CES 2015: We go ears-on with Philips' noise-cancelling Lightning-compatible headphones
With its new Fidelio NCL1 noise-cancelling headphones, Philips has ditched the battery – and the headphone jack.
Like last years' ML2 headphones, the NCL1s plug into your iPhone using Apple's Lightning connector instead of a conventional 3.5mm jack, and feature an onboard 24-bit DAC. Unlike the ML2s, though, the NCL1 cans also draw power from your iPhone to power their noise-cancelling feature – meaning that you don't need to lug around the extra weight of batteries.
We got hands-on with the NCL1 prototype at CES 2015 – where we also learned some details of Philips' future plans for its Lightning-equipped headphones.
You don't know jack – these cans plug into the iPhone's Lightning port
This 3D printed element won't feature on the production model
The on-ear cans certainly have a premium feel, as you'd expect given their US$300 price tag; they're wrapped in leather and sport an attractive diamond-patterned finish. The set we tried out were a prototype model, and we're told that some of the design elements will change in the finished product – most notably, the switch on the base of the left-hand earpiece will change, and there's a 3D printed element that will be replaced with a more polished-looking component.
The NCL1s delivered clear highs and a balanced soundscape during our test – inevitably, the active noise cancellation introduced a more tinny note to the audio, but it still sounded impressive – and effectively stripped out the simulated aircraft engine noise played during our test. Unfortunately, halfway through our test the Philips stand played host to America's cheesiest rock band, which – unsurprisingly - overpowered the NCL1s' noise-cancelling abilities and made it difficult to get a full impression of their abilities. We'll subject them to a more in-depth test in controlled conditions as soon as we can get a set in the Stuff.tv office for review.
Any port in a storm; the NCL1s' Lightning connector
Philips' demo app – the final version will include a pull-down widget
So, without battery power, how much will the NCL1s' active noise cancellation tax your iPhone's power supply? Not much, Philips tells us; Apple mandates that Lightning-powered devices draw no more than 50mA, which should have a minimal impact on your iPhone's battery life.
Philips showed us a demo app that lets you switch the active noise cancellation feature on and off; the commercial release of the app will also let you switch on an "open-ear" mode, which lets in some ambient noise, and "natural voice" mode, which is calibrated for voice calls. The final version of the app will also feature a widget that will let you control the headphones' ANC feature from the pull-down Notifications menu.
The Philips NCL1 headphones
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the NCL1s is the ability to upgrade them with new sound profiles which are stored on the headphones themselves, using the Lightning cable's two-way data transfer. One notable omission from the prototype is a remote and mic; we'd expect this to feature on the production model, though.
The Philips NCL1 headphones will be available from April in the US, though UK pricing and availability has yet to be confirmed. We'll keep you posted with the details and a full review as soon as we can get our hands on a final version of the product.
READ MORE: All the latest news from CES 2015