Looking for Data Center headphones
January 14, 2014 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I work in a data center, and when amongst the racks the noise is pretty tremendous - gotta lean in towards the person you're talking to just to hear them, ear plugs are a must for any long-term work if you don't have other coverage. So I'm looking for good headphones in the 100-150 dollar range that have either active or very effective passive noise cancellation/reduction. The restriction - no earbuds, I hate 'em. Over-ear cans are the way to go. The Sennheiser 280 is a classic standby, but I can't find any specifics on how much white-noise type sound they block. The 429/439s look pretty swank as well, but once again, can't find any details beyond nebulous claims of 'sound isolation'. Anyone in a similar noise environment have recommendations?
posted by FatherDagon to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One of the places i work is a coffee roasterie in an old fucked up warehouse that seems to amplify sound.

I wore hd280s, but now i wear IEMs. Not plastic earbuds, but i'll get to that later. Two guys here REALLY like the shure over the ears towards the middle end of their series. You don't want hd429s/439s. They're open on the back and block out utterly NOTHING. You're looking for headphones that specifically say "closed" in the description, those are open or semi-open.

But where i'm going with this, is what earbuds have you tried? why do you hate them? What you're essentially asking here is "i'm looking for something to wear in the rain, no jackets please!"

The most comfortable headphones of any kind i've ever owned or used are these and these. The trick is being patient and trying different sizes and types of the little rubber/foam earpieces and seeing what fits best, is the most comfortable, and provides the best isolation. Westone and MEElectronics make good less-expensive models that compete with those as well, but honestly UE and Shure were head-and-shoulders better than the other models i've tried. Those two models i linked have the best frequency response and smoothest, non-fatiguing sound of any headphones i've ever tried, up to and including stuff that cost >$500.

I don't know the exact isolation figures, but i was on a city bus that was sideswiped by a dump truck while wearing the shures and it was literally like watching TV with the audio muted. I didn't hear it at all, it was like a youtube supercut with music dubbed over it. I've worn them to extremely loud DIY concerts in a pinch too.

There are cheaper models from both of those companies that will make you very happy. Both of those are more comfortable than the hd280s(which, don't get me wrong, are VERY comfortable). Active noise cancelling headphones suck for this sort of thing too, you just want headphones that inherently seal on your head or in your ears and physically block the sound waves. The one comment i will make though is that the models under $100 of any earbuds i've tried were uncomfortable and sucked. The ones slightly above $100 in the 100-130 range were comfortable, but didn't sound awesome. Probably about as good as $60 decent over-the-ears like the old sennheiser hd212. You really need to hit the $150 top end of your scale and hunt for stuff on sale to really make this count.

If you're seriously against earbuds though, i can think on it and compile a best-of from the multitude of the over-the-ears i've tried that blocked out sound well. It's just that none of them did it remotely as well as good IEMs, or even cheap IEMs.
posted by emptythought at 5:57 PM on January 14, 2014

I have 280 pro's, they block some, but i don;t think they'll block enough for you. I also have problems with them, because they are meant to be driven LOUD! i frequently have problems in regular to noisy environments that there isn't enough granularity between 10-30% volume. at 100% volume they could double as crappy desktop speakers. They're really meant for djs in super loud clubs, if you can tolerate hearing loss.

You need dedicated ear protectors that also function as headphones. Unfortunately i don't have a good recommendation.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:58 PM on January 14, 2014

My Senn HD-25s aren't totally over-ear, but they are solid and passively block sound pretty well - enough to try my girlfriend's patience when I can't hear her talking to me.
posted by anthill at 6:12 PM on January 14, 2014

They may not have the best audio quality, but there are earmuffs with integrated headphones out there, such as these Howard Leights.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:33 PM on January 14, 2014

I'm familiar with the terrible noise of a datacenter and can only really stand to be in one while wearing earplugs or my Shure IEMs. I haven't brought my Sony MDR-V6es (which are similar to the Sennheiser HD-280 Pros mentioned above) to a datacenter but I can't imagine they'd block enough noise to keep me sane. If you can't stand IEMs, maybe look at hearing protection earmuff/headphones like these. Or maybe headphones made for drummers like these or these which have 29 dB of isolation which is pretty high. I'm also thinking that the oldschool Koss Pro 4AA might work too.
posted by zsazsa at 6:39 PM on January 14, 2014

Response by poster: My issue with IEMs is that they've always been distinctly uncomfortable to me and never stay seated in my ears. However I know that cans work just fine on my ears, so if I'm going to spend a notable chunk of cash on a set of phones it's going to be that.

My biggest concerns with headphones are that a) i've got a big-ish head, so tight bands can be extra-uncomfortable after a while, and b) I'd sometimes be wearing them for hours at a go, so something that doesn't get over-hot/sweaty/etc is best.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:25 PM on January 14, 2014

Seconding emptythought on the foam tips: Regarding your discomfort with IEMs and the cost involved, if you've not tried Comply's foam tips before, you might find them worth giving a spin at around $15/pack. Of course, that's assuming you've got a friend who can loan you some buds to trial them with for a few days. I have similar issues to you - large head, and I can't stand silicone IEM tips, but I find Comply's heat-activated foam the most comfortable listening option, especially when compared to the moist heat of wearing even light circumaural cans with good isolation for a few hours. Comply make tips for a really wide range of brands, and make even cheap $20 buds significantly more isolating and a whole lot less awful.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 2:11 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I use something like the WorkTunes to listen to podcasts while cutting the grass. The sound isolation is all passive but it is impressive since I can easily hear all spoken words on my podcasts only at medium volume.

I will admit however that aesthetically this is a less than ideal solution.
posted by mmascolino at 5:20 AM on January 15, 2014

I love my Audio-Technica ATH-M50s and they block sound very well. People have to wave in my face to get my attention.
posted by scose at 8:09 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros to block out the noise at work. Incredibly comfortably over-the-ear, closed back.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:01 PM on January 15, 2014

Do you specifically want headphones for listening to stuff, or would actual ear defenders do it? Everyone I know who works in noisy places wears Peltor ear defenders, but if no-one else does at your workplace is the potential uncoolness a factor? Might be overkill but the bubble of cushioned quiet is a wonderful thing (I speak only as someone who has to spend brief periods in properly noisy places, and hateshateshates the disposable earplugs available to visitors, and will borrow the mankiest pair of old ear defenders available to avoid wearing earplugs).
posted by Lebannen at 6:14 AM on January 16, 2014

When working with others, I typically use Etymotic Etyplugs. They do a good job bringing the background noise down while still letting me hear human voices. They are not comfortable for many people though. If I wear them for a few hours, I likely can't wear them the next day. I have recently been trying Downbeats and have found them more comfortable for extended wear. They are certainly not for everyone as you could definitely get them lost in your ear canal requiring tweezers and a trusted friend to remove. Which earplugs work for you is unfortunately a matter of trial and error. I have a dozen different types acquired over the years.

When working alone, I would wear earplugs, or Etmotic headphones under real hearing protection earmuffs. Howard Leight being my preferred brand, Peltor being another.
posted by fief at 7:38 PM on January 16, 2014

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