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Noise blocking headphones recommendation

Can anyone recommend a good pair of headphones to me? I am looking for a pair that are comfortable enough so that I can wear all day long, with good sound (reasonably good) and most important, they need to block out surrounding noise (not white noise; people bellowing).

This is actually on topic here at JoS; I need the headphones for my new place of work, where bellowing is the accepted form of communication and I share the room with 3 other programmers.


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bose Quiet Comfort are okay. Of course, they are designed to block out white noise, and if you can't hear conversations around you, you have them turned up loud enough to damage your hearing.

Still they are better than nothing. I recommend listening to a white noise disc, that also helps. I certainly wouldn't be able to work without mine.

Fernanda Stickpot
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Etymotic ER-4P or Etymotic ER-4S.

Former for mp3 players and low-powered devices, and the latter for regular computers and stereos.

They go straight in to your ear-canal and block out surrounding noise very, very well; on top of this, they provide unparelleled sound and bass.

I'm not affiliated with this company in any way.

Happy Etymotic owner
Thursday, December 18, 2003

If you can't get either your coworkers to keep it down and move to a conference room if they need to discuss things, or have your own private Ida.. office, 3M has excellent reusable ear-plugs :-)

Frederic Faure
Thursday, December 18, 2003


Seeing the prices of some of the headphones recommended here and in the previous thread (along with the fact that I won't be able to buy them locally, so it might be a while before I get them) that might not be a bad idea...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I have experience with this.

I have been renting an office next to a barber shop in the same building. The uneducated blue collar denizens of this barber, and the barber himself, talk, laugh and banter at high volume levels. (I personally feel that only stupid and dull people with nothing important to say talk loudly. Sorry.) I've had talks with the barber and the landlord, and I've gotten nowhere. It's apparently part of the business model of the barber to BS nonstop.

Just *try* to write or debug code when there's a constant bull session from loudmouth idiots coming out of the office next door.

I  bought a set of Sennheiser HDC451 headphones, which are active noise cancelling headphones, and I've tried using them.  The sound quality is excellent. BUT - these headphones only cut 'white noise' sounds like fans, airliner background, etc.  The noise cancellation logic apparently only affects machine and similar background. Human voices are outside the range in which the noise cancellation is really effective.

So, I'm moving next week. Sorry.

Goddard Bolt
Thursday, December 18, 2003

A basic physics lesson:

Noise-cancelling (ANR) headphones work by sampling the exterior noise, computing (analog or digital) the inverse of the waveform, and shooting the result back into your ear, where it cancels the original.

Reality sets in: there is a physical delay involved with the vibrating microphone and vibrating speakers. This delay means the cancelling signal lags the noise signal in time. There is no way around this.

At low frequencies, the noise signal and cancelling signal line up quite well, and cancellation is good.  At high frequencies, they don't line up at all, and the anti-signal can even be in phase with the noise, making it worse. In practice, all noise-cancelling headsets have low-pass filters to suppress generation of high-frequency anti-noise so that this does not happen. However, there may be a minor "resonance point" around 1.5 kHz or so.

The main application for ANR headsets is aviation. The main noise source here is drone from propeller engines, and much of the airstream noise is low-frequency. In this application, ANR works well.

Human speech is rich in harmonics, from 100 Hz up to 4-5 kHz and beyond.  The higher frequencies contribute much to the signal (and noise!)  Compare the difference between telephone/AM radio (~5 kHz cutoff), FM radio, and CD audio to appreciate this.  ANR headsets won't do anything to this higher-frequency signal.  That's plain physics.

I have NCT NoiseBuster Xtreme headphones.  They work well on aircraft, but don't attenuate the signal-carrying frequencies of speech.  Nor can they, or any headset.  Your best bet is passive attenuation that works well over all frequencies, a.k.a. earplugs.

David Jones
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I'll third the ear plugs.  I use ear plugs, and then put on a pair of head phones with the volume turned up loud enough that I can listen to it comfortably.

The head phones are important (in my place of work anyway), as they alert people that you won't hear them unless they get your attention first.

Steve Barbour
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I have a $20 pair of Koss headphones (get at walmart, target, etc).  Best investment I've ever made.  They are super comfortable.  I play mp3s and listen to the radio.  No problem blocking out the outside world.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bilsom® Disposable Earplugs SP3/SP3-30

Excellent attenuation, SNR 37
High attenuation foam earplug for higher frequency noises

Frederic Faure
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I use a few things to alleviate the nightmare of trying to work in a cubefarm.  I keep a batch of the in-canal moldable earplugs available at any drugstore, which cut about 29dB.  That much attenuation is a bit uncomfortable for extended periods, for me anyway.  I also keep around a pair of over-the-ear headphone-style protection intended for running machinery.  At about 21dB attenuation, that's a little more comfortable, and takes the sharpness off the chatter and keyboarding.  I have a pair of Senneheiser HD280 Pro headphones that cut about the same level, and coupled with tunes from the iPod, can wipe out anything.

The best trick at my disposal is to work from home once in a while, especially early in a release cycle when I need to concentrate on tougher design questions.  I also occasionally time-shift my day so I'm working at the office when all the other people have gone, or before they've arrived.

