It sounds like you tried a duff pair. All the reviews I've read have raved about the sound quality and say that the noise cancelling is the best on the market.
Unfortunately... I also got a duff pair.
The sound quality was great, but the noise cancelling was non-existent. Switching between NC on and off made no difference. I spoke to Apple tech support - updated the firmware, did a full reset, but no joy. They said I could take them in to one of their stores to get them looked at, but I was going round in circles trying to book an appointment, so I rang Amazon who offered me a refund. So they're going back. Can't get a replacement pair at the moment as the silver ones are out of stock. So I'm going to have a think about whether or not I want to reorder.