back to article Ten... noise-cancelling headphones

Based on technology developed in the 1980s for airline crews, noise cancelling headphones are getting better every year. They are no longer luxury items but essential for frequent travellers, making journeys more tolerable. Built-in microphones detect extraneous sound, such as aircraft engine hum or noise from trains and buses …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Errm, why spend

    upwards of £150 on these, when you can get a Sony NWZ-A845 16GB walkman with the exact same functionality...

  2. Bob H
    Thumb Up


    I bought a pair of the Sennheiser headphones a couple of months back when I was traveling, I've used them on a couple of long-haul flights since and they work surprisingly well. My ears got a little fatigued after 4-5 hours of use but that's hardly surprising. I am really glad I make the purchase because it takes the edge off of an 11+hour flight (and a fair bit of the engine noise as well).


  3. SuccessCase

    Got the Bose 'phones the other day

    And probably the best choice, if like for me, you find the in-ear buds cause excessive wax build-up (euw!). I fly a lot and I've tried other noise cancelling 'phones (avoiding the Bose's because of cost). None have come anywhere close to dealing with airline cabin noise as well as the Bose's. They are also extremely impressive when used on the London underground.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For those on a tight budget...

    ... or for a set of phones that aren't "mission critical" - for example, listening to music at work ...

    You can't go far wrong with these puppies:

    Sennheiser HD201 Closed Back Headphones

    Got myself a set for home office and one for work, such is the cheap price.

    For the price, under £20, the build and sound quality is good enough for everyday entertainment usage, plus they've got an exceptionally long cable.

    No, they are not "noise-cancelling" in the modern sense, but are rather noise cancelling in the old fashioned "cover your ears completely" way :)

    Obviously, if your looking for phones for music production, or for some serious music appreciation, these won't fit the bill, but for casual usage, excellent.

  5. Stephen Gazard

    Bose Quiet Comfort headphones

    what's not mentioned in the review is that they have a 2 year no-quibble worldwide warranty, which includes the cables. If they would have to repair it the headphones within warranty, they will simply replace the headphones with a *new* set. This sold them for me.

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      2 years?

      Sennheisers seem to be indestructable. When you walk on the lead all that happens is you get cracked on the skull as the head band is jerked down. Has anyone ever broken a Sennheiser without using machinery? I know that you can buy spare leads, but I imagine that's for if you lose them. As for longevity, I have some HD414s, bought secondhand, still sounding good after over 40 years! (You can still buy replacement earpads). (My other Sennheisers and Sonys are all less than 10 years old, so it's a bit early to comment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: 2 years

        I get through a set of HD600 cables every 12 months or so actually. Despite that, still the best pair of headphones I have ever owned and they do get use for about 10 hours a day every day

      2. kwhitefoot
        Thumb Up

        The only thing that made me get new

        headphones (HD595) was that the little plugs on the HD414s eventually stopped making a good contact. Didn't know you could still get the earpads, might see if I can resurrect them.

    2. handle

      Standard practice is to replace consumer electronics

      It is just too expensive to employ skilled people to tinker around trying to repair these devices - much cheaper to throw them in the bin and give you another pair which are dirt cheap to make (you have paid the markup once for the Pose label).

  6. Jan 0 Silver badge

    I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't have more over-the-ear models. I find that, with careful selection of earpiece moulding, that in-ear 'phones hardly need noise reduction, but are too uncomfortable to wear for several hours. I have closed, over-ear headphones from Sony (MDR-Vsomething) and Sennheiser, they offer good noise shielding and are comfortable, so comfortable as to make it worth going for the expense of noise cancellation. I've owned Sennheiser PCX-250s in the past, but though the noise cancellation is reasonable, they sit on the ear, block less sound and aren't as comfortable. (Over-the-ear headphones can block out sounds that the noise cancelling circuitry doesn't affect)

    I've tried the Bose, but while their noise cancellation is good, I don't like the way that they sit on my ears rather than over them. How about including the Sennheiser PCX450 in a future test?

    Incidentally, why do these devices only cancel low frequency sound? As a layman I just expect them to reverse the phase of the signal from the microphones and thus subtract noise from the input. Ok, there needs to be some adjustment to compensate for the response curve of the microphones and the driver. Can't a simple analogue circuit do this? Wikipedia suggests that you'd need to have the microphone next to the eardrum. As I see it, you need the microphones to be at exactly the same distance from the eardrum as the acoustic driver, yet isolated from it so they only pick up ambient noise. Tricky, but not impossible at these prices? If the microphone is further away then you'd need to go digital and introduce a delay line in the signal path. Am I on the right lines here?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... all the flashy tech and noise-cancelling tech in the world is never any substitute for comfortable headphones.

    I've got some high quality sennheiser in-ear buds that set me back £90 - the audio quality is outstanding, but after anything more than 30 minutes, they get *Really* uncomfortable. In fact, ear bud phones in general really don't suit me. I use those when I dabble with creating music.

    The phones I mentioned in my post above are great, however, I will admit they make my ears uncomfortably hot after a while. Very useful for work when developing audio related stuff, or listening to video tutorials - maybe an hour tops, then I need a break.

    The most comfortable phones I've got, for my iPod, are ... once again senheissers ... but are standard old fashioned style over-ear - like the old walkman ones - I can wear them for hours, so they are perfect for listening to my iPod at work.

    (Px 100-II) -

    Yeah, I've got a *lot* of headphones - for different purposes - one set doesn't suit all tasks, least ways, not that I've found yet.

    If it's comfort you want, over ear (not covering the ear), light weight phones are the best, but sure, they don't have the best audio quality.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You should review the Heil

    You should review the Heil Sound Quiet Phone Pro as well. Especially if a mike pickup is important - if you want to use your phone as a communications device, not a media player - you need not only a noise canceling headset but a noise canceling microphone as well.