At any rate, I figure the nincompoops paying my salary (who treat offices as a perk for paper-shufflers) are getting in a cubefarm about 20% of the value they could get out of me in a more sensible environment.  They're getting all they deserve, and if the job market ever improves, that will drop to zero.

Similar to the Etymonics named above, you might also take a look at which are similar, and have a low-cost version if your budget doesn't allow the really good ones.  I've heard they're nice.  You can also upgrade the cheaper set to have the same earmolds as the better set.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

What are your goals here? As people have pointed out you have 3 basic possibilities.

1. Active Noise Reduction. Headphones with circuitry that picks up outside noise and actively works to reduce it. This is a sort of funky technology that may work better in theory than in practice. I experienced it in the Sony Store on Madison Avenue and there was a distinct "whoosh" sensation like the sound was getting sucked out of the room, but once I adjusted, I found I could hear everything, and the air conditioning duct was just as annoying as before.

2. Isolation Headphones. These are headphones that get a good "seal" with your head and prevent noise from getting in. These are a step above the typical "closed" style headphones (the alternate being open style headphones that let noise in). True isolation headphones may be a little too much, you probably just regular closed headphones.

3. Earplugs. Foam or rubber, off the shelf or custom made, these go in your ear and attenuate noise much like the isolation headphones.

There are earplugs that have tiny speakers so that you can get sound. There's sleightly more inconspicuous than headphones, but you do have to take them in and out.


You want to take into account just how many db's of attenuation, and across what frequency range. You don't want to completely isolate yourself so that the only way to get your attention is to tap your shoulder. It's not only rude, it's dangerous.

Also, you have to factor in the music. Even relatively open headphones combined with loud music means you can't hear what's going on.... though it also means everyone can hear what you're listening to.

From what I hear the Koss headphones are pretty good, there was a cheap Sony set that one of my co-workers used that was pretty good, and small with a nice long wire. They didn't sound as good as the koss, but they got the job done.
Thursday, December 18, 2003

i currently own 2 headphones, the Bose (not the noise cancelling) and the in-ear Isolation ER6.

I have tried quite a few noise cancelling headphones, but did not like the idea of having yet another battery pack, hence the ER6.

Check out - they have a good guide.

Prakash S
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I have some of the Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones.  They are excellent, but only cut out background noise, (fans, etc.), rather than conversation.

Which is why I've just ordered some of these:

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Thanks for all the advice. I think I'll go with the Koss.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I am not trolling here (if I had to chip in support, it's either the silicon reusable plugs or room dampening or computer case dampening) but I think for me at least, silence doesn't always equate to professional performance. I have performed pretty well without plugs in cubicles or even worst, desk to desk without any problems as long as my coworkers respect my need to concentrate. If all your coworkers refrains from spending 15 minute breaks every 30 minutes chatting up a storm about Lord of the Ring 3 you'll be able to code magic like the best of them.

Li-fan Chen
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Just beware of the sub $200 ones, a lot of the warnings in the thread applies especially to the economy lines. And really if you aren't in a plane, I am not sure what that $200 of DSP will do for you.

Li-fan Chen
Thursday, December 18, 2003

David, thanks for the ANR overview. 

One point:  The inverse of a function is it's reflection over the line y=x, not the "negation" to which you refer.  What would be the proper term for this "negation" waveform? 

Thursday, December 18, 2003

David B. Wildgoose, please keep us posted on how well they work. If it's really really true that you can't hear anyone talking right next to you, they would kick ass at the Bose ones.

Li-fan Chen, you're lucky to have such co-operative coworkers, whose work is presumably compatible with yours. If you're in a room which is basically a thoroughfare for the whole company, working alongside 40 other people, 20 of whom are on a helpdesk and 15 of whom are outpatient contractors in a hotdesk area, all of whom have at least two phones each, and all of whose jobs involve talking on the phone most of the day - it's like working in a wild west saloon. A piano going in the corner, raucous laughter, shoot-outs, people busting chairs over each other's heads, etc.

I thought Bose was good, but if anyone has come up with a set of headphones awesome enough to drown out this lot, I'll take out a mortgage to get my hands on them.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, December 19, 2003

Off topic: active noise canceling headphones make my ears feel like I am descending 300 stories in an elevator in 5 seconds. I mean - it literally feels like there's "pressure" on my eardrums when I turn them on. This is a set of Sennheiser headphones.

I know that this is probably my mind's association between sound deadening and having stopped-up nasal passages, but it's a weird sensation.

Bored Bystander
Friday, December 19, 2003

i think (with no real knowledge) it's because it really is more pressure. if it's 1 unit of pulsating force from the background noise overhead, it's 2 units of force from the noise plus the anti-noise, just no longer pulsating.

i have a noisebuster extreme which wasn't all that great then it broke, but it was fun trick to tell people to put it on then push the anti-volume slider up to max and watch their eyes bulge out.

as for chatter--noise cancellation headphones don't block chattering coworkers. what they block is the air conditioning, PC fans, etc.

foam earplugs are great on airplanes. i'm always suprised more people don't wear them.

Friday, December 19, 2003

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