Under 50 dollar noise canceling headphones?
August 1, 2007 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Under 50 dollar noise canceling headphones?

I'd like a decent pair of noise canceling headphones for my loud train-based public transit commute preferably in the 30-50 dollar range. Ideally, something that isnt too bulky and with a noise cancellation circuit that actually works. I'm tempted by the sharper image noise canceling headphones, but they seem unusually bulky. If theres no way to avoid the bulk at this price point, I might just buy them.

Sound quality isnt the most important thing. I've gotten used to cheesy earbuds. If the quality is earbud or better I should be okay. Of course good construction and being able to fold them is a plus, but not a requirement. I'm open to used goods too. Any recommendations?
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay to Technology (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I found a used pair of these Radio Shack brand N-C headphones. They were already all beat up and one of the wires was stripped a bit where it plugged into the headphone, but despite all that they were by far my favorite headphones ever. It's the kind that take 1 AA battery in the headstrap. Because the rest of the chassis is so lightweight the battery can be an issue with balance, but I never had much of a problem even while bike riding. (Note: do not wear noise-cancelling headphones while bike riding!) They are not bulky, and fit my ear comfortably. They fold up. And I really enjoyed the sound quality, to boot.
posted by carsonb at 8:42 AM on August 1, 2007

I looked into noise-cancelling headphones and found that they are heavy, suck power, and don't necessarily work all that well. Also, the best ones are way over your price range.

You might consider in-ear phones instead. I have the Shure E2Cs, a little over your price range but close if you get a good deal. They're small and they work great at blocking out sound.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:01 AM on August 1, 2007

I have a pair of Sennheiser PXC-250 headphones. They cost $100, not $50, but they work really well, aren't at all bulky, fold up small, and sound pretty good. A little more money than you want to spend, I realize, but they meet most of your criteria, work better than the real cheapies, and still don't cost a fortune like the ones from Bose.
posted by dseaton at 9:08 AM on August 1, 2007

I have these $30 ear buds from Philips (a compromise with mrs. jknecht, because she wouldn't authorize the purchase of the Shure E2C's) and am quite happy with them. They don't block out everything, but they block out enough that I don't have to listen at a high volume when I'm walking around town or riding the bus.
posted by jknecht at 9:10 AM on August 1, 2007

I know that you aren't likely to find a pair for less than $80 or so, but I recommend the Shure E2c's or similar in-ear monitor phones. They make a tight seal so that very little outside noise gets in, making noise cancellation unnecessary. Also, they're tiny, so they are easier to carry, and are less likely to break while being bounced around in your backpack or whatever, and attract less attention from would-be thieves.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:29 AM on August 1, 2007

I bought a pair of Maxell noise cancelling phones at Target because they were the cheapest ones on the shelf and I needed them quickly for a long flight and thought I'd replace them later (Not sure of the official product title, but they say NC-II and Noise Cancellation on the sides). They are great and I have no desire to replace them now. They are durable, very easy on batteries (one AAA lasts months on constant use) and they are very comfortable, so much so that I've fallen asleep wearing them on many a long journey.

My wife on the other hand has a pair of expensive Sony phones. The sound quality is not as good. They are not comfortable. They eat batteries. The wiring is faulty. They come apart. In summary, I have to keep mine hidden or at work so that my wife will not steal them.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:30 AM on August 1, 2007

Consider one of the Plane Quiet headsets: the NC6 was about $50 when they were released a few years ago, you may be able to find a used set for less. The current generation NC7 is going for around $80 new, and are apparently a little smaller than the NC6. I've had good experiences with the NC6.

