How to Choose the Best Noise Canceling Headphones?

The pandemic has forced many of us to work in the midst of the noise of our neighbors, pets, and loved ones. Whether your building is under construction, your dog is barking incessantly, or children are taking online lessons nearby, a reliable pair of headphones is a great way to keep out outside noise and hear music. And noise canceling headphones are an important option to consider.

There is a big difference between “isolating” noise and “suppressing noise”. It is easy to confuse them and it is difficult to know which type you really want. The former simply minimizes the amount of extra sound entering your ear, while the latter has some serious technology behind it. Here’s your guide to the differences and what to look for in good headphones.

Difference Between Noise Canceling and Noise Canceling Headphones

Sound isolating headphones physically block out external noise. You may also hear this category called “passive noise cancellation”. Essentially, these models block out noise by creating a good seal between the ear and the headphones. Noise-isolating earbuds make a snug fit against external noise. On-ear models that fit snugly to your ear have thick, padded ear cups to block out ambient noise as much as possible.

The goal is to create the most comfortable seal around your ears or ear canal so that the only thing you hear is music. From this point of view, noise canceling headphones are usually designed to operate at a lower volume than others, since external noise will be muffled. Likewise, you must be careful when wearing them outdoors as you will not be able to hear your surroundings properly.

Noise canceling headphones use digital signal processing (DSP) technology to actively suppress sound waves from ambient noise. Simply put, when you see “noise canceling” or “active noise canceling,” it means that the headphones have an internal microphone and audio processor that “listens” to the sound around you and plays the opposite sound to suppress it. This is called destructive intervention .

Most decent models can handle constant ambient noise (like conversations, air conditioners, jet engines, etc.), but abrupt changes like someone screaming or a door slamming are hard to handle. The best headphones make it easy to hear just your own music when you’re in an airplane seat, or better yet, offer you peace and quiet even when no music is playing.

Again, these are headphones that you should be careful to wear when you are out, because the purpose is to remove noise from your surroundings. If you need to listen to others for safety, this is a bad idea. If you’re sitting with your roommates and hate hearing them ruin the TV drama last night, this is for you.

What to look for when buying noise canceling headphones

Buying noise canceling headphones is no easy task. Many models boast noise isolation or active noise cancellation, but some do it better than others, some do it at the expense of sound quality, and some are just flimsy budget headphones that just turn up the volume a little to muffle the sound. noise. Here’s what to look for when buying.

Decide what type of headphones you want before you start shopping.

Apart from active versus passive or noise canceling versus noise isolation, you should also familiarize yourself with the types of headphones available and decide if you will be in the market for headphones (or in-ear headphones), earpads (or Supra-aural headphones ) or full-size headphones. (or over-the- ear headphones that fit the entire ear).

We’ve talked about the pros and cons of each , and there are active and passive models in all categories, but the form factor is just as important (if not more) than the type of noise cancellation you buy. If you need active noise canceling, you may prefer the full-ear models that fit the whole ear – this helps add a passive arm to the active noise canceling system. On the other hand, when you wear headphones, you may just need noise isolation – if anything at all.

Find out how much you want to spend

Premium noise cancellation comes at a higher cost. Since active noise canceling headphones have their own audio processor, the quality of that processor (and its circuitry) greatly affects the price of the device. Likewise, build quality, internal drivers, size and shape all affect cost. If you want great sound and great noise cancellation, be prepared to pay for it. If you’re only looking for one or the other, you may be able to save some money.

That doesn’t mean you can’t trade, but those untitled $ 40 noise canceling headphones you bought from Woot ? They may be great for quiet offices, but they certainly won’t make it easier for you to sleep on the plane. Again, you don’t have to empty your wallet, but the best models cost hundreds of dollars, not tens.

Try them on (if you can)

If you can, try on the headphones you want to buy and turn on their noise canceling system. If they are passive, just try to keep them snug against, on, or over your ears. If they are active, put them on your head and turn them on in the middle of the store. Listen carefully, but without music, to see how well you can pick out the surrounding noise. If you are with someone, ask them to talk to you at different distances to see if you can make them out. Your friend won’t be able to simulate a jet engine, but he will be able to simulate chatter through your living room.

Also pay attention to the fit. Can you wear them for a long time? Will they be uncomfortable in the second hour of the six o’clock flight, or will your ears start to ache as you sit at your desk? Worse, will you get tangled up in the cables if you want to carry them around when cleaning the garage? Just because they’re noise canceling doesn’t mean you’re stuck with wiry, bulky, and awkward cans. Shop around and try as many models as possible before deciding.

Try all the features

Many people buy noise canceling headphones just to block out noise. They include a noise canceling circuit and don’t even listen to music. If it’s you, great. But if you want to listen to music or podcasts too, you need to do some more testing. Take a couple of your favorite songs and load them on your smartphone or media player. You can also download some Eminent multimedia test files and see if you can actually connect the headphones to your own device (or connect via bluetooth) in the store.

This will give you a better understanding of how your music will sound from your own device with noise canceling on and off. If you are someone who likes uncompressed and lossless music, now is the time to free up some space on your phone so you can take some of these files with you. You can quickly tell which headphones are where noise cancellation is more important than sound quality, but you can also tell which ones actually sound better.

Check battery life and warranty statistics

If you are buying an active canceling pair, remember that there is an audio processor in there and needs power. This means it’s more than just a couple of drivers attached to your head: there are electronics that can fail, and if they do, you’ll want to get them repaired or replaced. This is doubly suited to the expensive high end models that have it really good.

So make sure you check the warranty and review user reviews – not just about the headphones (we assume you already do), but also about the company’s customer service policy. Find out how you will contact them just in case. The last thing you need to do is spend $ 300 on a pair of beautiful headphones, make them die on you, and get the old customer service workaround.

Also, pay attention to battery life – some kits perform better than others, and you’ll want to know how often you need to pair them to recharge, depending on how long you plan on using them in your daily life. day basis.

Don’t expect miracles

Remember that even the best active noise canceling can’t block everything. You will still hear high-pitched sounds as well as harsh and harsh noises. Even the jet engine of your flight will seep out – no amount of noise canceling cans will make you think you’re not on the plane, but they can help you forget for a while.

Plus, if you’re an audiophile, even top-notch noise canceling headphones probably won’t beat your favorite pair for listening to music. As explained by Jude Munsilla, editor and founder of Head-Fi :

Trying to satisfy my finicky audiophile preferences for minute detail, timbre fidelity, and fidelity in the midst of a cacophony of airplanes or public transport is almost pointless — even the best of today’s consumer noise cancellers cannot overcome the noise of airplanes and trains. enough to release the finer, more transparent sonic details that audiophiles like me are after.

Bottom line

Noise canceling headphones are often expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to fork out for the most expensive set on the shelf. You can get decent headphones for a reasonable price that will keep you focused. However, if you really want a pair that offers you both active noise cancellation and great sound, you should be willing to pay for it.

Shop, do your homework, and read loads of reviews – we’re sure you’ll find a great pair that suits your use case, whether you’re sitting at home, on an airplane, or in a noisy workshop. …

This content was originally published in June 2013 and was updated on November 11, 2020 with additional information added.

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