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Do noise-cancelling headphones really work?

Old 02-06-06, 11:01 AM
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Do noise-cancelling headphones really work?

From what I understand, they feed your ears 'negative sound' to drown out constant noise.

Can this be good for your ears to be bombarded with any kind of anti-sound? Basically im wondering if these kinds of devices can REALLY prevent 'noise fatigue' in a noisy environment or if they just deafen you further with a sound you dont notice?
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Old 02-06-06, 11:12 AM
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No, it's not good for your ears, for exactly the reason you stated.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:12 AM
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I believe in a nutshell the headphones have a mic that record the ambient sound, invert it and play it back. Then the 2 sound waves cancel, providing you only the sound you want.

Or I could be wrong, and the headphones just play more noise and let your brain decipher the good and bad.

I don't think there is a negative sound, a sound vacuum pulling soundwaves from inside your head, although that would be cool.

I am sure olddude can provide more detailed infor.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:15 AM
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well, by cancelling sound is the 'non sound' twice as loud and you just dont notice because your ears ar bombarded with both sounds and you register nothing?

I want something to block noisy background humming equipment but allow me to hear people still.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:30 AM
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Noise cancellation headphone will block out the air-conditioning, buzzing, background noise but it will never be able to block a regular conversation - different frequency. You might want to try out noise isolation earbuds that has no electronic technology to block out the noise, just the old fashion ear plug technology.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:42 AM
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I bought one of the first pairs of noise cancelling headphones from Brookstone to use on airplanes and they do a pretty good job.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by jon-w9
I believe in a nutshell the headphones have a mic that record the ambient sound, invert it and play it back. Then the 2 sound waves cancel, providing you only the sound you want.

Or I could be wrong, and the headphones just play more noise and let your brain decipher the good and bad.

I don't think there is a negative sound, a sound vacuum pulling soundwaves from inside your head, although that would be cool.

I am sure olddude can provide more detailed infor.
I'll try. There are really two different techniques. Higher frequencies are relatively easy to block with sound absorbing material, so a closed design that covers the ear may block those well. At low frequency, this is ineffective.

Active noise cancellation involves creating a second sound that cancels the first. To the degree it works, it really "erases" the sound -- you are exposed to no sound. Of course, it doesn't cancel perfectly, but you are exposed to less sound. Low frequencies are non-directional and this works pretty well. But sounds are waves. You can cancel them at a point, but over a volume, you have to launch the "anti-sound" wave in exactly the same direction to achieve cancellation over distances of wavelengths. The tolerances become "impossible" and this doesn't work above a couple of hundred hertz. (fortunately, by then acoustic absorbing material is starting to work). The real problem is that if they cancel at one point, but are moving in different directions, at some other point they add, doubling the sound.

By combining the two techniques, you can reduce the sound considerably, but you generally can't eliminate it.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:50 AM
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The way you describe it, if its not in the perfect direction, could this extra 'anti sound' fatigue your ear more?
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Old 02-06-06, 11:59 AM
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I find my ear plug headphones for my iPod to do a very good job eliminating noise and best of all they don't require the extra power that noise cancelling headphones do.
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Old 02-06-06, 12:06 PM
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I have some of the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 noise canceling headphones, and they are fantastic. I mainly use them on the plane, because using them anywhere else blocks to much noise. The don't block out entire conversations as another poster said, but it comes pretty close.

I recommend them for traveling.
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Old 02-06-06, 12:10 PM
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I've never been impressed with noise-canceling headphones. It seems to me that noise-canceling = louder and muddier.
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Old 02-06-06, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Save Ferris
The way you describe it, if its not in the perfect direction, could this extra 'anti sound' fatigue your ear more?
If it SOUNDS quieter, it IS quieter.

