Should I Buy Noise Cancelling Headphones?

If you are looking for headphones you are likely to be spoilt for choice and end up embarking on an information laden tour before you make a decision and part with your hard earned.

Thought it would be easy selecting a set? No chance, the choice these days is overwhelming – over ear, noise cancelling, isolating, Bluetooth, ear buds, waterproof, bass……

Really….headphones that reduce noise, how does that improve your music listening experience?

What are they?

Noise cancelling headphones are designed and engineered to reduce ambient sound levels from the surrounding environment. The idea is that they will cut out exterior sound so you can hear your music more clearly.

How do they work?

The technology behind these headphones is nothing new and originates from the safety industry. Occupations practiced in surroundings with high noise levels where traditional ear plugs and ear defenders aren’t man enough have been using cancelling technology for decades – think jet aircraft mechanics, refuellers, power station operators …

The way they work is by receiving outside sound into mics in either ear piece. The technology on board then mixes a sound frequency with the incoming sound wave and creates a totally new sound wave that is neutral and safe to our hearing.

Are there alternatives?

The obvious alternative are isolating headphones. These mechanically block out exterior sound with extra padding and insulation rather than by electronic technology. These sets will essentially put you in a closed off, world of your own.

What about performance?

Being designed for industry the technology isn’t really perfect for music listeners. Not all sound will be reduced.

The technology is really designed to deaden the impact of continuous uninterrupted sound – like jet engines on tick over or massive turbine generators working at a constant.

You’ll often still hear car horns or a baby crying or any short high pitched sounds.

In terms of music playback, the idea is to cut out enough of the ambient noise levels that you don’t need to turn up your volume to listen to your music.

As a result of listening to your music at lower volume you should be able to get a richer listening experience and be able to hear nuances in sound that aren’t possible at much higher volume levels.

The problem with these headphones is that they are specialised – compare sound playback with a set that are purely designed for playback and they are going to come second best – but compare them on a plane journey and they will outperform sets designed purely for output performance.

What about cost?

Additional technology costs additional money. Loading extra mics on board and processors that can formulate and deliver driver performance to cancel incoming sound adds cost onto the bottom line.

You’ll find you can get cost comparable headphones that offer far better playback quality for the money without the noise reduction technology. However at the top end of the market where function is more important than cost, you can get high performance playback comparable with top line headphones with the addition of fantastic noise reduction technology.

Are they worth it?

If you like to listen to music when travelling on planes and trains then even budget versions can be a great choice over a standard headphone – situations with constant noise interference favour these sets.

If you are looking for everyday use in normal environments then active noise reduction probably isn’t worth it – isolation style or just plain headphones with great playback quality are probably the way forward.

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