Searching for noise cancelling WIRED headphones, Google is useless
December 19, 2023 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Hello, I'm looking for noise cancelling headphones that meet specific criteria, but searching has been very difficult. Can you please help me find my perfect headphones?

Context: due to a-hole neighbors, it looks like I need noise cancelling headphones. However, every product I've looked at is not designed for me or my needs.

I don't like wireless things -- the extra weight, extra cost, a built-in failure date due to limited battery charge cycles. Most significantly, I cannot deal with the terrible latency of Bluetooth audio.

I wear headphones all day nearly every day. Wired headphones are perfectly suited to this, as they just work and last forever, only needing to replace the ear cups once in a while. To use wireless headphones in this context (14+ hours every day) requires constant charging, which implies one of two things: (A) using the device while charging, or (B) me remembering to fully charge overnight, every night. Option (A) eliminates most headphones from consideration as they can't do NC while charging, and option (B) means significantly reducing the lifespan of the batteries by repeatedly forcing them to 100% charge, such that they're practically guaranteed to fail in a year or three. Moreover, I do not want to take on yet another daily chore -- remembering to plug in something or else dead headphones the next day. But even if I found headphones that can do NC over wired while charging, that means two cables (charge and audio) which is very depressing from a cable management perspective. Or (C), hotswap batteries, but that seems a rare find.

I have not found any pure-wired noise cancelling headphones. Try Googling "wired noise cancelling headphones" for the most useless search results you've ever seen, and a sobering reminder of Google's fall from grace. Plenty of wireless headphones can be used wired, but every one I've checked requires the battery to be charged to have NC -- they turn into dumb headphones without the battery -- which is reasonable, as something has to power that active circuitry. But if I wanted that, I'd just buy regular non-NC wired headphones. Having NC is the whole point.

Here is what I would like to find:

1. over the ear headphones. Not on-ear, not earbuds.
2. usable over a standard 3.5mm cable with noise cancelling. Failing that, dongle-style 2.4 GHz low latency wireless (not Bluetooth) is OK.
3. usable for 15+ hours per day every day without interruption of service -- could be met by headphones where NC works while charging, or which have a removable and hot-swappable battery (preferable), or something else I haven't thought of.
4. very much do not want to use a garbage mobile app for any reason but will if all other points can be met.

Price is not an issue if there's something that solves all of the above.

A few notes on unacceptable stuff I've looked at:

- Bose QuietComfort line: fails #3 and #4. It's usable wired, but no NC with dead battery, and no NC while charging. BT only (no 2.4G) makes it unusable as a wireless device.
- Sony WH1000XM4: also usable wired, but also fails #3 as NC is disabled while charging. Also no 2.4G option.
- WH-1000XM5: same, and garbage app #4
- SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro: reviewers say the NC is trash and that is the whole point of this purchase. The manual is terrible and doesn't state whether it can be used while charging, but I'm completely put off by the gamer bullshit (boom mic, absolute horseshit technical claims, custom DAC nonsense.) Looks like the upsell version of this has hotswap batteries if you're willing to use their shitty DAC (but I can't tell for sure whether the hotswap is for the shitty DAC or the headphones, and completely turned off by their marketing)
- I seem to recall seeing headphones from one of the other shitty gamer brands (Corsair, Logitech, etc) that had 2.4G and hotswap batteries, but I can't recall if it had NC.

I think my best luck is going to be the removable battery route, but I haven't found anything with the right combination of that plus 2.4G/wired plus NC.

Thanks in advance for any leads on products that can get me out of this bind.
posted by Rhomboid to Technology (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Earlier QC are wired and run on a tripleA battery or two. If you were in Europe I’d sell you mine.
posted by Iteki at 6:24 PM on December 19, 2023 [4 favorites]

Does this recent Wired article help you?
posted by blob at 6:39 PM on December 19, 2023

I have two pairs of Bose QC comfort. I charge one while I use the other, then switch out when the battery dies.

I know the Bose QC fails your challenge in other categories, but this could be an alternate solution for you if you find a wireless headset that otherwise meets your criteria. (Expensive tho. I was lucky to receive my second set as a handmedown.)
posted by samthemander at 6:44 PM on December 19, 2023

Have you looked at Jabra's offerings? They are/were primarily aimed at office workers so being corded isn't an obstacle -- especially a version or two ago.

I have a couple of their on-ear models and love them.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 PM on December 19, 2023

If you're willing to spend the money for the newer Bose QC stuff, what about buying multiple pairs of other, less expensive headphones instead of removable batteries? As much as it goes against my normal judgement, this may be a case where buying more of a cheaper item is better than looking for the one true headphone.

Pick your favorite cheaper brand, but tor example the soundcore space one over the ear headphones seem to get good enough reviews and this random reddit person says that they confirmed with the company that the ANC works wired. Stated ANC lifetime with a charged battery is 40 hours, so let's conservatively say that is two of your days.

