kyle cassidy (kylecassidy) wrote,
kyle cassidy

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This is a blog post about noise canceling headphones, airplanes, and crying babies. If you're interested in that sort of thing, click the cut. If not, just look at the cute photo of Roswell and carry on with your friends list.

Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b headphones photographed with Roswell to increase value

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

"Noise, but I can't hear anything, just guitars screaming, screaming, screaming, some guy screaming in a leather jacket...."
I fly a lot. Four times a month maybe and I like it. I like flying. I hate the standing around in line taking your shoes off being treated like a criminal by the goon squad at TSA, but I like being in the air, I like looking out the window -- what can I say. I've come to look at flying lately as a rare opportunity to catch up on reading and until there's wifi in every flight, it's a welcome refuge. There are a few things I dislike about flying, one is being cramped next to someone really big, the discomfort of the seats which means you'll never ever be exactly comfortable and another is the noise. The noise is a big one. The engine noise is pretty loud, but it's white noise and I can concentrate over it as long as nobody's talking, but people area often talking and worse yet -- there seems to be a crying baby quotient that airlines need to meet these days.

Apart from flames, there's little on an airplane that puts me in more distress than a crying baby, so occasionally I'll put my iPod earphones in and try and drown them out with music, which is difficult because ear buds let in a suprising amount of ambient noise (they're open, after all) so to drown out crying baby you really need to be listening to Metallica at full blast, which -- I can't read over that.

Enter Noise Canceling Headphones
For a while now I'd been thinking of getting a set of noise canceling headphones - the premise of these is that microphones on the outside of the ear cups pick up ambient noise and emit the opposite sound inside the ear cups and the net result (db up + -db down) is ... silence. The noise gets cancelled out. After a few weeks of tooling around on the Interwebs I settled on a pair of Audio Technica ATH-ANC7b -- they retail in the airport electronics store for $199, but I found a slightly used pair on ebay for $80 and I see them going regularly for $129 or so (lesson? never buy anything in an airport).

They're powered by a pair of AAA batteries which are supposed to last 40 hours (I've flown with mine eight times on the original batteries). Putting them on in an airplane in flight and flipping the switch is pretty remarkable. A lot of the engine noise goes away -- which still leaves people talking and babies crying, but it's a significant reduction in sound. This means that you can listen to your music at much lower levels. I found I spent most of my time with just the ear phones on w/o any music.

Good against remotes is one thing. Good against crying babies? That's something else.
I got a good chance to test them out against crying babies on my way back from San Diego last week where a school group of third graders spent four hours between California and Chicago tormenting one another and the other passengers. At one point a kid behind me was screaming "MOM! MOM! BILLY'S PUNCHING ME!" and the rattled woman in the seat next to me gritted her teeth and croaked into my ear "Well at least SOMEONE is punching him!" -- it was that kind of flight.

Noise canceling alone simply removed engine noise and actually pronounced the wailing. In-ear foam plugs (the kind you'd wear at a shooting range or construction site) have significant noise damping ability (I was swapping back and forth between the ear phones and the ear plugs trying to figure out which was working better) -- but the down side is that you can't listen to your ipod. I also tried the noise canceling ear phones over top of the foam plugs and found that this got rid of quite a big of noise, but kids shrieking still cut through enough that it was significantly impacting my ability to concentrate while reading. Finally, I put the foam plugs in, put the noise canceling headphones over top, plugged the iPod in and cranked up the white noise generator ("heavy rainstorm") and while I could see kids beating on one another with books and hoses like some crazy game of whack-a-mole, and occasionally see one of their faces pop up in a teary grimace, they were silent -- I heard nothing but heavy rain. The down side of this obviously is that if the plane is about to crash you've no idea what the pilot is saying -- locked away in your peaceful world of rain storms, you're the only one without a life jacket when your 737 bellies down into lake Michigan.

Another down-side of the headphones is that they're not really comfortable -- they press in on your ears to make a seal and after a while that gets uncomfortable. Finally, their size presents a problem. I've got a day-bag that I take along as my "personal item" which has a laptop, a notebook, and a GF-1 camera in it (along with until recently a book or two, but that's been replaced by the iPad) and putting the 7b's in there is a stretch -- they don't really get small and for someone who travels a lot, that extra space is a concern.

But what about the Sound Quality?
The 7b's have a decent sound for a set of mid-range ear cans -- they'll blow anything made by skull candy or beats out of the water, and I found that I've mostly been using them as I'd use my iPod earbuds -- for listening to music while walking down the street or riding the bus and -- seriously -- I'll never go back to a stock set of ear buds -- the amount of ambient noise that just pours in is so suddenly noticeable after wearing over-ears it's like trying to build a house of cards on a fishing boat by comparison.

Significantly better sound that ear buds
Reduce engine noise really well
When used in conjunction with other techniques can eliminate/cover up ambient sound on an airplane.
You can listen to your music at significantly lower volumes because of the noise canceling.

Big -- where do you carry them?
Require batteries
Hurt your head after a while
You paid $150 for HEADPHONES???

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