Good noise cancelling headphones for a home office with young kids?
September 3, 2008 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Noise cancelling headphones for use in a home office with young children around. Comfortable for all day use and not too expensive. Possible?

I'm looking for some comfortable, not too expensive, noise cancelling headphones for use in a home office. I have young children at home and am hoping to screen out as much of that sort of screaming and crashing noise as possible during working hours. I'll probably be listening to quiet classical music or nature recordings.

I'm not really that fond of earbuds as they always seem to sound a bit too loud or too harsh to me. I wear glasses, so I'm not sure how well over-the-ear headphones would work out in the long run. This leaves the on-ear variety, but I'd question how well their noise cancelling works, and the long term comfort.

There may not be a perfect answer to this, but I'd be interested in your opinions and experiences. Thanks.
posted by DarkForest to Technology (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Noise-cancelling does well to get rid of white noise; it does little for screaming and crashing. You might want to consider noise-blocking high-quality earbuds like the Etymotic ER-4P (which would be neither loud nor harsh; the question is just whether you can stand jamming them into your ear.)

I find Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones to be comfortable enough for all-day use. They can be had used on eBay for about $200. I just last night received an AudioTechnica ATH-ANC7 set -- I'll comment again when I've tried them.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 7:31 AM on September 3, 2008

I got a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones from Aldi (in the UK). It might be worth seeing if they do them in the US. It was their own 'Tevian' brand. They were about £12 ($25 or less) and, although 1/10th the price of Bose, are very good indeed, comfortable and do exactly what they claim to do. I wore them on a long plane trip without a problem, and I wear glasses. They were good for music, movies and just quiet when I wanted to sleep.

Although they were one of Aldi's 'special buys' (they have offers for just a few days only, twice a week, I think) and the offer had finished when I visited the store, they still had some in stock.
posted by essexjan at 7:31 AM on September 3, 2008

I wear glasses myself, and I've had an incredible experience with these Audio-Technica over-the-ear headphones. The glasses don't get in the way at all, though putting them on or taking them off while wearing the headphones is kind of a pain. The noise-canceling capabilities are really quite impressive, even when simply idling, but when you play music through them, the outside world just disappears. I wear them on planes, if I'm playing music, I can't hear the engines even if I'm sitting right on the wing.

Amazon is apparently having a fire-sale on them too.
posted by valkyryn at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2008

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones really do work pretty well. It's not going to cancel out abrupt noises like a shriek or a crash, but it will cancel out ambient noises like fans, motors, etc. They're very expensive but are light and functional. They gave me motion sickness, so I can't use them, but my experience is atypical.

But if you really want to block out noise so you can focus on your music, consider a sealed can headphone like the Sennheiser HD-280. Even without any music playing I find those isolate me from what's around me. With music playing all my attention is on the music. Beware, though, they seal out enough noise that you may not hear emergency noises either. If no one else is in the house with the kids they may be too much. They're not usually very cheap, but they're on sale at Amazon for $100 now; that's a very good price.
posted by Nelson at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2008

I have a pair of Sony noise canceling ear-buds. They didn't do much, and looked dorky. Another Sony pair, more compact and without the noise canceling works just as well.

The key is a soft rubber part which helps seal the ear canal. A lot of ear buds are just hard plastic, which does squat. Combine the rubber seal with some music or something, and it has really helped me to become oblivious to chatty co-workers when I'm trying to focus on coding.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2008

I was on a job recently where we were all stationed very close together on one big table. Several people bought the the Bose headphones, and found that while they did a great job of drowning out ambient noise (lights, A/C, fans, etc.), they did nothing to block out chatter/voices/phones/crashes.

I ended up getting earplugs from the drugstore -- the foam variety. I could still hear, but everything was more of a low murmer; I had to take them out to have a conversation. I carry a set of them everywhere now.

Based on that experience, I bought a set of the Shure earphones -- sealed in the ear, they actually physically block out the noise rather than mask it. I went with the Shure SE 210 and could not be happier. They come with a few different kinds of earpieces so you can pick one that is the most comfortable/effective. Not necesarily cheap (+/- $140), but they (i) block out noise whether you are listening to music or not and (ii) do a fantatstic job with music. Bonus: because they physically block out noise, you can listen to music at much lower volumes. I would not travel without them.

Good luck with the home office-ing.
posted by mr_felix_t_cat at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2008

I've tried various noise canceling headphones but I wound using inexpensive ear buds with an ear muff over them. It looks really dorky but it's cheap and more effective than the active noise canceling stuff.
posted by rdr at 8:55 AM on September 3, 2008

Buy some of the cheaper NC ones by Creative.

I got a pair (earlier model) with my Zen Vision and couldn't be happier. I compared them to a pair of Bose NC ones last winter:

- I'm a Jazz nut, so good sound is really important to me and my music. -

The Bose ones had slightly better bass, but not enough to justify the $350 more, and the highs were noticeably muffled by Bose in comparison to Creative. Plus they even sound okay without the NC on (for saving battery).
posted by PixelatorOfTime at 9:21 AM on September 3, 2008

I love my Grados. They don't leak (so you don't need to "cancel" anything), they don't require a separate battery, and the sound is terrific. Oh, and they're half the price of a Bose.

