Philips SHB8850NC This review forms part of a group of noise-cancelling headphones reviews appearing in Sound+Image Vol 29 #4.

These catchily-named SHB8850NC headphones combine both noise-cancelling and Bluetooth in a usefully compact closed on-ear design — the main circle of its headshell has a little bling with shiny silver outer edge only 6cm in diameter, another centimetre added by the plastic hinges. These allow the earcups to swivel flat for storage, and link to the plastic headband, which is padded comfortably enough a covering of leatherette, as are the on-ear pads which seal the sound off effectively. Their neodymium-backed drivers are made of polyester (PET, like Mylar) and are smaller than some at 32mm, but again, that plays to their portability, a key element for travelling designs.

The Bluetooth supports NFC pairing, and they use an internal battery for power, but also work with a cable if you run out of juice, or if you’ve plugged them into your airline seat socket, for which the usual two-pin adapter comes in the box. Note there is no pouch or case provided in the slimline packaging here, so just swivel them flat and slide them in your daybag. They survived a month of use and a trip to China in this way without incident; if in fear, buy a bag.

So we ran them in pre-flight using their cable, charged them fully using the microUSB socket atop the right earpiece, and headed for the skies.

We should have read the instructions more carefully — we plugged the cable into the seat-rest, and pressed the little NC button on the left headshell — nothing. Not the nothing of silence, the nothing of no noise cancellation. We pressed power, everything for some time, but didn’t hit the right combination, which is to press the power button for four seconds (there’s a momentary white flash, but no other indication of power — turning it off gives an identical momentary flash, so you can’t tell when they’re on or off, despite the pictures here showing a blue-lit LED), then press the NC button for two seconds. These difficult ergonomics mean we can’t attest to the SHB8850NC’s airborne abilities, so we used them extensively for bus travel once back on dry land.

The cancellation is remarkably effective for an on-ear design, the seal to the ears closing off sound passively and the active NC cutting out the lower rumble of road noise to clear a space for your music. There’s a slight change in sonic signature as the noise-cancelling is invoked or switched off, though nowhere near as dramatic as we’d found on some other models.

Philips SHB8850NC

Your other choice is wired versus Bluetooth use. Cabled (the cord comes from the right earshell, and has no inline controls), we slightly preferred the balance without NC — it was a little louder, but also richer in the midrange, so that vocals were slightly thinned when the NC kicks in. Both balances were highly enjoyable — there’s plenty of level available down the cable (Philips quotes 105dB sensitivity and 16 ohms impedance), and while it’s a closed sound, not a sparkling top-end by any means, the midrange cuts through nicely and there’s plenty of action in the low-end. Indeed the very lowest frequencies seem to have quite a notch up, heading  below mere upper bass to to deep stuff, able to effectively render the low 30s of hertz in Neil Young’s ‘Walk With Me’, and to properly boot up the pulses behind Blur’s 2015 ‘Ice Cream Man’. Chick Corea’s ‘Australia’ Piano Concerto no.2 showed their ability to image and spread a soundstage, again a lick lacking in headroom up top, but with a softness into which it was easy to settle without longterm objection.

Going Bluetooth again the sound was slightly preferable with NC off — the midrange was notably richer, yielding a wider and raspier Leonard Cohen, for example. But once on the commute, the combination of hands-free Bluetooth with noise-cancellation was a great aid to enjoying the music, especially as Philips has delivered a rare Bluetooth headphone that doesn’t lack for level.

Again the buttonry is slightly unusual in control — the right earcup edge has volume up and down, but the button between them isn’t play/pause, which has a separate button on the main outer edge that doubles for call answering. Comfort was good if not perfect — a little too much inward pressure, just a little oppressive in longterm use. But once we were accustomed to the buttons, these were a good compact pair of Bluetooth noise-cancellers to grab as we headed for the office commute. And of course we must not ignore the price — at $199.95 the Philips are half the price of other contenders here.

This review forms part of a group of noise-cancelling headphones reviews appearing in Sound+Image Vol 29 #4.


Philips SHB8850NC
Price: $199.95      

NC: selectable via button

Bluetooth: yes, with NFC pairing

Power: internal rechargeable Li-ion

Quoted music time: 16 hours

Passive play with cable: yes

Carry case: no

Diaphragm: 32mm PET

Weight: 176g

Product page: Powermove Distribution