Noise cancelling headphones

Discussion in 'Gadgets & Gear' started by Bronco, Feb 10, 2006.

  1. Bronco

    Bronco Moderator Moderator

    Feb 25, 2000
    It would seem as though this technology has now come of age. I see a couple of different brands for sale at the local Best Buy. My main question is whether or not these active noise cancelling headphones are compatible with smaller portable devices like iPods and PSPs. Aside from the fact that the earcups must require more energy because they're creating more sound than earbud style headphones, the noise cancelling processing must also use some amount of juice. Do these combined factors pretty much rule out their use on small battery operated devices or are they now efficient enough not to matter?
  2. kegler


    Aug 28, 2005
    oh goodie, something i know a lot about (headphones).

    noise cancelling headphones usually use an external inline battery (it's usually a AAA battery with a switch on the chord) to drive the noise cancelling system. and they're made for portable devices, so the built-in amps for most portable devices should be fine to drive them. their impedence is typically low enough for such devices.

    there's more i can tell you, but if you give us some more info, it would be easier to make suggestions on how to shop for something like this:

    what environments are you planning to use them in (i.e., what types of noises are you trying to get away from)?
    do you consider yourself picky about sound quality?
    what are you currently using for headphones, how do you find them lacking?
    what is your budget?
    what devices are you planning to use them with?
  3. DB1


    Jan 4, 2002
    I just returned from a trip to India and American Airlines had the Bose headphones available for everyone in Business class, which I used with my Ipod. They worked quite well considering how loud the inside of planes are...I wore them coming and going for practically the entire flight times (16 hours one way). I believe the model American uses are rechargeable.
  4. Crushenator 500

    Crushenator 500

    Feb 26, 2005
    Not sure about those, but I have a pair of these, and they're amazing!!! When they're on, you can't hear anything but you'r music, and they're very clear, you'll hear things in your songs that you probably wont have noticed before :)

    Heh, this sounds like an advertisement :D
  5. Bronco

    Bronco Moderator Moderator

    Feb 25, 2000
    Thanks for the responses, gents.

    1) Environmental noises to be defeated: Let's focus on public transportation, i.e. planes, trains and automobiles

    2) Ability to discern sound quality: Gosh, that's kind of hard for the layperson to quantify. I guess I'd rate my ear as slightly above average? Let's put it this way, I'm currently using a pair of Shure (the brand Crushenator is recommending) E4Cs and I was easily able to note the major improvement between these and the stock iPod earbuds. I realize that's not necessarily saying a lot, however. ;)

    3)Current use: As mentioned above, Shure E4Cs. These are what I would describe as passive noise defeating devices inasmuch as they're essentially earplugs that transmit only the sound from your portable device. The downside of these for me is that they also share some of the negatives of regular earplugs; namely that when you're not in an extremely noisy environment they seem to amplify the sound of your own breathing, chewing noises, etc. It seems to me, at least in theory, that the active noise cancelling headphones (with earcups as opposed to earbuds) would work equally well in both noisy and quiet environments.

    4) Budget: Let's say $250 for the sake of discussion.

    5) Uses: iPod and PSP primarily. As a note, most of the songs on the iPod have been downloaded using the Apple Lossless encoding format.
  6. kegler


    Aug 28, 2005
    thanks bronco, i just needed to see where you're coming from.

    im familiar with the E4c's. very good in ear monitors (IEM's). so in terms of sound quality, probably any noise-cancelling you get is going to be a downgrade in fidelity. that may not matter to you, they'll still probably be enjoyable.

    also, i have a pair of etymotic er4's. those are similar IEM's to your Shures. my etymotics have passive suppression of environmental noise by about 25db. active noise cancellation suppresses certain frequencies about 20-25db. so if your Shure's are anything like my etymotics, things won't be quieter in terms of airplane engine noise with noise-cancelling headphones than they are now with the Shures. also, passive sound reduction works on all sounds. noise-cancelling only works on certain frequencies of steady noise, and won't really isolate at all against things like baby's crying, conversation, etc. so the noise cancelling effect is going to be about the same, probably better overall with IEM's. however, the chewing thing is true though, this is a problem with IEM's.

    noise cancelling over the ear headphones won't have this problem obviously. i also find IEM's somewhat uncomfortable, so this is another thing over the ear-headphones have going for them. i also think they can be inconvenient. an alternative to the bose are the sennheiser noise-cancelling headphone line. worth a look. i considered buying some myself, but the reviews of noise-cancelling headphones seemed so luke warm, most people seemed to prefer expensive IEM's (like your shures) that i decided to just keep using my etymotics.

