Good headphones for blocking out all work chatter
June 17, 2013 5:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently working in a smallish office where people arrayed around a group of tables chat to each other during the day. I'm hoping to find very comfortable headphones for listening to music (mostly just soft wordless music - my base station is Pandora's 'classical for studying' station) that will let me not hear voices, but also will not leak and be obnoxious for my colleagues.

(I've read previous related AskMe's and I'm hoping to find recommendations more on target to my needs and price range, if possible).

I don't need to be able to hear *anything*. I'm also not a big music expert so I probably won't hear or appreciate or miss having the absolute best music quality. My real interest is to, when I choose, shut out as completely as possible the voices of people who are actually sitting fairly close to me.

This is what I've tried so far:

Monoprice noise cancelling headphones. I like them a lot and they're super comfortable. But they're pretty leaky. I didn't my homework before buying them, which revealed that active noise cancelling is probably actually less good for blocking people who are talking than passive would be. (Although these are not bad for that, I'm hoping to do better).

Sony MDR-7506. These were very highly recommended on the Wirecutter. But they were nowhere near as comfortable as the Monoprice ones, didn't seem substantially better at blocking out sound, and seemed a bit leaky too.

I think I want headphones that go over the ear since my impression is that these will be more comfortable and better at blocking out sound (also I think my ears are on the small side and I don't really like the feel of things in my ear). On the other hand my head seems to be slightly on the large side and I don't want them to be too tight.

I'd rather pay under $100 (and the less the better) but I'm willing to go somewhat higher if it's worth it.

They will sit on my desk all the time and not generally travel often so I don't really care about cases or accessories. I'd prefer if they weren't too flashy or showy.

Thank you!
posted by Salamandrous to Shopping (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
How about industrial ear defenders? Use them with ear buds if you actually do want to listen to music. These are cheap and intended for musicians but may attenuate noise enough.
posted by epo at 5:51 AM on June 17, 2013

I am a big fan of Sennheiser ''phones. Most cities have a retailer who will let you try before you buy and will stock alternatives.
posted by BenPens at 5:52 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not sure how loud you play your music for the sound to leak but I think the Sennheiser HD 429 fits all your requirements. However, if you play your music loud, pretty much any headphone will leak noise after a certain point.
posted by hariya at 6:17 AM on June 17, 2013

In case you do decide to consider in-ear options, I've been loving my Klipsch Image S4 - II earbuds. I just did a test with my music at its usual level and they made it about 2 inches outside of my ear before I couldn't hear them at all. If I turn the volume up all the way (to the point that would surely cause hearing damage in my ears), they can be about a foot away - but I asked my officemate (5 or so feet away) if he heard anythig and he said no.

Even if you've found other in-ear options uncomfortable, these might work because the earpiece is a slightly different shape (oval rather than round) and they come with an impressive number of different tips (I think it's 5 total options in varying shapes/sizes). I've found in-ear super uncomfortable before, but these have great sound quality and I happily wear them all day at work.
posted by Rallon at 6:24 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I asked this same question a couple years ago, and ended up buying Shure 215s. They're in-ear headphones and take a little bit to get used to, but they are wonderful. I too have small ears but took the plunge based on recommendations, and don't regret it. People can have entire conversations next to me and I don't hear a thing. Best work-related $100 I've ever spent. My only gripe is the foam tips degrade fairly quickly, but the plastic ones hold up well. They're not flashy in the slightest -- other people are constantly missing the fact I've got them in at all (which has led to a coupe awkward moments where they're standing there talking to me and I'm oblivious, but its kinda funny after the fact.)
posted by cgg at 6:27 AM on June 17, 2013

epo, I have those and there's no way to use them with earbuds. Brilliant for gigs though.

I think you're recommending some construction-level earmuffs, like these Bilson T3s. They'll certainly block out all but the most insanely loud chatter. You could pair them with something like the surprisingly excellent Koss KSC75.

But if you want isolation in your phones, I can only bypass your initial request and recommend some in-ear monitors. Good IEMs will fit comfortably, isolate amazingly well and give you stunning sound quality. There's a disturbingly complete list on the head-fi forums, which seems to suggest that the Shure SE215 is the best for isolation in your price bracket. I use phones with similar foam inserts, which are far more comfortable than the floppy plastic ones common at cheaper price points.
posted by Magnakai at 6:30 AM on June 17, 2013

Noise-canceling is great for ambient background noise, not so much for conversation. I recommend going for the over-ear phones, like Sennheiser 280s, which has been effective for me.
posted by thelonius at 6:31 AM on June 17, 2013

cgg, you can often extend the life of those foam inserts by giving them a quick wipe down every so often. I've been using the same pair for around 2 years now.
posted by Magnakai at 6:32 AM on June 17, 2013

I recently got a pair of these standard Bose ones, and they accomplish everything you're looking for. When I'm wearing them (even at really, really low volume) I can't hear shit. And I have not had any complaints from wearing them (even at a high-ish volume) from my office mates--and I live in a very close-sitting, complainy office.
posted by phunniemee at 6:32 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have experience with Bose QuietComfort 15 and Sennheiser, using both for noise cancelling without the music. The noise cancelling capability on my Bose's is an order of magnitude better than on my Sennheisers, and well worth the (tax deductible) $300 price tag; the Sennheisers didn't do enough to justify their $100 price tag, in my opinion.

