Friday, June 15, 2007

The Cheapest Noise-Canceling Headphones

A while back, I wrote a post called "We Want to Be Alone, about how a lot of our spending these days is driven by the desire to isolate ourselves from others. Well, here's a great example of that: Headphones to Shut Out the World. In his New York Times column from yesterday, David Pogue writes about what has become a de rigeur accessory for many travelers: expensive headphones that provide a true luxury: quiet on an airplane, or wherever you might want it.
These have been around for a few years, starting with the original Bose models priced at about $350. That is a lot to pay for peace and quiet! So Pogue takes a look at some of the competing headphones that have since been introduced, to try to find the best bang for the buck. Or perhaps that should be the least audible bang for the buck.
His conclusion: the cheapest headphones, the $40 JVC HA-NC100, are compact and have a nice retractable cord, but they don't do as good a job of actually reducing noise.
But the next lowest priced models, the Panasonic RP-HC500 T at $100 (Yahoo shopping's lowest price is $114), and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 at $132 ($199 at Amazon, unfortunately) were judged to be comfortable to wear, and did a great job at reproducing music as well as canceling outside noise. Both were judged to be indistinguishable in quality from the Bose headphones that cost about three times more.
I'm not planning to buy noise-reducing headphones for myself, but I've considered getting them as a gift for a good friend of mine who is a writer and finds noise really distracting when she's trying to work. $300 was too much for me to spend on such a present, but at $100 or so, I might just do it.


Boston Gal said...

If your friend will be wearing the earphones for long periods of time, the more expensive models might be better. You can always give a gift certificate for $100 and mention in the card that she can apply it to noise cancelation headphones.

From experience using these things and having purchased two cheap sets to then go and buy the expensive Bose model - getting quality first would have saved me a lot of money.

Jessica said...

I get pretty irritated when I'm listening to music and I hear outside noise (like people talking, other peoples' music). Chalk it up to trillions of car trips as a kid when I had crappy headphones, my parents were talking and had the car music on, and my sister had her own headphones blasting (and was probably singing along, poorly).

BUT I am still too cheap to buy fancy noise cancellation headphones. I have a pretty good track record for breaking headphones, plus I'd only use them the two or three times a year that I fly.

Instead, I use earplugs for peace and quiet. They are more portable and certainly a lot cheaper. (I got mine for free from my old job.) They are kind of hard to break, too.

Joe said...

FYI: noise cancelling headphones are really only good for quieting noises that are low-frequency and fairly constant (like plane engines). Even with them on you still hear people talking, car horns (although a bit subdued), etc. If you're on a plane, train, boat or noisy car, they're awesome. Sitting in a coffee shop or house, maybe not so good.

The Travelin' Man said...

Boston Gal's advice is dead on. I have purchased the cheaper NC headphones in the past, and I finally broke down and bought the Bose QCIIs last year - best purchase I made. Period.

They are best on airplanes - and even still won't actually drown out all of the noise of screaming kids on planes (Orlando is my home airport!). Also, people (especially on airplanes) want to to talk to me and ask me questions about the headphones the minute I take them out. If I wanted to talk - I wouldn't be putting on my headphones! :-)

Inexpensive? No. Worth every penny? Yessir!

Anonymous said...

The advantage of noise cancelling headphones is so that the volume doesn't have to be so high up. Just walking around city streets during lunch hour with earbuds in I find that I have to put the volume up to an uncomfortable high level in order to hear the audiobook that I'm listening to. Tempted to get the BOSE set but am now wondering about the other two recommendations at less than half the price. I've stopped walking around at lunch hour due to the high volume I have to set my audiobook to so I just do my walking/biking in the evening in nice quiet suburban neighborhood. Give me suburbia any day over those noisy city streets!

Good Gravy said...

Amazon has the Audio Technicas for $139 (which is what I paid when I bought them there). Seems there is also another listing for for $199. With all the reviews of the ATs I was convinced at $140 and I have not been disappointed.

fin_indie said...

You know, I've had a pair of the Bose headphones for a while now and they are absolutely incredible. I do believe you get what you pay for -- my wife has tried two other alternatives with limited success. The one thing that really gets my goat is that the Bose headset seems to have problems with laptops these days -- something about the grounding on the laptop headset plug makes these pick up a huge wining sound. I've tried 3 laptops and they all have the same issue. Anyone know a fix???

donna jean said...

One frugal option I discovered last weekend: wear a pair of ear plugs, the dirt cheap foam ones, under the headphones.

I was working on the floors in my new house and doing a lot of hammer banging and needed to dim the sharpness of the sound. I discovered I could still wear my headphones (they needed to be turned up) and didn't notice any other noise going on. It was pretty nice, actually, was able to work undisturbed by other's conversations.

The one major caution is that I don't know what the hearing impact is for playing headphones over ear plugs. They were turned up louder than usual so I could hear them, but probably still much lower than a typical club night.

This may be an option when you occasionally need sound canceling headphones.

beth said...

I read that article, and I think he posted a suggestion to buy the type of (ugly!) ear protection head sets that airport workers wear, and then run some ear buds inside - so you can hear music, but then muffle the noise from the rest of the world. Much cheaper and more useful for your friend.

Anonymous said...

Another frugal option for frequent travelers: Get them for free with your reward points from staying at hotels, etc. I wanted an ipod a while ago, but marriott rewards was only offering them as a reward when packaged with the Bose QC3's. Work paid for all those marriott hotel stays. I keep all the points.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how noise cancelation headphones work to shut out conversations. When I travel on a train, as I often have to do, I'm am driven half crazy by people constantly on their cell phones behind or next to me. These people always seem to talk louder when they're on the phone than they do to a real person next to them. Will the noise cancelations shut them out so I can read in peace?

mmb said...

I realize this is an old post and I am leaving a comment way late but I just wanted to add that depending on situations the $300 may be well worth it. I have insanely loud upstairs neighbors in my condo - I am talking running, jumping, thumping, stomping, parties and whatnot for hours at end every single day. Letting them know about the situation did absolutely nothing. If anything they said it was my problem since I lived below them and I will have to figure a way to deal with it.

Well, to make a long story short I was advised to move or sue them, both costly propositions, and finally found a livable, if not perfect, solution in the form of these headphones. They make my whole place shake with whatever they are doing up there but at least the noise is filtered now.