Headphone recommendation.
November 22, 2005 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Looking to buy noise limiting/cancelling/reduction/silence headphones...

The type that you can wear and not hear the outside world. All personal recommendations and linkage welcome - looking for a reasonably priced pair that work, and are not too huge on the ears. Mainly for mp3 use, so silence aspect valued above exceptional sound quality.

I'm sure this type of question has been posted before but they seem to go by a few names so searching wasn't fruitful.
posted by fire&wings to Technology (27 answers total)
Check out Shure or Etymotic if you don't mind wearing basically earplugs. Since you said you don't want huge, this seems like the best bet. The Etmotic ER-6s are very reasonably priced.

If you're interested in over-the-ear, active cancellation 'phones, Bose QC2 is what you want. (even the headphone purists admit nothing else does the same job as well)
posted by lbergstr at 4:44 PM on November 22, 2005

I love my Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones (link is to a review). They are pretty good, but not perfect at cancelling background noise; the sound is pretty good, and they are actually somewhat portable. In the sub-$100 class, I think they're an excellent pair of headphones.

You should really specify what "reasonably priced" means to you.
posted by istewart at 4:45 PM on November 22, 2005

I do well with my inexpensive radio shack knock-off noise reduction headphones -- works great for the $$. Hope you do well...
posted by orlin at 4:51 PM on November 22, 2005

My Sennheiser HC451 do the usual 'destructive interference' trick by inverting the noise waveform. It's an elegant bit of engineering, IMO. The irksome thing is, they can actually amplify the non-noise freqency bands. By "non-noise freqency band" I mean the braying of the prick two rows back who reminisces for the entire flight about the joys of vomiting tequila out of his nose in an alley in tijuana. So I vote for the in-ear type.
posted by Triode at 4:57 PM on November 22, 2005

My desk drawers are full of abandoned headphones, trying to answer exactly this question. There is an answer, but you won't like it. It's the Etymotic Research ER 4's. They are ridiculously expensive. They are worth every penny. Honest.

There may be a cheap solution. The Koss Plugs are rather nice phones crippled by poor fit. The problem is the spongy foam plug that quickly works its way out of your ear. Spend $14 on the Etymotic plastic eartips here and glue them to the Koss. You won't get the detail of the ER4's but you should get the amazing fit and insulation

Avoid the Sony NC11A. Total rubbish.
posted by grahamwell at 5:03 PM on November 22, 2005

My Etymotic ER-6 Isolator earphones are excellent at both sound reproduction and noise isolation; I couldn't be happier with them. They also cost less than half of what the ER-4 earphones go for; froogle lists several vendors selling them for around $80.
posted by cactus at 5:21 PM on November 22, 2005

I have both the Sennheiser active noice cancelling (PXC 250) and the Shure isolating (e3c) ear canal phones, and I like both.

Active noise cancelling (electronic circuit which produces noise which is out of phase to cancel the noise) works well against low frequency noise (especially rumbles from airplanes/trains/buses) while the isolating (basically, earplugs with a speaker built in) attenuate everything to some degree or another. Some people find the in-ear phones uncomfortable, but I've not had that problem and I'd highly recommend them.

Fair warning in advance: they block A LOT of background sound, so don't use them where this could be dangerous (jogging, etc). Also, it's quite surprising when someone taps on your shoulder and tells you they've been calling your name for 5 minutes.
posted by JMOZ at 5:24 PM on November 22, 2005

About the Etymotic ER series:

1. Extremely effective in blocking other noises. I used them on a trans-pacific flight, and it blocked almost all airplane noise. They blocked more than my earplugs did. Definitely read the instructions though, you gotta stuff them pretty deep in you ear for proper function.

2. On certain types of songs, like a female soprano, I'd never heard such a clear reproduction. I'm by no means an audiophile, but these headphones showed me that high quality audio can sometimes be worth it.

3. Noticably weak bass response. Even the standard iPod earbuds sounded better. This will make rock and metal songs sound quite annoying.
posted by jsonic at 5:28 PM on November 22, 2005

I searched for 'noise headphones,' and these previous discussions were the first two results. The latter of the two is among the twenty AskMe questions tagged with 'headphones.'

I like HD-280s a lot, but they're isolating, not noise-cancelling, and they're fairly heavy and not incredibly comfortable. If you don't mind cramming things in your ears, and you don't mind paying at least a hundred bucks, Shures or Etymotics (or Ultimate Ears) seem to be the most respected choices. I don't like Bose, but enough places carry them that you ought to be able to try a pair out for yourself. Trying things out yourself is a good thing to do when shopping for headphones.
posted by box at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2005

I'm a long time user of the Bose QC2's and can definitely recommend them for over-ear use. I previously had one of the earlier Sony over-ear NC 'phones but can't remember the model. While these worked, they became extremely uncomfortable when wearing them for more than an hour or so at a time.

I've heard good things about the various Etymotics in terms of sound isolation.
posted by michswiss at 5:41 PM on November 22, 2005

The Bose active noise cancelling headphones are expensive, but amazing. Very quiet, very light, very comfortable. Alas something about them makes me seasick, so I can't use them.