The Bose's are also very cushy and comfortable; I normally get headaches from headphone pressure but not with my Bose's. As a bonus, due to their size the Bose's are rather noticeable (in a understated, professional way), kind of like a "do not disturb" sign.

Also, I really like Focus Spa.
posted by rada at 6:48 AM on June 17, 2013

I asked this question recently to my friends on fb when I was looking for new headphones and someone suggested JVC HANC250 Noise Cancelling Headphones.
posted by quodlibet at 7:19 AM on June 17, 2013

I went through the same thing, listened to a big pile of headphones, bought the Shure SRH440s
and I've been extremely happy with 'em. (The Audio Technica ATH-M50 is also very nice, though it's about $160.)

Oh, you can also spend about $25 and upgrade the 440 earpads with some sweet ones from a much costlier model.
posted by ambient2 at 7:22 AM on June 17, 2013

I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, and I use it at work - noise isolation is fantastic (it's closed-back), over-the-ear design, and has brilliant sound quality for the price (I got mine during Black Friday at $140). It's over your budget, but not by much; I've never regretted buying it.
posted by titantoppler at 8:05 AM on June 17, 2013

I have a pair of "Howard Leight by Sperian" "Sync" headphones that I use in the office. $22 from Amazon. The sound qualithy isn't spectacular, but they've got an NRR of 25 which, with a little audio playing, does a pretty damned good job of blocking out the chatter for the network operations folks when someone drops a fiber link.

I also have a pair of Ryobi workshop ear protection thingies that have a stereo input that I use at home in the shop. The build quality is miles above the Howard Leight (which, given that they're Ryobi, says something...), but they cost a bit more and the styling is kind of garish. They also have a somewhat useless "noise canceling" feature which is actually "has microphones and plays through the most annoying spectrum of outside noise until it gets too loud".

Neither of those is "sit in a dark room listening to a great recording of Holst" quality, but if you're pacing them against a set of $5 ear buds, they don't suck too badly. And the full over-ear coverage means they're both relatively comfortable, and do a darned good job of making the outside world disappear.

And despite my complaints about the build quality with the Hoaward Leight headset, they're also robust in the "going to be tossing them on the workbench around power tools" sense.
posted by straw at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2013

I recently got these from Amazon, which are relatively economical and work amazingly -- that is, I can listen to quiet stuff like audiobooks on the noisy subway, etc. Probably some amount of sound gets through; if somebody called to me from my cubicle door, I'd probably notice, but really the background drops away amazingly and voices become a murmer. You could probably run them (the noise part takes its own batteries) without any sound input at all, or, of course, they'll make your mild background music completely absorbing. Shouldn't leak, but then again, my whole reason for using them is to keep my levels sane, so it would depend on your volume preferences.
posted by acm at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2013

I think I want headphones that go over the ear since my impression is that these will be more comfortable and better at blocking out sound

My experience is that my $6 Panasonic earbuds are VASTLY better at blocking noise than any fancy noise-cancelling blah blah blah over-the-ear phones. Like it's not even close. If you can get over the discomfort (it took me a bit, fine now) I highly recommend it before you drop big bucks on something fancy.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2013

I use the Bose QC15s for this at work and they are great. Without music I can still hear stuff but its greatly muted, with even soft music it pretty much covers everything. Over the ear and doesn't leak sound at all.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:54 PM on June 17, 2013

I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 's after reading a number of recommendations for them. Right now, I'm listening to classical music (some sort of string quartet) on them with the volume on the the iphone at about half ( higher and it start's hurting) and i the time i wrote this I can still hear the door in the office door opening/closing, some guy coughing, some guy walking down the hallway whistling, the guy in the cube next to me talking to his boss and the lock closing on the bathroom door.

If I really want sound isolation I need to put in some ear plugs and these over them.

I have some Panasonic around the ear Noise Canceling headphones which are great for flying but suck in the office.

So, I don't have the answer. I guess my point is that what's awesome from some people isn't for others so beware.

Please do follow up with what you picked and how they worked out :)
posted by Spumante at 2:16 AM on June 18, 2013

I have a coworker in the next cube who's on conference calls all the time. I've got a pair of Koss UR-20 headphones that work great. They don't have any tech to block sound, they're just big over-ear headphones with some noise absorbing foam. And they're about $20. The only quibble I have with them is that the height adjustment isn't very robust. But a little piece of cardboard stuck in the adjustment-slot solved that problem.
Amazon link
posted by specialnobodie at 2:50 PM on June 18, 2013

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