  9. rvt


    the problem with a simple analog circuit is that our ears are so damn sensitive, that electronically is a high challenge and I really can image you need a 16bit A/D converter, signal processor and 16Bit D/A system to do it properly.

    I believe our ears are capable of picking up sound in energy as low as a couple of picowatt (that's a millions of a millions of a watt)

    For a noise cancelation headphone you need to consider that sound can come in through various areas, even through the scull sound will come in. And you can imagine that sounds comes 'different' through the back and front of a headphone and it scatters different in a humans ear, person by person.

    So it's not a easy problem to crack

  10. Silverburn

    The problem as I see it

    Is that these 'phones all still like to dal with constant, unvarying noise. Irregular stuff like speech or crying babies still gets through, forcing you to rely on conventional 'brute force' noise cancelling tech.

    When they introduce some with "wife/baby cancelling" technology, I'm definitely sold.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As an unmarried, childless and well paid techy I feel like I should say:

      1. I have no sympathy at all.

      2. "The only winning move is not to play."

      3. Its a lot easier to buy silly things like 200 quid noise cancelling headphones if you don't have to support a family.

  11. Chris_Maresca


    I've had at least 5 pairs of noise cancelling headphones in the last 5 years, including Sennheiser, Sony, Bose, Philips and Koss.

    None of them ever came close to beating ear plugs + over ear std headphones. I used to do around 150k miles of air travel a year, and that combination left me much less tired after longhaul flights than anything else I tried.

    Oh, and the type of ear plugs makes a difference. If you can find them, Hearos are fantastic, with an NRR of 33db+ and very comfy. They are also very useful to block those noisy hotel HVAC units so you can get a decent nights sleep....

    As an aside, I find that wearing headphones in public places just bothers me, I feel less in control. It's alright while sitting down for a while, but I tend to take them off as soon as I stand up.

  12. FutureShock999

    I recently bought the Bose QC15s, and then flew 24 hours. Amazingly, the leg from Dubai to Melbourne was 14 hours straight, and the Bose stayed on pretty much the entire time. I arrived the next day, showered, changed, and went straight to my client and did 10 hours of work. I could NOT have done that without them...which totally justified the price tag in one flight. And I've always disliked Bose before these...

  13. stu 4

    blackbox look identical to my gold ring ns1000

    and they were only 50 quid. So worth a look at the goldrings instead I'd have thought.

  14. Paul Horstink

    Passive noise-cancelling

    Personally, I prefer 'passive' noise-isolating, as my in-ears Shure SE530. I've had other/cheaper Shure in-ears, and their noise-isolation is just as good. I know it's a taste thing, but I believe sound-quality of the Shures is the best.

    However, I can find myself in the recommendation for the Sennheisers. I had a pair of bluetooth Sennheisers for my son that had a loose internal wire, and they sent me a replacement immediately (even though there's no distributor for the model here and they had to send it from another country!) That's what I call service!

  15. FuzzyTheBear

    Passive ? and why not ?

    Over the years and after maybe buying 20 pairs i started to use at home what i did at work and it really turned out to be the best solution for my use.Got a simple pair of Beyer headphones we use with ClearCom equipment for on stage / studio use. It has a flip up microphone and are designed for long hours of use in comfort. Drawbacks ? It sheilds the user from noise so well you wont even hear your wife anymore .. oh that may be a bonus plus. Thing is that those are meant for heavy use and will survive you sitting on them. That can be interresting to some folks. DT190 is what i been using and will be using for quite a long while still .

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed the best ones....

    If you can afford them:

    The A20, as fitted in helicopters (where I had a chance to use them) and planes. Pretty damn amazing, and a nice mic too for teamspeak :)

    Expensive though...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Bose 15

    Had them for 2 years now. I like them. They work perfectly on the train and plane, but I don't use them outside because i feel too isolated from the outside world - dangerous. They don't block the baby crying or unusual noises unfortunately. They can make your ears sweat after a couple of hours especially in the summer. My wife also got one of them for the long vacation flights and she's happy with it as well. After comparing my old one with hers, I have the impression that hers blocks outside noise a tad better, maybe my noise recording microphone got clogged, i don't know. In-ear is not for me because it hurts in a weird way after a couple of hours...

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Surely the real test

    Is how any of these compare on noise reduction to just a simple pair of over-ear ear defenders from B&Q for under ten quid? I use a pair of those over some fairly decent Sennheiser earbuds and it works a treat on flights, even against screaming children. They seem to survive a lot more abuse than any headphone set I've bought, too.

  19. Paul_Murphy

    Nokia BH905i

    I've got a pair of these (white ones from were £90, black ones were £150, now the prices are £160 and £130 respectively, wierd ??) anyway these are bluetooth ones, so no cables at all, which is nice.

    There are a couple of problems though - sounds can leak around the pads, since they only sit on the ears, and wind noise sounds a lot worse that on my cheap goldrings.

    However they do work well, I can make and take phone calls as well as listening to music, and pausing, forwarding tracks etc.

    Good for the commute on the trains and underground and of course I'm damaging my hearing through loud volumes either, though I can often hear others music since they have theirs so high.


  20. Thomas 18
    Thumb Up


    Good work techies, now can we get some advertisement cancelling glasses and a pair of Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses please.

  21. Graham Marsden

    If you just want peace and quiet...

    ... a set of Howard Leight foam earplugs give 30db noise reduction and cost a couple of quid from motorbike shops :-)

  22. John Smith 23
    Thumb Up

    sennheise service

    if definately stunning - have a pair of ie8's - a car ran over one of the earphones, and they just replaced it

  23. Glug

    Do they work even when no music is playing?

    What I'd like to know is, can I switch them on and block everything out or does a music track have to be playing?

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