Maximizing quantity/$ in headphones.
July 30, 2009 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Headphone optimization, but not of the usual kind. Quantity/$

There are a couple previous questions asking for "good noise canceling headphones for < ${50,100}". That's what I want, except I don't care about the "good" and I want to double down on the "noise canceling".

Basically, I want to listen to audiobooks while mowing. I know some noise is going to leak through, so getting every little audio nuance is wasted. Furthermore, there isn't much "audio nuance" in spoken text.

I have a $30 pair of noise-canceling phones that just rests on the ear. They eliminate enough that I can just barely hear the book, but it isn't quite sufficient. Plus they died. I'm thinking that if I upgrade the noise-canceling and also get over-the-ear, I should be good.

These two features don't seem to go together very often. I did find a few pairs, but they were either very expensive or no longer for sale.

(I don't want ear buds or those ear canal things.)
posted by DU to Technology (19 answers total)
These aren't noise-cancelling per se, but I've had great experiences with the can-style JVC headphones. My girlfriend owns this pair, and I recently bought these. The build quality is superb - better than any Sennheiser/Sony pairs I've had in the past, and JVC does have a couple of sub-$100 noise-cancelling spec'd headphones of a similar looking build.
posted by tybeet at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2009

I think you'll have better luck with 'noise-isolating' technology than 'noise-canceling', especially considering that you'll be listening around very loud noise (lawn mower). This type of headphone sits in the ear canal and is act as a physical barrier to external sounds. They take a bit of getting used to, but are very effective. I've used these Shure headphones (this model is specific for the iPhone) while mowing and have had great results.
posted by sdinan at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2009

I've never used them, but these hearing protectors with a built-in radio and mp3-in jack seem promising.
posted by JMOZ at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2009

Seconding JMOZ. My dad has a pair similar to that (bought them at Lowe's) and he says they work pretty well.
posted by tanminivan at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2009

Jackhammer Headphones
posted by plokent at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2009

here's what I do. I have a pair of these, Koss: The Plug, which already have pretty good sound isolation, are dirt cheap and sound fine to these non-audiophile ears.

Then, I put a pair of regular sound protection earmuffs on over top. (such as these, but not this particular model)

I can hear my podcasts just fine, and the mower noise is barely noticeable.
posted by jrishel at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: I don't want to discourage people who are trying to help, but...I already know that noise-isolating headphones/earmuffs exist. I'm looking for both features in one package.
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2009

I completely missed the not wanting earbuds part, sorry my answer does no good now!
posted by jrishel at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2009

I'm not sure I understand your follow-up post, DU, but if you insist upon active (electronic) noise-canceling (as opposed to noise-isolating) earmuffs, these active-noise-canceling earmuffs/headphones are likely worth checking out, although somewhat expensive at $150.

That having been said, earmuff-style noise isolating devices (like the Peltor I linked to above) are likely to be very effective for the usage you describe.
posted by JMOZ at 10:33 AM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: I don't insist on noise-canceling as opposed to noise-isolating. I insist on both. All else being equal, a set of phones that does both will be less noisy than a set of phones that does only one.

As originally noted, the pairing is infrequent and usually expensive. With no other real options presented here, I guess I'll buy the used ones I found, despite the fact the seller has no feedback yet...
posted by DU at 11:58 AM on July 30, 2009

OK, that makes more sense. I suppose you've already purchased those, but for posterity, ther are many over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones, with the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ANC-7 being a generally-well-rated and often-reasonably-priced model ($115 is often possible to find).

That having been said, the over-the-ear headphones that are designed for hearing protection (like either the noise-canceling I linked to above or the non-noise-cancelling I linked to further above) are going to be MUCH more effective at blocking noise than simply over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones. For comparison, the AT QuietPoint headphones reduce sound by 20 dB, while the Peltor reduce sound by 26 dB. This is a HUGE difference, as dB are on a logarithmic scale.

Getting both is overkill for most applications (unless, of course, your lawnmower is actually a jet engine), and therefore not frequently necessary, hence the expense. That having been said, if you're willing to part with the $150, the Noisebusters I linked to claim 26 dB passive and 20dB active. That's pretty damned good.
posted by JMOZ at 12:59 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: claim 26 dB passive and 20dB active.

Do you have that reversed or is that 26dB passive and then 20dB more with active turned on? Reading the description it sounds like you have it right, but that's just....a lot of dBs.
posted by DU at 5:15 PM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: Wait... the cheap ones I have now are only 10 dB, according to Amazon. So maybe y'all are right and even just isolation phones would be enough, if they are 20-26.
posted by DU at 5:22 PM on July 30, 2009

Well, a 10dB difference is 10 times the noise. (and based on googling, the average lawnmower is about 90dB. a 26 dB reduction brings it in line, roughly, with normal conversation, which is really probably pretty adequate. That sort of hearing protector is what you might expect to use when mowing lawns or on a construction site, so they make a pretty huge difference.

The 26 dB and 20dB are the claims from the website, but I'm not sure exactly how one should add them. I would guess the frequency response for the active and passive are somewhat different, and I don't think that corresponds to a 46dB attenuation in any real sense.

My take: the first ones I linked will probably meet your needs (for a reasonable price), while the second ones would be even better, but at a rather high cost.
posted by JMOZ at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: The Peltor (which is passive only) site says 19dB. So that's like a 100:1 reduction, or ~10x as good as the 10dB. That does seem like it would be enough...and yet I'm skeptical that a little foam barrier can block so much of a lawnmower's sound. I guess I'll have to order them and try it out. (All the 1 star reviews are complaining about the radio reception, which I don't really care about. So I guess I'm great? So skeptical.)

Damn I hate buying blind like this. But I hate getting up and finding a place to try stuff out just as much.
posted by DU at 6:20 PM on July 30, 2009

Not sure where I saw the 26, but ok.

It's amazing how effective that type of hearing protection is; I use something similar outdoors when using my string trimmer, leaf blower, and chainsaw and indoors when using saws and routers. I would be pretty surprised if it didn't work for you. (Yeah, I noticed the criticisms of the radio, but really, our NPR station is hard to get even with a good radio, and there's not much else on the radio worth listening to.) Good luck!!
posted by JMOZ at 6:24 PM on July 30, 2009

Get sealing, in the ear earbuds (canalphones) and add proper earmuffs. The total outlay will be about $50 and should provide excellent noise suppression. The only problem you may have is canalphones are not always comfortable and added the earmuffs over them may make it worse.
posted by chairface at 11:23 AM on July 31, 2009

Response by poster: Followup: I got these. One caveat: The input jack isn't controlled by the volume knob (it's only hooked to the built-in radio for some reason). But that's OK for me, because I already have a tiny transmitter on my mp3 player and this setup lets me run wireless.

I started up the mower briefly to check it out. It only has passive noise reduction, but it worked really, really well. Incredibly well, actually. I could tell the mower was on, but the audiobook was perfectly audible. It was like being in a room with a medium-loud fan.
posted by DU at 5:25 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Glad it worked out for you, despite the one stupid bug. I might have to get a pair myself for leaf-blowing season in the fall. (Ah, the joy of having a million trees!)
posted by JMOZ at 5:23 AM on August 6, 2009

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