thing about Macally’s On/Off switch is that it provides a bit of treble and bass boost when flipped on, adding some extra thump and apparent crispness to the music that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Overall, Macally’s Noise Reduction Headphones are affordable headphones that sound good and match the iPod. You’ll have to decide whether the big white earcup look is right for your needs, but if it is, these are entirely satisfactory options.
Pros: Good sound quality, build quality and look.
Cons: Noise reduction has limited utility, white earcups may not meet your fashion needs.
We have less to say about Macally’s Retractable Headphones, which are the second pair of iPod-matching retractable earbuds we’ve tested. You may recall that JAVOedge’s pair didn’t work out so well for us, with a cheap spring mechanism that never seemed to work and instantly resulted in a messy tangle.
Macally’s product is different in a few ways: it’s noticeably larger than JAVOedge’s product, but not offensively so, and only retracts from one end - the headphone side. The stereo headphone jack is at the end of a spring shaped cable that roughly doubles in length when stretched. In between the two halves of cable is a spring-loaded box with a decent belt clip mounted on back. Finally, Macally includes two sets of green foam earbud covers - not a great color, but then, they won’t be overly visible in your ears.
Our issue with these headphones is that they just didn’t sound that good to us, even for the low price. Macally touts their “excellent bass response” and “excellent dynamic range,” but we found the first claim more fitting than the second: the Retractable Headphones are exceedingly bass-heavy, and don’t provide either great depth of sound or impressive clarity for the price. Given that the central springbox on these headphones is about as large as the iPod’s packed-in earbuds when wound, and that we strongly prefer Apple’s sound, we couldn’t recommend these over the freebies. Retractable iPod earphones are a nice idea, but we’re still waiting to see the concept done right.
Pros: Retracting mechanism works as promised, overall appearance matches the iPod.
Cons: Sound is very bass-heavy and not especially clean, size is comparable to free iPod pack-ins when wrapped.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.