Noise insulating headphones for my mutant ears
July 21, 2015 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Noise attenuating headphones needed. Difficulty level: broad-brimmed hats and mutant ears.

I love to listen to podcasts when I'm on the go. I live in a busy city, and often listen to quiet, talky podcasts while walking along noisy streets, or on the extremely loud subway. For several years, I have protected my hearing with a pair of insulating, over-the-head headphones (Panasonic RP-HTX7). Yesterday, however, my many-times-repaired headphones finally died for good. Do you have advice on how I should replace them?

Here are some complications:

a) I have mutant ears. Most people have an 'ear notch' (called an 'intertragic notch') which hods in bud-style earphones. My ears do not have one of these (the tragus is rotated out 90 degrees, and the antitragus is completely missing). This means that bud-style or friction-fitted headphones fall right out of my ears.

b) It's summertime here, and damned sunny and hot. While I can survive wearing a cap with over-the-head headphones, being able to wear a broad-brimmed hat would make me much, much more comfortable.

c) I am not rolling in money. I understand that these headphones will be used for hours every day, and thus worth spending some money on, but I'm not able to afford very expensive headphones. There's a reason I got good at small electrical repairs keeping my old headset alive.

d) I'm in a major city in Canada. I guess that's not a complication, but it determines what I can buy.

Do any of you smart people know about headphones?
posted by Dreadnought to Shopping (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
have you tried in-ear monitors? (IEMs?) they jam inside the ear canal, forming a tight seal, which makes them have good isolation, decent bass, and may work with your unusual (outer) ears.

(i'm not sure if that's what you mean by friction fit).

(for example, i own an earlier model of these and as you can see it's more or less just a stick that goes in your ear).
posted by andrewcooke at 6:21 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IEMs plus noise-isolating foam tips might do the job; since you have to compress them to insert as you do foam earplugs (roll, pull, hold), they're less likely to fall out than the usual silicone earbud tips.

I use Comply foam tips with all my earphones. I'm particularly pleased with how well they work with my Ety-Kids earphones (and if you're interested in protecting your hearing, high-impedance earphones are probably a plus.) The kids' version seems to be cheaper than the safety version marketed at adults, but as far as I can tell only some of the included tips are different. If stuff being too loud at the lowest setting is ever an issue for you, these things are amazing. Mine have held up for about six months of daily use so far, and still seem to be in new-ish condition.
posted by asperity at 6:48 PM on July 21, 2015

Yep, in-ear-monitors, either with the foam tips, or even better yet - custom tips. The custom tips would allow the earphone to be really secure in your ear, and your mutant shape wouldn't matter. Custom tips are expensive though (here in the US usually $100 plus maybe $50 to get the impression done by the audiologist), and that doesn't include the earphones themselves. I think it's well worth it but ymmv.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

if you want custom molds, i used and i would recommend them. one of my molds actually doesn't fit perfectly, but i am sure they would have re-done it, if i had not had to leave the usa. you get a kit to take an impression yourself. it's good to have someone to help, and you need to squish it in quite firmly, but it's well explained and fairly straightforwards.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:34 PM on July 21, 2015

Are you threading them from behind your ear?. I don't have mutant ears, I don't know if it would help - but it might!
posted by vitabellosi at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2015

Best answer: I also lack an intertragic notch, which is a term I never knew until this post, so I feel your pain. I used to swear by IEMs but developed a weird sort of sensitivity to having anything in my ear canals and had to stop using them. If they'll work for you, they isolate better than anything (and as people have mentioned above, you can go to a local audiologist or order from somebody online and get molds made for custom plugs). And you can wear hats.

Since I can't wear IEMs anymore and buds fall right out of my ears, I wear over the ear cans. If IEMs don't work for you, the best plan is probably to replace your broken cans with the identical model since you know you like them. I could recommend some fancier brands, but since your budget's tight and you already liked them once, why spend more?
posted by fedward at 8:00 PM on July 21, 2015

There are a couple POTENTIAL solutions

1) Foam tips, replacing the regular "friction tips" of normal black rubber

2) Noise-insulating tips, double or triple baffled

You can probably get a combo set of 1 and 2 (4 tips of and 6 sets of regular and/or insulating) for a couple bucks on Amazon.

3) Custom-self-molding tips, from Decibulz, for example, that you custom mold yourself using a bit of hot water. When it solidifies, it's custom fit to your ear shape. Available on Amazon, about $15 I think.

4) Ear-loop style headphones (sometimes called "sports headphones" that clips over your ear, kinda like eyeglasses

5) Overhead band type headphones, which means you'll have to go to some place like Bestbuy to try them on, then order online.
posted by kschang at 1:37 AM on July 22, 2015

For portable, non-obtrusive noise isolation, iems are the best, as long as you can stand the slight but noticeable pressure in your ear. For a good low-cost example, I would recommend the MRice E300s, (the E300s, not the E100s) they have extremely good sound for their price.

Finding something that isn't in the ear and has some noise isolation is much more difficult. The only thing that I can think of is something like the Sennheiser PX200s . They have decent sound quality and some sound isolation, but not as good as you would get from an decent iem. Closed headphones with decent sound and low power requirements (i.e., portable) are sort of a holy grail.
posted by rtimmel at 11:00 AM on July 22, 2015

I have a pair of Sennheiser PXC 250 II's. They are my 2nd pair - I think the original I had were 200's. I love the sound and the noise cancellation. They are light and comfortable to me. They do have a little "pod" a few feet down the cord that holds the 1AAA battery and the volume control / noise suppression stuff. My first pair lasted me 6 years, I think it was, before finally dying.
posted by Ambient Echo at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2015

I wore the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones for a few years when I was flying twice a week most weeks. After a while the noise-cancelling feels like a pressure on my ears. I switched to the Etymotic Research ER6i noise isolating earphones several years ago and have never looked back. I have mutant ears and have never been able to wear earbuds plus over-the-ear wireless devices also just fall right off my ears.

ER offers a bunch of different in-ear options that are affordable and have very good sound quality as well as more expensive professional quality in-ear headphones. I replaced my ER6is with the ER HF5. We also have a couple pairs of the MC5. I prefer the HF5 because I have tiny ear canals and the body of the earphone is slimmer. I use the small silicone ear plugs and a moisture gel to ease placing them in my ears.
posted by Altomentis at 12:35 PM on July 23, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your insightful and knowledgeable advice.

I went to the discount electronics store and got some mid-range but very cheap IEM's (end of the old line, ugly colour). I've been trying them out, and have been very impressed by their ability to insulate me from outside noise. Who knew?! (aside from all of you, obviously)

I'm still not sure if I'll get used to the strange negative pressure in the ears. If it works out, I'll consider investing in some better quality earphones that you guys have suggested. If not, I'll get some over-the-ear headphones, as per fedward's advice. But I'm going to give it a bit of time first.

Thanks again!
posted by Dreadnought at 3:43 PM on July 25, 2015

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