Buying two of them is still less than one of the newer Bose's, and swapping between a charging pair and a using pair when the using pair dies is much easier then trying to remember to plug them in every night. Plus if one of them dies, you aren't entirely out of the water, you just have to charge daily until you replace it. [on preview, what samthemander says but with cheaper headphones]
posted by true at 6:49 PM on December 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not opposed to buying two of something, but that just brings up more questions. The far end of the headphone cable (i.e. the jack it plugs into) is not exactly easy to get to, and it would be a massive PITA to have to swap that cable every day. Are you guys swapping the cable at the headphone end? That jack is surely not rated for thousands of insertions/removals, is it? It's usually one of those 2.5mm mini jacks, they usually feel terrible. I would be very concerned about that jack breaking if a cable is plugged and removed daily. (Remember, I can't use QC wirelessly.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:13 PM on December 19, 2023

Get an extension cord and do your inserting there.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:01 PM on December 19, 2023 [10 favorites]

Try passive noise canceling earmuffs with audio in, like these Howard Leights. (If you upgrade the ear cups to gel they’re even better and more comfortable.) The actual decibel reduction is a lot better, and the reviews sound like what you’re after.

(I only know the shooting versions. If they make gunshots safe, they’re likely to do wonders on noisy neighbors.)
posted by supercres at 8:34 PM on December 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is only adjacent to your question, but I encourage you to test whether the noise cancelling headphones you select actually work to deaden the sounds you’re targeting (ie whole neighbors). I loooove my QC comfort but they only work to cancel certain types of sound. I find that deadening sound through e.g. mass loaded vinyl is more effective at certain types of sound.

Wishing you lots of luck and peace in the new year!
posted by samthemander at 9:48 PM on December 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

No specific recs, but I think you may have better luck searching for a "USB headset" or "office/call center headset." Gaming headsets also come in wired variants. Not cheap, and you may need some sort of plug converter, but aviation headsets are also a thing.

Nthing the caveat that ANC works better on some types of sounds than others.
posted by oceano at 1:14 AM on December 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

I also came in to suggest headphones with regular passive sound damping rather than fancy active cancellation (which might not work very well for this).

I have a pair of these Vic Firth with 20db noise isolation. They are pretty good, I am happy with them, and you can go up from there in sound quailing and noise reduction too. There's a whole product category of similar sets made for musicians.

(I think part of the problem with battery-less active noise cancellation is that not much usable power comes down the line, you gotta drive the cans and then there maybe isn't enough left over to run a little computer.)
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

I have Bose 700s and love them. They can be used wirelessly and also wired. The case includes a little compartment that holds both the charging cable as well as an audio jack adapter. May be worth a try?
posted by Sublimity at 6:54 AM on December 20, 2023

I have the QC-25s which run on a single AAA battery, and I charge four of those at a time in a wall plug charger. I can’t speak to how well they deal with neighbour noise though; I have such sensitive hearing that I don’t understand when people say ANC removes all background sound. I have to run white noise as well if I want to actually mask sound, and even then I have to concentrate on not being distracted.
posted by lokta at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2023

When our office was being noisily refurbished I got myself a Peltor (now 3M) hearing-protector-with-speakers. Those are primarily meant for one- and two-way communication in noisy environments so don't expect the most highest of fidelity, but they a) do the job they're designed for and b) sound pretty okay although you need a bit of oomph to drive them.

People needed to tap me on the shoulder or wave a hand in front of me to get my attention.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:46 AM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Could you be a bit more specific about the time frame that "hot swappable" needs to be? Is a few seconds OK? The QC25s mentioned above die entirely when the battery dies. But with 16 hours on a fresh Eneloop AAA it's not really a big deal to keep a spare battery charged. Takes maybe five seconds to swap the battery, but you'll probably have to take them off, it's a pretty slim catch on the battery door. We have a pair in use today, it's still possible to get replacement cups, and they seem to be very durable. Noise cancellation is not as good as the newest, but still very good for low-frequency airplane type noises. As with all noise cancelling (as opposed to isolating) it doesn't do that well with high frequencies, like voices, but luckily white noise does a good job with high frequency.
posted by wnissen at 11:46 AM on December 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I have an older version of these Sony wired headphones and I've been using them for about seven years now. They use a AAA battery for the noise canceling, so you'd probably want to get a couple of rechargeable AAA batteries to switch out when one dies.

I'm pretty happy with them. And it looks like many Amazon reviewers are too.
posted by tacodave at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2023

(I think part of the problem with battery-less active noise cancellation is that not much usable power comes down the line, you gotta drive the cans and then there maybe isn't enough left over to run a little computer.)

It would definitely be possible to supply power to headphones via their standard cable (2-core with shield) similar to Power over Ethernet or Phantom power for microphones, with a power injector at the plug end, but that's a pretty specific setup that your common NC headphone maker likely would see too little market for.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:57 AM on December 21, 2023

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