The Rest is Noise

A roundup of the best head­phones for your next jour­ney

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Rho­dri Mars­den

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.

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