The in-ear plugs and sealed can things being recommended here are completely different products from active noise cancelling. You should decide which kind you want.
posted by Nelson at 5:55 PM on November 22, 2005

I vote for ER4's. I had ER6's but they didn't last very long - I blame the fact that they didn't have anywhere to pull them out of my head but by the wires.

The key to both of these is to get a good seal. If things don't sound very quiet, then you don't have them inserted properly.
posted by aubilenon at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2005

Huge on the ears, but cheap.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 6:11 PM on November 22, 2005

My personal experience differs from that of jsonic in regards to bass response, as do the experiences of several of my friends who also have Etymotic earphones.

The key, which is described on the Etymotic website, is to ensure the earphones create an airtight seal in your ear canal. If the earphones are not seated properly, the bass response is indeed weak. If they are, however, it sounds great.

YECMV (your ear canal may vary)
posted by cactus at 6:13 PM on November 22, 2005

I'll second the Radio Shack cheapies option. I have a pair of audiobahn ABN-103NC's that are just a re-branded RS headset. They cover the ear without using huge cups, are relatively lightweight, fold up into a cool, spidery M shape, and sound great despite extremely heavy wear (exposed wiring, ripped inner cups, ooold). I'm a stranger to the world in 'em.
posted by carsonb at 6:49 PM on November 22, 2005

I have the Etymotic ER6i Isolator earphones and I'm very happy with them. The key is getting a good seal, but once they are in, I find them quite comfortable, even for long transoceanic flights. They effectively shut out jet engines, crying babies, and commuter trains. I'm not an audiophile by any means, and I just use them to listen to my iPod, but I think they sound great.
posted by ambrosia at 6:54 PM on November 22, 2005

Another vote for the ER6i; you may have to try several different eartips for the perfect fit, though.
posted by scruss at 7:01 PM on November 22, 2005

Between me and three friends, we've owned 7 sets of Bose headphones. Six of those were the noise-cancelling type and the last was a pair of tri-ports. The plastic where the muff attaches to the headband has broken or cracked in every one of those seven headsets.

It's pretty obvious that the repeated stress of taking the headphones on and off led to the failures. All the failures except one occurred within six months after the warranty expired. The exception occurred within the warranty period and that's the only set Bose agreed to replace. I like the noise-cancellation and I like the way the headsets fit, but $300 should buy better construction.
posted by forrest at 7:16 PM on November 22, 2005

Given what everyone else has mentioned, I'm guessing you're not so much interested in the $50 or so Sony Fontopia headphones. If in fact you were, I'd recommend getting someone to let you try on a pair since I found the asymmetric right/left lengths to be incredibly distracting.
posted by kimota at 7:40 PM on November 22, 2005

Avoid the Sony NC11A. Total rubbish.

I'll second that. I don't have a positive recommendation, but avoid the cheaper Sony headphones. Mine made wooshy noises when the wind blew and just sounded crappy.
posted by monkeyman at 8:00 PM on November 22, 2005

For the ultimate, get a pair of in-ear isolation phones (like the Etymotic or the Shure) and hook them up to your music source. Then over those put on a cheap pair of noise-cancelling phones (I have a pair of Aiwas I got at Best Buy for $50 a fewy ears back) but don't hook it up to any audio source, just turn on the noise canceling.

posted by kindall at 8:50 PM on November 22, 2005

kimota: if you route the left one on the Sony around the back of your neck it's not so bad.
posted by Mike C. at 8:54 PM on November 22, 2005

I recommend the ER6i's as well. I've owned both the 6 and the 6i. I prefer the 6i because:

-- not as big so they fit in my ears better. the 6s were a little uncomfortable.
-- capable of going louder. I keep my ipod at about 40% of full volume and hear everything great. By contrast, my apple headphones had to be kept at 75%
posted by Manhasset at 10:12 PM on November 22, 2005

I second Zed_Lopez. I'm using a Silencio Orion with generic Sony headphones and a piece of two-sided velcro tape to attach an iPod Shuffle to the right side (all items can be purchased via your local WalMart). The Jackhammer headphones remind me of the classic Pioneer SE 205 headphones I used to enjoy.
posted by plokent at 10:26 PM on November 22, 2005

I'll second grahamwell on the Koss buds. True, they are not active noise cancelling, just earplugs, and don't fit some people, but they are by far the best sounding headphones for the price. They're cheap enough that you can just buy them to try them before going to a higher tech solution if they don't like them. Personally, I prefer them greatly to the large noise-cancelling headphones, both for sound quality and comfort. They are very bassy, which I like, and I've never experienced the problem other people have with them slipping out of the ear.
posted by team lowkey at 2:59 PM on November 23, 2005

I should have specified, it's the "The Plug" from Koss that is great. I don't think their normal buds are anything special. $10 at Amazon right now.
posted by team lowkey at 3:33 PM on November 23, 2005

Lots of people hack The Koss Plugs. You either love 'em or hate 'em

You can buy hybrids, or make them. My design here uses ER6-14 plastic earpieces and works best for me. I used an empty ballpoint pen refill to give some distance between the earpiece and the unit (use a hot fork to mould the ends to fit). Easy and cheap.

This is, btw, a superb solution for a motorcycle. The Koss' kick out sound and the earpieces mean you can hear everything over the wind and engine noise.
posted by grahamwell at 10:49 AM on November 26, 2005

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