1. Oh, headphones

    brian on 2007.12.27
    at 04:55 pm

    Today I received this from a friend,

    Hi, Brian. I have a set of headphones that is supposed to block outside noise, but they’re not working as well as I had hoped. Is there a brand you recommend? I don’t want to blow out my ears on the subway by increasing the volume of my iPod. Thanks for any advice.

    Well, I do have some experience riding the train and subway with headphones and an iPod. I was able to reduce the volume of my iPod by about 15% by using in-ear headphones. There are lots of choices, so here’s the volume I incoherently sent her:

    The major question you need to answer is, are you looking for headphones that stick into your ear canals (so called “in-ear” headphones), or “over-the-ear” ones that are like big ear muffs?

    I have Apple’s in-ear headphones, which I found did a decent job of blocking outside noise without being active, “noise-canceling” headphones. In-ear ‘phones block outside noise in the same manner that ear plugs do – by passively, physically blocking sound waves from entering your ear canal. You can find these priced from $39-$500. I’m considering getting a nice pair of Shure in-ear headphones that cost about $100. Shure makes professional audio products for musicians, audio and broadcast pros. Another good name is Etymonics, but their stuff also starts at $100 – both high end stuff. Sony makes some decent in-ear headphones at around $40.

    I actually have Sony ear pieces on my Apple headphones because I found they fit my ears better – your ear is uniquely shaped so you’ll have to experiment, all in-ear headphones come with multiple sizes of ear pieces. The high end ones often come with multiple types as well.

    For over the ear headphones, these have active, electronic devices that attach to the headphones that listen to ambient noise, then create opposite sound waves which are played into your ears (by themselves for silence, or along with music). A cool physics trick. But they need a battery, and these headphones tend to be large. Bose is the big name in these – being first to market. Bose makes aviation headsets for pilots, which is where they invented this technology – to cancel out the loud engines which contribute to pilot fatigue and make communications more difficult.

    I’ve tried the QC-2 Bose noise-canceling headsets and they’re cool. (I haven’t tried the smaller, more expensive QC-3, which sit “on-ear” instead, but are otherwise the same) They describe them as if you walked off a busy city street into a library. They can’t cancel all noise (none of these do). And they’re best at canceling monotonous noise – like that of an engine, or a train. My boss has a pair he swears by. The thing to note – they’re expensive. $200-300. Other companies sell cheaper models, but they’re generally not as good. Sony supposedly has a decent pair for the money. Bose direct does have interest-free payment plans, though.

    Three things to note: Bose makes a non-noise canceling pair of over-the-ear ‘phones called Tri-ports which sound great for $99, and block some noise passively. They are very comfortable – nothing touches your ears. Secondly, Bose now has a set of in-ear headphones, which are passive, and have been well reviewed. Lastly, there are in-ear headphones that have active noise-canceling devices, as well. I haven’t tried any.

    OK, now you know just about everything you need to know. My guess is that you’re probably looking at an in-ear pair, since I don’t see you wearing big headphones around town. They have a nice selection of headphones at the AppleStore. Also, all the above links go to Amazon, which seems to have everything on Earth.

    Posted in: Hardware · Music · Technology


    Comments (1)

    1. Jared M. Spool said on 2007.12.28 at 11:47 am

      Bose & Etymotics

      I have both the Bose QC3 and the Etymotics ER6i.

      I love my QC3. The sound is great and the over-the-ear part is very comfortable.

      The ER6i is nice, but I found it uncomfortable for a 4 or 5 hour flight.

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