How to increase volume on flights?
September 1, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

How to listen to ipad/iphone/netbook while on noisy flights?

I tend to fly a few times per month for work, often on very long flights. I find that I have a very hard time hearing audio from my iPad/iPhone/Netbook on the flight due to low volume from the device and loud background noise on the plane. This problem is especially prevalent in movies. I have maxed the volume in both iTunes/VLC and on the device. It is still not loud enough. Should I buy noise canceling headphones? Is there other software that will jack up the volume?

Since I don't fly terribly often I would like to keep any costs below $100 if possible.

posted by derivation to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yup! You want noise cancelling headphones. The headphones I use are pretty cheap and bare-bones, which work fine for me usually. A few months ago I had the awesome and unexpected privilege to fly business class on American, where they pass out Bose noise-cancelling head phones for you to use. I switched over and OH MY GOD. IT WAS LIKE SWEET MUSICAL DELICIOUSNESS WAS FLOWING INTO MY EARS. I heard sounds I had never heard before! Such an amazing difference.

I don't care enough to make the switch in real life, but on a flight it was like night and day. I don't really have a brand or style to recommend, just that, yeah--noise cancelling headphones will accomplish what you're trying to accomplish.
posted by phunniemee at 9:55 AM on September 1, 2011

These are the ones I use. I got my name screamed multiple times from two feet away while my back was turned. I heard *nothing* except what I was listening to (hip hop). Lifetime guarantee too.
posted by cashman at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2011

Here's an amplifier that plugs into your device, and then you plug your headphones into it. I can't recommend that particular brand, but the search terms you want are "amplified assistive devices" or somesuch.

If, by chance, you wear t-coil hearing aids, then you need a Hatis for sure.
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2011

I found I had to just skip the earbud-type headphones and go for the big DJ-esque headphones (non noise cancelling) that cover your entire ear -- I got this cheapo Sony set and they sounds great on airplanes.
posted by BurntHombre at 10:07 AM on September 1, 2011

noise cancelling headphones. definitely. the ones i have were a little over $100 and work great for planes or anyplace with a lot of white noise (office ventilation systems, I am looking at you). amazon link
posted by rmd1023 at 10:08 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another enthusiastic vote for noise-cancelling headphones.
posted by dfan at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2011

I use Apple in-ear phones but I use Shure in-ear rubber sleeves on them. Maximum seal, maximum noise reduction (better than all the noise-canceling headphones I've tried), small to carry, cheap enough and you don't have to raise the volume to ear-damaging levels. The Shure "sleeves" I ordered were "PA757 Flex Sleeves 'Small PA'" and are the middle clear ones in this photo. The trick is to put them on backwards. Put the metal stem of the Apple earphones into the curved, smaller end of the sleeve so that the flat, open end of the sleeve is outward. They'll fit loosely over the stem but tight in your ears. They have never come off in my ears.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm at the Helsinki airport having just enjoyed the tail end of "Mother Night" on my Etymotics mc3 on the flight over, and as long as i didn't lean my head against the wall it was clear and pleasant.

Haven't tried noise cancellation so can't really compare — these are of the "push halfway into your brain" variety.

Their hf3 are easier to drive so can be louder, but the sound quality of both is excellent.
posted by monocultured at 10:13 AM on September 1, 2011

I use a pair of Klipsch S4 noise isolating earbuds, and have been reasonably happy with them. I can keep my iPhone volume at a normal level on planes, though my ears do become a bit uncomfortable and itchy after wearing them for a couple of hours.
posted by Nothlit at 10:18 AM on September 1, 2011

What kind of headphones are you using? If you're trying to drive big headphones with an ipod it does need an amplifier, and they suck your battery life. I use Senheiser in-ear buds, straight out of an iphone, and they are more than loud enough (and block enough noise) to use on the train which is much louder than a plane.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:19 AM on September 1, 2011

I have normal in-ear earbuds with Comply foam tips - you compress them and they expand in-ear to form a good seal. I'm not a regular flier, but I've been on a couple of flights with these and it's not been a problem. I can still hear some of the plane sound, but my media is audible.
They're I guess what would be termed noise-isolating, not noise-canceling.
posted by clerestory at 10:45 AM on September 1, 2011

Noise-canceling phones are made for this situation -- they do a very good job of attenuating the steady drone of a airplane. They're even nice to wear without listening to anything, just to get relief from the noise.

The problem with trying to make your earphones louder than the plane is that you'll deliver dangerously high sound pressure levels to your ears without realizing it.
posted by timeistight at 10:49 AM on September 1, 2011

As a musician who depends on her ears staying sensitive and responsive, I would never EVER consider just increasing volume. You want noise cancelling headphones, full stop. The difference they make is positively astonishing.
posted by KathrynT at 11:26 AM on September 1, 2011

PLEASE do not increase the volume; you are damaging your precious hearing. Every time you get a ringing in your ears, you have just experienced permanent hearing damage that you can never, ever get back. In a quiet room, try listening to your music with the system volume and VLC volume maxed as you describe. It will be unbearable. A loud airplane just adds to this noise; it's not safe.

I didn't just come here to chastise you.

I recommend in-ear headphones. Rather than try to cancel out external noise, they simply seal off your ear. This way, you can listen at a moderate volume and still hear the quiet parts of the movie. Once a niche item, these are now extremely popular and there are numerous models within your budget.
posted by reeddavid at 11:39 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The noise-cancelling headphones that I use on flights reduce the engine noise without blocking out voices. I find that a benefit. It means I can actually hear the cabin announcements, and know exactly what I'm being asked when the flight attendants come round; without the headphones, sometimes I'm just guessing.

To address the question directly, I can also hear my iPod on its lowest volume setting when I use them. And a third benefit is that if I want to sleep, the headphones are light enough that I can leave them on, so that the engine noise doesn't keep me awake.

Mine are Sennheiser PXC 300 folding headphones, bought in London a few years ago; they've probably been superseded by now, but I imagine the latest version is just as good. They might fall a bit outside your price range, though; I think they cost me about £120.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:15 PM on September 1, 2011

Audio Hijack will let you increase the volume (or "gain") on the output of any Mac app for $32.
posted by nicwolff at 9:37 AM on September 2, 2011

(Won't help you with the iPad or iPhone but I assume from your reference to VLC that your netbook is a Mac.)
posted by nicwolff at 9:38 AM on September 2, 2011

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