8th street music in Philly will sell them via mail order.
posted by Citrus at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2008

The first thing I think you should think about is this: noise-cancelling headphones don't sound like they would work in your situation. Active noise reduction, or ANR, samples the ambient noise in your environment and creates a stream of interference to cancel it. That means ANR only cancels constant and uninterrupted noises. That's why the prime market for these things is business travelers - because they work best when they're canceling the sound of, say, a jet engine.

In other words, unless the "screaming and crashing" that you're talking about at your house is the sort of thing where each noise goes on for two minutes straight, ANR headphones won't help you. They don't filter sharp bursts of sound or sudden noises. They just can't; and it'll be a long time, I think, before we figure out some way to make electronics move fast enough to catch that kind of thing.

So you're better off buying normal headphones. As far as the Bose products are concerned, I guess I can say a few things, though.

I like sound - I guess I'd identify with the term "audiophile" - and, like most audiophiles, I can't stand Bose. Most of their product line is far cheaper than their marketing lets on; their wiring is cheap and shoddy and the rest of their hardware offers a great example of a ridiculous cost-profit margin based solely on gimmickry and advertising nonsense.

I tried the QuietComfort 2s a few years ago, and I have to say: I didn't like them much. If you're constantly tuning out loud noise, they might be fantastic, but the moment it gets quiet, you notice the audible hiss again. The "Acoustic Noise Cancelling Blah Blah Blah" thing just causes that hiss, which sometimes is fantastic for getting rid of outside noise; however, the trouble is, it's hissing when you listen to music, too. They're also rather large as headphones go; don't know if that'd cause a problem with your glasses.

I haven't tried the QuietComfort 3s at all; they're smaller, and I've heard that the hiss isn't as bad. They're also $350. That is, in my mind, a ridiculous amount of money to pay for headphones, especially when there are more companies out there making good headphones for cheap than ever before. There's a pretty good level review of the QC3s here:

Bose likes to talk about their patented TriPort Acoustic Headphone Whatever technology... However, the truth is the sound quality probably doesn’t matter. The target market isn’t the audiophile, despite what the advertising might say, but rather those who are happy buying 128 kbps music from the iTunes store.

My verdict on the Bose 'phones: don't waste the money.

There are, as I've said, a whole slew of far better headphones out there to be had for much lower cost. One of your options, as Nelson pointed out, is a headphone that isn't technically noise-cancelling but blocks out noise pretty effectively just by the nature of its design. A few of those:

The Grado SR60. This is a fantastic headphone. It sounds good, and it has that typical Grado attention to the low end. I should say that it isn't sealed; there is a mesh inside through which air can travel, so they won't seal off your ear. However, I can tell you that the acoustics inside these things are fantastic. I've felt often as though nothing else was going on when I was listening to music with these headphones; they'll deliver great sound, much better than most $400 headphones. And they're only $69.

Sennheiser is another company that makes pretty outstanding headphones. I believe they'll be your best bet for what you're looking for, primarily because Sennheiser is probably the best company out there making top-rate equipment for a good price that's focused primarily on sealed-cup headphones. From what I've heard, you can get the best sealing-out of external noise from their EH250s, which are still in a great range - they retail for $109.

If you're looking to move up a step and you'd like a little better sound quality, well, another good sealed-cup headphone maker is AKG. Their K271s offer great sound and seal out sound well, too. And they're comfortable. There's a great review of them here by a guy who seems to be looking for something similar to what you're looking for. Again, they're a step up - $179. But, if audio's very important to you, that's worth it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2008

My Sennheiser HD 280 has been outstanding in the office. It locks out almost all noise. It's also perfect in preventing sound leakage, even though that may not be as important a quality in the home office.

The downside: people with big heads need not apply.
posted by spamguy at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2008

Please do not make the mistake of thinking that "ear buds" and "canal phones" are the same thing. Canal phones are like ear plugs, only they let music in your head, and are like a gift of delicious ambrosia from angels. Ear buds are uncomfortable, sound bad, and don't block out any other sounds, and are therefor equivalent to what Satan's spawn leaves in his diaper when it is time to be changed.

Canal phones = exactly perfect for your situation, as long as you don't need to hear what is going on at all around you. Once you put them in and have music going, even at very low levels, you will not be able to hear almost anything around you. My wife has to yell from 5 feet away for me to hear her when I have mine in.

For classical music, the Etymotic ones are usually highly recommended. The ER4P are a good choice. I had them for a while, but needed more "oomph", so I went with a set of westones, which I would NOT recommend for classical music (they are very loud, so you end up hearing a lot of the hiss of the player in the background, which ruins classical music for me)
posted by markblasco at 2:49 PM on September 3, 2008

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