?

Log in

No account? Create an account
This is a blog post about noise canceling headphones, airplanes, and… - if you can't be witty, then at least be bombastic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
kyle cassidy

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

[Apr. 23rd, 2011|02:05 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |morissey complaining about something]

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.



Pros:
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.

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




Add me as a friend on LiveJournal, Add me on Facebook, Follow me on Twitter.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: skreidle
2011-04-23 07:30 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, $150 is well within the bounds of reason for Good Headphones.

My LJ-friend jwz recently found a superior pair of in-ear headphones--not noise-canceling, but apparently quite good overall (and $80.) http://www.jwz.org/blog/2011/04/headphones/

I've seen Bose in-ear headphones for sale at the local VZW store for upwards of $130, iirc..
(Reply) (Thread)
From: zqfmbg
2011-04-23 07:50 pm (UTC)
Oddly enough, there are some people out there who would refuse to spend anything less than $300 on headphones. But they tend to be the ones that think spending $6000 on a 3-foot length of speaker wire is very worthwhile.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: iamgerg
2011-04-26 04:05 pm (UTC)
I worked in a high end stereo store for a summer. The owner was a true audio lover, and tried to provide the best equipment to people for their needs without gouging them. That being said, he had to stock what he called "unpitchables" stupid things like wooden volume knobs, shielded power cables, gold plated optical connectors, and colour-coded in-wall audio cable, because audiophiles would look askance at his inventory if he didn't carry them. He called them unpitchables, because people who knew nothing, or knew a lot about audio, could never be convinced of buying such things, while those who were willing to buy such things would request them on their own.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cinestress
2011-04-23 09:41 pm (UTC)
I have noise-cancelling ear buds. You have to have them in a certain way before they actually cancel noise out, but when they're in, I love it. I used to have really noisy neighbors and the ear buds were a dream.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: seanvdm
2011-04-23 10:45 pm (UTC)
I use Shure in-ear phones, and I love them. they fit snugly into the ear canal, but don't irritate me (all the other in-ear phones I've tried do). I use the silicone buds, they are much more pleasant than the foam ones, and still block out an incredible amount of noise (there's some sound isolation wizardry being done). I have the SE110s, I think they now only make the more expensive ones, but they come with the added benefit of completely detachable cables, which means that in case of a cable break (something much more likely to happen than the actual earphones crapping out), you only have the cost of buying a new cable instead of a whole new set.

There are lots of other brands of really good in-ear phones, which will allow you to get special earbuds molded for your ear canals, like with hearing aides, which should block out even more noise. Shure's products used to also have that feature but I can't find it in the newer earphones' descriptions.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: pteppic
2011-04-24 01:21 pm (UTC)
+1 billion for shure in ears.

I work on client sites a lot, and have two pairs of headphones. One is an over the ear pair of PX-100s. They're lovely, compact and have a nice open sound, but let in a lot of ambient noise. This is great when you need to hear other people in the room.

When I want silence (or to completely cut out the background), I grab the SE-210s. Miles more compact than the big over-ear things, and they create a physical seal between you and the outside world. Sound on them is excellent, and the noise-blocking (rather than cancelling) means that if someone needs to get my attention, they usually have to jump up and down in front of me a few times.

And despite how they looks, the compressy-foam the Shure's come with is *amazingly* comfortable for long listening. Once you're used to them (and they do take a few gos), I'm more than happy to sit with them in for seven hours at a time.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-01-09 07:25 pm (UTC)
remembering this advice, I just got a set of ultimate ears -- i'll test them out on the plane this week.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: shatteredwolf
2011-04-24 12:36 am (UTC)
I have to have a good pair of headphones. Sometimes when I'm tutoring people,(I do so on line for free to help people out) I sometimes need music to help while I go over their papers, give advice,etc.

I need to drown out the out side sounds. They will annoy me to hell and back.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mattcaron
2011-04-24 12:46 am (UTC)
I bought a pair of these for mowing the lawn (4 acres, 6 hours) so I can listen to my iPod. You can't hear anything except your iPod.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ohsonaked
2011-04-24 01:59 am (UTC)
aaaaah, I feel your pain! I love, love, love traveling. flying is pretty alright, too. but loud, obnoxious people...and crying babies. ugh!!!!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mhaithaca
2011-04-24 04:50 am (UTC)

I should really find my old Aiwa noise-cancelling headphones. They were a bit smaller and lighter than the Bose ones at the time; you might find them less uncomfortable. They were half the price of the Bose version, too.

There are also noise-cancelling earbuds, and I've been keeping my eye out for those. I agree, traveling with something less bulky would be good.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lentower
2011-04-24 02:13 pm (UTC)

passive ear protection

i have used passive non-electronic ear protectors for years.
i initially got them to wear around power tools, including the lawn mower,
but quickly got a pair to travel with,
and keep next to my bed for those mornings the city
decides to jack hammer my street

the highest reduction i've seen is 30db,
which lets me sleep even with a crying baby in the row behind me
(i also bring an opaque extra large eye mask).

offered in most big-box home centers,
many friendly local neighborhood hardware stores,
and the occasional yard sale

con
bigger and bulkier than ear buds and the active electronic noise cancelers

pro
much cheaper
no batteries
no electronics to break
the ear muffs, being larger than the electronic versions, are much more comfortable to wear

e.g.
http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200259274_200259274
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: disoculated
2011-04-25 05:31 pm (UTC)

Re: passive ear protection

On advice from my SO, I've used very similar hearing protectors (the same ones I use on the range), and simply put them on over the earbuds. You look a little goofy, but it works *really* well.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dd_b
2011-04-26 06:35 am (UTC)
I use noise-blocking in-ear plugs (Sure). Not normal earbuds. These are MUCH smaller than the headphones, and don't need additional power. Sound quality is great (I have the cheapest ones; the sound quality gets better). The big thing I noticed, that lead me to get them, was that I can play my music at much lower levels with them; this has to be good.

Mine cost about what your headphones cost, and they were the bottom of the line. It just goes up from there, to over $500.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: templgg
2011-04-30 02:47 am (UTC)
I use a pair purchased at Radio Shack for far less than $150 at work to drown out my coworkers who don't seem to understand what an inside voice is. I pondered getting earbuds for an upcoming trip, but after reading this, plan to stick with my noise canceling headphones. Big, maybe, but the sanity they provide is worth it.

And, I bet if the plane starts to go down, you'll notice the commotion before you need the life jacket.....
(Reply) (Thread)