The Rest is Noise
A roundup of the best headphones for your next journey
A roundup of the best noise canceling headphones for your next journey
There is little more annoying than having to endure repetitive tinny beats emanating from a pair of cheap in-ear headphones, especially when you’re stuck for hours next to the culprit wearing them on a train or a plane.
Equally, for those trying to listen to music in loud environments with excessive ambient noise, headphones that aren’t noise-canceling are as good as useless.
“Noise-isolating” sets offer some relief – either big, closed-back headphones or more portable earbuds. But they still let through the roar of jet engines.
A solution was actually devised decades ago, and was used as far back as the 1950s by US helicopter pilots. Active noise control (ANC) uses simple acoustics to block unwanted babble. In theory, when any sound wave is combined with its acoustic opposite, the two cancel each other out, creating beautiful silence. A small microphone on the headset picks up external noise, and clever circuitry feeds in that “acoustic opposite,” achieving substantial noise reduction.
High-frequency sounds and sudden noises still create problems. But the theory works beautifully on the constant, lowpitched rumble in a jetliner. Little wonder many airlines offer noise-canceling Bose sets in first and business class.
Whether you are flying premium or economy, a pair of good ANC-enabled headphones are essential for every frequent traveler. But check the battery – noise-cancellation requires power, so sets without it can only block sound using traditional isolation methods. The battery in a good pair can last 120 hours.
If you’re seduced by the thought of going cable-free, wireless options are available – usually Bluetooth which draws less power. But remember both noisecancellation and wireless operation have a slightly detrimental effect on sound – a challenge that has been tackled admirably by technology companies which has made the slight dip in quality as unnoticeable as possible. Thus you can enjoy in-flight entertainment to the full. Or, if you prefer, just drop off into a deep sleep.