Recommend a pair of headphones for audiobooks out in the world
November 13, 2020 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Specific requirements within, but I'm particularly curious about is what sound isolation options there are out there

I'm an avid reader who has gotten really into audiobooks. As a couch potato, I've found that walking around while listening to audiobooks is a way not just to "read" great stories, but also be healthier. Win win! That said, my crappy headphones are not really up to the task. That's where you come in!

I have always tried to take care to protect my hearing...I try not to blast sound in my headphones, trying to keep them on the lowest setting where things are intelligible. Of course, when walking out in the world sometimes things can get noisy, and with shitty headphones with poor quality and no sound isolation, sometimes it's unavoidable that I have to turn them up pretty high to be able to hear properly, especially if I'm listening to books in Chinese (I'm a native english speaker) where my error correction is not nearly as good as it is in English.

I remember reading that active sound cancelling is actually not great for your does let one keep things on a lower volume, but it still puts pressure on your hearing. Is that the case? Are there any other options? I don't need complete isolation, I'm not walking next to airports, just think of the sounds of a bustling city street.

Since this is for audiobooks that might influence the sorts of headphones (since I don't need to be able to get sick bass in electronic music...though I mean headphones that also have good sound for music, especially bass, is a plus)? My budget is $500USD, though I is an object and I'd love to find something cheaper! I generally prefer over the ear headphones, though wearing them for a long time can create soreness...I'm largely listening using my iPhone, so it either needs to be bluetooth (ughhhhh) or I guess have a lightning cable (my guess is wireless is the only reasonable option here, as much as I despise bluetooth). I'm really biased against the airpods because in ear headphones like that fall out so easily and are easy to lose. I prefer in-hear headphones to be connected so they're harder to lose, though if airpods really are the best option I will consider them............but I hope there are better options, especially comfortable/spacious over the ear headphones? Who knows! I certainly don't
posted by wooh to Shopping (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve been really satisfied with the noise cancellation of the AirPods Pro and it’s really easy to turn it on and off if you want to be able to hear ambient sound for safety. I also have gone running with them recently and they’ve stayed in just fine. Your ears may vary, though.
posted by MadamM at 12:01 AM on November 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

The answer is Bose Quiet Comfort. Ridiculously comfortable, for hours, big ear coverage, good up all sexy if you ever take them off, remember and can be attached to simultaneously numerous devices, very good all-round sound, will happily take an aux input for cabling, great battery capacity.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 3:10 AM on November 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I second AirPods Pro. I've worked in audio, speech recognition, and related fields for the past 10+ years. The people that are modest well versed in audio are the ones that are most impressed about the audio quality AirPods have.
posted by zeikka at 3:33 AM on November 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Friend recommend Sony wh-1000xm3 and Bose QC25 or QC35 for active nice cancelling.

I prefer passive buds which take 30dB off all background noise, but it's been 6 years since I bought a pair that are doing well as my work headset playing music and on calls 8 hours a day. The Sony MDR-EX650AP wired, passive buds are the closest descendents I can see online.
posted by k3ninho at 4:45 AM on November 14, 2020

Response by poster: I'd be curious to know about the difference between active and passive noise cancelling, and whether active noise cancelling is indeed bad for one's hearing
posted by wooh at 4:51 AM on November 14, 2020

In terms of passive noise blocking you can't do much better than the kind you stick in your ears like any of these headphones from Etymotic. Looks like several of them come with lightning adapters. I have a pair of headphones from Etymotic that are ~15 years old and going strong. I find after a couple of hours wearing them though, that my ears get tired from having the earphones stuck in.

There are custom fit headphones that block sound better, but they are expensive/inconvenient .

That being said my experience is that audio quality isn't particularly important in the context of listening to audiobooks, but convenience is.
posted by gregr at 7:29 AM on November 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like the Jabra Elite bluetooth headphones. They don't do active noise canceling, but fit in your ears so they block out some background noise. I use them for audio books a lot and have been very happy with the quality.
posted by nalyd at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2020

Pretty much any earbuds with a rubber tip will do the trick. Sennheiser makes some (or used to) with a rubberized cord that's longer to one ear than the other, so you can easily wear them behind your neck when not listening.

I recently got a pair of Etymotics and the sound quality is ridiculous, but probably overkill for your needs.
posted by neckro23 at 11:16 AM on November 14, 2020

I have a fairly cheap pair of bluetooth in-ear truly wireless earphones (TWS) that I use mostly for audiobooks when I'm out walking the dog. They are perfect - very comfortable, and no wires to get in the way. And I actually prefer ones that don't block out external sounds. They do block out some noise, but for the most part I can still hear the traffic or joggers coming up behind me, etc. And I find I feel a bit more in tune with my surroundings. .If you're interested, maybe take a look at some reviews on - a fairly well-respected review site. There are lots of < $50 ones that would probably work more than well enough for your usage
posted by patternocker at 12:50 PM on November 14, 2020

My Plantronics BackBeat FIT are now 6 years old and going strong (bought 13th Novemeber 2014 according to amazon). I listen to a lot of podcasts and 30-60 hours of audio book a month while walking around a small city.

There is real benefit in being able to hear stuff around you from a safety perpective. These are clear enough that the volume is never very high.
posted by adventureloop at 1:21 PM on November 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have been very happy with the Anker Soundcore Q20s I bought early in quarantine. They can do noise cancelling, but I rarely use it (sometimes it gives me a headache-y feeling, and it doesn’t always block out the sort of sounds I want to block), and they still block out noise somewhat by virtue of fitting over my ears. The portion that goes over my ears is very comfortable. They were my first bluetooth headphones and I’m surprised how much I love bluetooth. Putting my phone in my pocket or leaving it in one place while I roam around the house and not having to manage a cord is more freeing than I anticipated. In the interim I’ve also bought some inexpensive in-ear bluetooth ones for jogging in the rain, and some cheap sleep headphones (flat speakers in a stretchy headband), and while I appreciate both of those for their intended uses, the Anker ones are more comfortable and seem to have more robust bluetooth.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:10 PM on November 14, 2020

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