    the best place to research this stuff are the forums here: people on the headphone audiophile forums tend to hate anything bose, btw. they have a reputation as overpriced consumer junk. i have no experience with bose, so this isn't my opinion. just letting you know.
  7. Bronco

    Bronco Moderator Moderator

    Feb 25, 2000
    Thanks for the detailed, thoughtful response. I'll be sure to check out the head-fi forum.
  8. s.c.

    s.c. Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 2, 2003
    if you want to keep your budget for knives, do not go over to!!!
  9. kegler


    Aug 28, 2005
    heh, agreed sc. good ol' head-fi.

    if by next year you have a $1000 SACD player, a $600 tube headphone amp, and 2 pairs of $300 headphones, don't blame me bronco.
  10. Bronco

    Bronco Moderator Moderator

    Feb 25, 2000
    :D :D No worries.

    When it comes to researching earcup style or circumaural (just learned that ;) ) noise cancelling headphones, you'll quickly find that the Bose QuietComfort IIs currently dominate the online marketing world. At the same time, (and as kegler has already correctly reported), after lurking on the head-fi site for quite awhile last night, it became apparent that Bose is definitely considered a four letter word to the audiophiles who reside there.

    Interestingly enough though, in one of the major recent Bose bashing threads at head-fi, there emerged what I can only describe as a grudging respect for the Bose QC IIs. Admittedly, not all agreed, and many who did still thought they were overpriced. But, in the final analysis, no one was really able to identify a competitor that offered a product to rival the QC IIs overall combination of extended wear comfort, effective noise cancelling technology, portability and relatively acceptable audio performance.

    Just thought I'd pass that along.
  11. kegler


    Aug 28, 2005
    that sounds about right. i think the usual complaint about bose isn't that they're complete garbage, just that they're comparable to headphones that cost a fraction of the price, and are out of their league compared to other headphones at the same price. but when it comes to noise cancelling headphones, you may be correct, quiet comforts may be the best of what's available, although take a $300 quiet comfort compared to a $300 grado or beyerdynamic (regular, not noise-cancelling), and one of the latter would likely blow the bose away. the noise cancelling headphones aren't the highest fidelity at their price points, but that should be expected. be sure to take a look at the sennheisers (pxc-150, pxc-250) noise cancelling headphones though anyway, although i don't know how they compare to bose. overall sennheiser makes some really nice stuff, whether at $50, $400, or $10,000. yes, i said it. $10,000 headphones.... but like i said, i can imagine the bose possibly being better, im just saying look into it.

    p.s. if you get a pair, whatever they are, post a review here. im curious what you think. i travel quite a bit on planes, so i'm still considering a pair.
  12. dyee


    Feb 13, 2005
    Something to consider is good sealed headphones that have decent isolation. I have some of Sennhiser 280 pro that block out a lot of outside noise.
  13. Bronco

    Bronco Moderator Moderator

    Feb 25, 2000
    As you and dyee point out, this may well be an alternative worth looking into. Again, with good circumaural earcups, I may not need any more external sound isolation. I guess my biggest concern with these is whether or not a small battery operated device like an iPod would be able to drive them sufficiently.

    I've also looked at the Sennheiser PXC series, as you suggest. Based on the opinions of the seemingly more level-headed reviewers at head-fi, the Sennheisers appear to compare very favorably to the Bose QC IIs. They're less expensive than they're Bose counterparts, are somewhat more compact, incorporate a noise cancellation technology that is very close to the effectiveness of the QC IIs, and, by most accounts, offer better sound quality.

    The biggest downside I see with the Sennheisers is that they don't have true circumaural earcups. As I'm sure you're well aware, they rather have cushioned earpieces that press on the outside of your ears. Naturally, their ability to isolate ambient noise is somewhat less than what would be possible from a full earcup design. Many reviewers also complained that because of the way they're constantly pressing on your ears, they can become somewhat uncomfortable during extended sessions. This last point, I'm afraid, represents a serious red flag for me. I think I might be willing to trade a bit of fidelity for overall comfort. At any rate, if I do decide to pull the trigger on a pair, I'll be sure to report back on my findings.
  14. ooheadsoo


    Dec 18, 2005
    I own the px200 (non cancelling) and can tell you that they block out a fair bit of noise in and of themselves. It does wear on your ears, but all headphones wear on my ears or surrounding area, so it doesn't really matter to me. For a circumaural phone to block sound better in and of itself, it must be pretty tight, and that's not going to be that comfortable in the long run for me. If you need it to be portable and don't want to use iems, get them from someplace that will accept returns.
  15. dyee


    Feb 13, 2005
    If you are concerned with driving your headphones look for low impedance headphones, 64Ohms or less should be good for any protable device. Also if you are buying locally you can alway try them with your portable device before buying.

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