Looking at the pics of the Sharper Image headset, they look like a virtual clone of the NC6, and the ~$35 price appears to be a limited special. If they really are the same, I'd go for it -- I doubt you'll be able to do much better in that price range for active noise reduction.
posted by kanuck at 9:33 AM on August 1, 2007

I have a a pair of these Sony one and they work great. Well, actually I have the old model which was $10 less, but that's life. Good sound exclusion. I use them on the train and the conductor usually has to tap me to get my attention.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on August 1, 2007

I have a pair of Skullcandy Proletariat headphones that do a very nice job of noise cancelling. These are over the ear style headphones that fold up nicely and use a male to male connector cord.

Currently under $50 at Amazon. In addition to my own opinion, the user reviews there are very positive. At under $50, these are a bargain.
posted by dbolll at 10:18 AM on August 1, 2007

Echoing some posters here (and I know they're just out of your price range), the Shure E2C's are ideal for noise cancelling on a budget because there are no electronics blocking out unwanted sounds, no battery and no clunky unit to carry around... just well-designed noise isolation from the earbuds themselves.

The quality of the noise isolation will stun you. Make sure you use the foam tips (replaceable) instead of the plastic ones (both are supplied), as they provide the best results. The E2C's are also very sturdy, and come with a zip-up case for storage.
posted by scrm at 10:34 AM on August 1, 2007

I was very happy with my first set of Philips noise canceling headphones, then my darling girlfriend spirited them away - with my approval, foolishly, since I figured I could go buy a new $50 pair. Unfortunately the place I bought them originally stopped carrying the ones I liked, these, and started carrying these.

Let me convey to you how much I HATE HATE HATE these new ones: I, one of the cheapest men on the planet, threw them in the garbage lest I inflict them on another human being. I can only assume the S in SHN-2500 stands for SHITTY. So be careful which Philips you buy.
posted by phearlez at 11:40 AM on August 1, 2007

Just a warning. I bought the Sony ear buds Smackfu mentioned after a pair of Etymotic ER6 buds died out on me and I vowed never to spend that much on buds again.

They are by far the worst I've ever used. The sound is excellent, but for some reason the geniuses at Sony decided to make the chord to one ear ~4" long and the other ~1' long. Then they decided to make the whole chord so short that it dangles just below my shoulder blades. It comes with an extension, but it makes the chord way, way too long. I'd recommend picking up a different pair.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:12 PM on August 1, 2007

Thoughtcrime: both of those quirks are there for a reason and I've seen them on many Japanese-designed headphones. The mismatched ear cord lengths are so you can wear the longer-length cord around the back of your neck. That way, when you take your headphones out, they can dangle hands-free like in this photo. The short total lengh of the whole cord is so the headphones can be used with a remote that can clip to your clothes. Those remotes were/are common on devices like Minidisc players.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 1:43 PM on August 1, 2007

nthing in-ear buds. I have a pair of JVC buds that block out almost everything. (I have the opposite complaint to Thoughtcrime, though -- the cord on mine is ridiculously long!)
posted by robcorr at 8:27 PM on August 1, 2007

I sort of second ThoughtCrime and the sony in-ear buds. As he said, the sound is indeed excellent, i can listen to soft classical music on an airliner and hear the subtle touches easily. However, he's exaggerating (or under-exaggerating - is there a word for that?) on the cable lengths, it is a fraction annoying but it comes with an extention and overall is long - I find that a help, especiallly if i shove my ipod down the bottom of the seat pocket in front and lean back in my chair.
posted by daveyt at 5:33 AM on August 2, 2007

I have gone through several pairs of over-the ear NC headphones (the jet whine on a plane takes everything out of me...)
I found the reviews @ Travle Insider a big help.

One thing I did notice is that there is a big difference in a lot of the different manufacturers and how well the NC works. There are also (as noted) a lot of retail selling the same models with their name on it, so it is possible to get a good deal.
I'd also recommend ebay - you can find refurbs or last year's new old stock.
posted by niteHawk at 7:31 AM on August 2, 2007

David Pogue reviewed a bunch of noise-cancelling earphones in the Times in June (here) but only tried one pair under $50, the JVC HA-NC100, and didn't recommend them.
posted by hhc5 at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2007

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