does such a miracle product exist
February 22, 2021 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I need a pair of over-ear headphones for work that cancel MOST but not all noise. Details inside.

Hi. I need a pair of headphones that allows me to block out most verbal chatter near my desk but is not 100% noise canceling as I still do need to hear my phone. Is this a thing? I don't even know what to google for. I'd prefer on or over-ear headphones to earbuds (so folks can see I'm wearing them), I'm okay with Bluetooth or non-wireless, but I really don't want to spend any more than $150 on these (as I will be expensing them and I don't want to go hog wild with the company card). Given these parameters is it possible to find anything that would work?

posted by nayantara to Shopping (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I got a "Razer Kraken X Lite Ultralight Gaming Headset" (from Amazon; $40) and, while I don't use it in an office environment, I find that it makes it very hard for me to hear things my wife says about five feet away, but I can hear my phone's alarms even if it's like ten feet away. It has no official noise-cancelling AFAIK in the earphones, though apparently it does in the mic.

Bonus advantage: I've confirmed that they are comfortable to wear for at least 4-5 hours straight.

Possible downsides: it's corded and it comes with a (bendable) mic.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:11 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

my phone

Desk or cell?
posted by zamboni at 9:12 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Adding to the above: if it's a cell, then you can probably pair it with Bluetooth headphones such that calls ring through the headphones, over any music you have playing or noise cancellation turned on.

That said, noise cancelling generally is not great at dealing with human conversation -- it's designed for repetitive and fairly consistent noise such as mechanical hums and fan noise. Noise-isolating 'phones will lessen the volume of conversations... but honestly? not by a whole lot. I don't want you to spend money and then be dissatisfied with the results.

Take a look at for headphones. Reasonable prices for what you're getting!
posted by humbug at 9:17 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

If you have a desk phone, you can also reroute the calls through your cell phone and pair with a bluetooth headset.

I own both earbuds & over-the-ear headphones. Over-the-ear are what you want if people are having active conversations next to you. I am happy with my refurbished Bose QuietComfort 35s and I don't hear anything in that situation if I am playing background music. Refurbished would probably be in your price range, or Anker makes a well-reviewed $100 knockoff.
posted by veery at 9:40 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Desk phone. I work in an office (with COVID protocols). Management has explicitly said they do not want us using our personal cell phones for work business. So I really do need to be able to hear the desk phone. I already have my ringer turned up to max volume.
posted by nayantara at 10:00 AM on February 22

What kind of hookups does the desk phone have? There are headsets which mix multiple sources.
posted by Anonymous Function at 10:13 AM on February 22 [3 favorites]

Some terms of art that may be useful: noise canceling headphones contain active circuitry so they listen to the background noise around you and add the inverse of it to what you're listening to. Headphones without active noise cancelation can still be more or less sound isolating. This usually depends on the back design, e.g. closed back headphones isolate more sound than semi-open backs, which isolate more than fully open backs.

Active noise cancelation works better on steady noise like fans and road noise than it does for transient sounds like speech. Personally I find active noise cancelation to be fatiguing on its own and when I accidentally left my noise canceling headphones on a plane I didn't bother to replace them. My semi-open headphones are more comfortable for extended wear than my fully closed headphones are, but they don't isolate sound as completely (and also allow more of what I'm listening to to bleed out, if my music is really loud). I had a better chance of hearing my desk phone ring with my semi-open headphones, but even that wasn't 100%. It depended on how much I was focusing either on work (with headphones muting outside noise) or on my music (which sometimes happened). If you can find headphones that will allow pass-through from your desk phone you shouldn't miss any calls.
posted by fedward at 10:48 AM on February 22

An alternative approach is that with noise canceling headphones on, you functionally have hearing difficulties, so assistive technology like a ringing alert light could work.
posted by zamboni at 10:54 AM on February 22 [4 favorites]

Most office phone manufacturers have add-on kits to hook up headphones (with a microphone). Reasonably-tight headphones should block out most noise, and allow you to accept calls.

And your desk phone should have an indicator light when it rings -- is it in your line-of-sight?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:57 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

It is in my line of sight but I am an accountant processing financial transactions all day long which is an involved process and requires a level of extreme focus in order to make sure everything is done accurately. I only need to answer the phone when the admin is awao from her desk or on another line. If I can't get to the phone it eventually rings through to a couple of other extensions but one of the people to whom it rings through has absolutely nothing to do at work these days (she handles programming that happens in public places and obviously that's not possible in COVID times; honestly I don't even know why she comes into the office) and she comes out and gives me stink eye and passive aggressive remarks if she has to field a call that I've missed. I recognize that this is a separate issue that will need to be addressed eventually but in the meantime it actually is written in my job description that I am the first point of backup if the admin cannot answer the phone and so I'd like to actually follow my job duties responsibly. Its extremely difficult to get my work done accurately with all of the noise and the admin's constantly bothering me (please refer to my last question - I spoke with my boss about it this morning and the admin is going to get a Talking To sometime today or tomorrow morning about this) and honestly I don't think it's smart to have someone responsible for financial data entry to have their desk in such a public, loud area, but I am new to the company as of December and it's a bit early to demand to be moved to a different desk; I'm saving that request only if the issue with the admin needing constant hand holding doesn't get resolved. I have an incredible backlog of work right now due to weather related office closures and don't have the time or bandwidth to figure out how to rig my desk phone to interact with a set of headphones; I'm barely treading water right now.

I ordered a well reviewed pair of Anker headphones earlier today and they will arrive Thursday.
posted by nayantara at 1:01 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

Honestly I'm seriously considering bringing in earplugs for the next two days I cannot handle this I am going to end up staying late tonight because when the admin leaves at 4:30 I can motor through my work so much faster bc I don't have to fucking listen to her.

I'm not in a great headspace right now, sorry for being testy.
posted by nayantara at 1:05 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Sony XM4s have variable levels of noise cancellation. While they are over your price range, perhaps other Sony headphones have this feature as well.
posted by oceano at 1:33 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Sorry if this is not helpful as I'm aware it's bit explicitly answering what you asked but what about alternative ways of being notified that your desk phone is ringing such as lights, displays and vibration so that you can actually block out the annoying noise effectively but still be contactable?
posted by turkeyphant at 5:13 PM on February 22

You are in a suck-tastic situation and you have all my sympathy.

So you need to listen for this second line? Could you get a different handset just for these situations, and crank its ringer volume -- and the use normal headphones to counteract the office noise?

What a drag.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:36 PM on February 22

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