Ear Protectors / Headphones for Talky Office
June 20, 2019 9:01 AM   Subscribe

We have a talky office. Noise cancelling headphones tend to cancel constant sounds (droning, air conditioners). Ear protectors are bulky and sweaty. Music is distracting. What's the best technical solution for "I don't want to have to listen to my office neighbors talking"?
posted by musofire to Technology (22 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Mack's Silicone Ear Plugs (note: follow the instructions for safe use of these plugs).
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:03 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:07 AM on June 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'd use headphones and white noise.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:15 AM on June 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I use music
posted by bbqturtle at 9:19 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Foam ear plugs + headphones playing white noise.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:24 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also can't deal with too much chatting and find music and podcasts too distracting. Back when I shared an office with a lady who really liked to eat carrot sticks and call her husband, I used a pair of these headphones and fired up one of the following:

-Coffeetivity (+1 to chesty_a_arthur!)
-Rainy Cafe
-Biurnal Beats or Ambient Sounds on YouTube (there are so many it's pointless to link just one)
-Star Trek Ambient Engine Noises (there are a few others like this—I like to keep them in a playlist and just let them go)
-Noisli for mix and match ambient sounds
-Nature Sounds
-A Soft Murmur

Spotify also has some pretty good focus playlists with music that has enough of a beat to not put you to sleep, but little or no lyrics for distraction. Lo-Fi Beats is my favorite one, but Productive Morning and Mellow Beats are alright as well.

I also really like the RPGamers Network Game Music radio station when I really need to get stuff done. Every so often a song with lyrics will sneak in there, but mostly it's instrumental video game soundtracks, most of which are specifically designed by talented musicians to psychologically trick you into wanting to do stuff. They're also bouncy enough to block out talking better than some of the more soothing ambient sounds.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:40 AM on June 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

My answer, in a 400ft^2 office with nine other people in it across three different labs, is decent headphones and music.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2019

Noise cancelling headphones plus music.
posted by Cosine at 9:55 AM on June 20, 2019

I am fond of MyNoise on the Japanese Garden setting with the treble elements cranked down and the wind and waterfall cranked up. This site is nice because it doesn't stream the sound, so once you've loaded your setting, you don't need to remain connected (and your phone doesn't use data to keep playing it). The faq explains a bit better. Other sites tend to get blocked at my workplace, but this one never has.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:57 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to go the music route, I recommend custom ear plugs. They have a couple advantages. They reduce noise in a much more flat manner than foam earplugs, so you don't get that overly bass-heavy sensation and the sounds of your own breathing, talking, heartbeat aren't as intense. Second, they are way more comfortable than foam earplugs and can be worn all day easily.

They have to be fit by an audiologist. We sell them for about $150.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:59 AM on June 20, 2019

If you like things like Coffeetivity, you'd probably like the Hogwarts ambient mixers. I'm especially fond of the Gryffindor common room :) You can adjust the various sounds' repetition and volume until you get it just right.

I also use the Brainwave Binaural beats app, but I don't really use the binaural beats part, just the various nature sounds. They have a couple of different wave/ocean patterns that I really like.
posted by Mouse Army at 10:04 AM on June 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Headphones or earbuds and instrumental music, for me.
posted by sm1tten at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2019

I should add that it has to be music that never had any lyrics (or at least I don’t know them) because otherwise I’ll still “hear” and be distracted by them.
posted by sm1tten at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use a white noise app (White Noise Plus for Android).
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:47 AM on June 20, 2019

I used a Marpac white noise generator for a while (as recommended by AskMe), which is good at dulling-down sound in an open space. Ultimately I've gravitated to wearing over-the-ear headphones and listening to a rain sounds app/site. In addition to blocking out chatty neighbors, the giant cans are a good visual cue that you're in your own zone and might not appreciate frivolous interruption.
posted by mumkin at 10:54 AM on June 20, 2019

Rock (or just something "louder" than, say, gentle acoustic/piano-based music) + closed-back headphones (open-back/partially-open earcups tend to let outside sounds come in more easily, as well as let your own music/sounds "bleed" out, which also isn't good for an office setting). I've been getting into active noise-cancelling headphones lately (Sony WH1000XM3, and these Taotronics wired earbuds), but my non-ANC Audio-Technica ATH-M50x has been holding up quite well in the office - I can usually be typing away without noticing anyone else around me.

The type of music has been key, as it's easy for me to hear other people talking if I'm listening to a podcast or something on the quieter side, even with ANC on. Lo-fi/chillhop/electronica music has been ok for moments I'm trying to focus more specifically on precise wording for complicated emails or am puzzling something out, but I grew up studying to rock music so I prefer that the most. (Blocks out unwanted talky noise while being nice background 'noise' for me).

I guess figure out what about the distracting music is most distracting for you, b/c it's hard to combat talky noise with just silence (I find earplugs hard to deal with b/c of the feel and the weird sensation of hearing my own pulse)... lo-fi is more repetitive, like white noise, so that might be a good thing to try?
posted by rather be jorting at 11:10 AM on June 20, 2019

Musicians earplugs, look for Etymotic "Etyplugs" on Amazon. They're inexpensive at about $20, all day comfortable and discrete. Most importantly, you can hear conversations just fine while wearing them -- but everything is about 20db quieter. Much easier to tune out conversations when it's not loud but is more like a quiet whisper. People can talk to you and you can easily understand and respond without taking them out.

Honestly everyone should have a pair on them at all times, for noisy bars, concerts, crowds, weightlifting gyms (CLANG) etc. Save your hearing and sanity for just a few bucks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:18 AM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also desperately need quiet for concentration during my work, and I've really found the only solution to be Bose noise-canceling headphones + the ambient noise loops that some good souls have uploaded to You Tube such as this and this.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:30 AM on June 20, 2019

I use white noise from White Noise & Co's browser-based gizmo. Their "speech blocker" preset works really well for me.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:06 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a job requiring concentration, and a desk in an open-plan office. I'm noise-sensitive to the point that I cannot imagine how the ambient sounds of a coffee shop could possibly help someone focus. When it all just gets too loud for me, I use a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort noise-cancelling, somewhat noise-isolating earbuds to listen to a playlist of birdsong over heavy rainfall and rushing rivers.

Three caveats. The earphones are effective enough that I don't notice if someone is trying to talk to me; my ears get tired after a while, even though they're very comfortable and I don't turn the volume too high; and if I use the playlist too much, I start associating blackbirds and robins with work.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use Anker noise-reducing headphones (surprisingly light and comfortable, and much less expensive than Bose or Sony) and the MyNoise cafe restaurant noise generator. Sometimes I'll add an instrumental, ambient track playing in another tab as well.

The noise generator helps a lot because once one's ear gets accustomed to hearing the pseudo-babble, one's brain stops trying to make sense of overheard snippets of actual conversation.
posted by Lexica at 3:52 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing the MyNoise speech blocker setting. Adjust the settings according to the loudest voices in your office (eg, turn up the middle-left sliders to block deeper voices, turn up the right sliders to better block hissy 'ss' sounds).
posted by Gordafarin at 3:56 AM on June 21, 2019

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