Beyond the fold
AKG N60NC noise-cancelling headphones
Headphones that sit on your ears, rather than around them, have the inherent merit of size on their side, and these AKGs fold up so very small that on several occasions we found them forgotten in a corner of the commute bag (which is not large, and into which some over-ear headphones barely fit at all). For a noise-cancelling design like the $349.95 N60NC, this is a huge bonus for travellers, at 150g barely biting into a 7kg hand-luggage allowance, their neat protective pouch slipping into teeny spaces.
These are cabled on-ear headphones with noise-cancelling, though they can be used passively. You can flip a switch on the left headshell to invoke noise cancelling, and inevitably things are less completely silent than is possible with the best over-ear NC, but it proved effective and removed all the rumble from bus, train and plane background. Low frequency cancellation slightly favoured the left, but you’d never notice the imbalance unless when playing spoken word. And there is remarkably little tonal change going from passive to active NC, a little sharpening and tightening, and the mids could just occasionally poke you in the ears with a sudden shout. The best musical experience here is with NC off, and much joy they brought thus — Janis Joplin’s Me & Bobby McGee coming through wide, rich and rousing; The Fall’s version of Lost in Music emerging powerful and dynamic, and they continued their solidity of sound and enjoyable musicality across genres. So save the noise cancelling until you need it, thereby making the most of the quoted 30 hours battery life — they charge via an included high-quality USB cable. (AKG has more recently released the Bluetooth N60NC Wireless, at $449.95, but these follow what we consider a questionable trend in recent NC models where there’s no way to stop the noise-cancelling when using Bluetooth mode.) A longer shank on the minijack would be handy to pass through our iPhone bumper case; that aside, we enjoyed the fine fundamental merits of the N60 N60NC and their effective cancellation of surrounding noise when required. Plus, of course, they won’t mess up your hair.