My description is more an explanation of why there are limits to how effective they can be. They aren't perfect, but they certainly help.
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Old 02-06-06, 12:27 PM
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I have used the Sennheiser PXC250 n/c headphones for the past couple of years with no problems to my hearing. I travel to work on the bus and Metro Green line in SoCal. They do a fantastic job of reducing the noise of the bus engine and make the electric train darn near silent. I can listen to music or the news on the radio without damaging my ears by having to turn the sound up to overcome the bus/train noise. You can listen via the headphones with the sound canceling function on or off. You can also carry on a normal conversation while wearing them. They run on 2 AAA batteries and fold down to stow in a shirt pocket.
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Old 02-06-06, 12:29 PM
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Funny how many threads there are relating to this right now. I have the Etymotic ER6i or whatever it's called which is a passive noise cancellation thing: They are basically foam or rubber (your choice) ear plugs with headphones built in. Nothing is added to counteract noise. They just form a tight seal and allow you to listen to your music much more quietly and hear it much better. But you also have to get used to the feeling of shoving something in your ear. You can spend extra and get a custom molded earpiece similar to what hearing aides use but I never did that. There is also the continued cost of buying more filters (to keep wax from clogging the speakers) and foam ear pieces if that's what you prefer (I like the foam over the reusable rubber ones) so that's a money factor. But for a noisy subway commute they are incredible. Walking down the street is tricky since you can barely hear approaching cars and stuff. You need to be much more aware of your surroundings.
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Old 02-06-06, 01:25 PM
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I use a noise canceling headset when I fly. (Flightcom Denali, if anyone is wondering. The yellow one ) It works very well, just like OldDude's explanation. It cancels out almost all of the low-frequency noise from the engine. (The constant droning that eventually gives me a headache!) All I hear is a very faint rumble. The higher frequency noises don't cancel and are instead absorbed by the foam that covers my ears.

My girlfriend has a Sennheiser PCX-250. They work the same way but don't offer as much passive canceling due to the smaller size.
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Old 02-06-06, 04:49 PM
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There's no such thing as anti-sound. It is simply sound with different properties.

I've tried cheapo ($50!) headphones from Radio Shack with this feature and they were pretty good. They work best in conjunction with, say, playing jazz or classical music.

As far as the neighbor's kids, give them whisky.
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Old 02-06-06, 04:51 PM
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These things don't work. I'm wearing a pair right now, and I can still hear my wife screaming for me to get off the Internet (and she's two flights up!)
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Old 02-06-06, 05:05 PM
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Another vote for: Yes, they work great! Though I pretty much exclusively use them on airplanes. I've never noticed "sound fatigue". It just takes the roaring of the plane engines and dampens it way down. And no, it doesn't seem to have any effect on screaming babies or conversations you don't want to listen to (in fact, by getting rid of the airplane noise you might notice these worse now).
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Old 02-06-06, 05:07 PM
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I only use mine when I'm on an airplane and it cuts out a lot of the noise. Whenever I use it in the lab I work in, it gives me this distorted feeling like I'm changing altitude on a plane.
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Old 02-06-06, 05:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Groucho
These things don't work. I'm wearing a pair right now, and I can still hear my wife screaming for me to get off the Internet (and she's two flights up!)
Wives are high frequency noise. Read my explanation.
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Old 02-06-06, 09:45 PM
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Originally Posted by STXDave
I have used the Sennheiser PXC250 n/c headphones
Picked up a pair from that brand myself before my flight to Japan and they performed well enough at dampening engine noise while still having somewhat decent sound for my music. They have since become my headphones to use from time to time at work but outside an environment where the noise-cancelling feature is used their quality drops dramatically. I found the effect while active to be enough to almost make me ill given enough time so even on the flight I staggered how long they were on.
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Old 02-06-06, 11:54 PM
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I think some of the upper end ie bose, senheisser work but i've tried the radio shack/generic brands & they hurt your hear after an hour. I've got ones that goe directly in your ear that block out sound a helluva lot better than some of those noise cancelling headphones. It's the sony exsl71 or something like that & they were only 30 bucks & work AWESOME on airplanes & trains.
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Old 02-07-06, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
There's no such thing as anti-sound. It is simply sound with different properties.

I've tried cheapo ($50!) headphones from Radio Shack with this feature and they were pretty good. They work best in conjunction with, say, playing jazz or classical music.

As far as the neighbor's kids, give them whisky.



Bus got them for me and they gave me a headache (because they're headphones, the battery is on one of the ear pieces).. I stopped turning on the battery because i didn't want a head under my tumor, but they're so damn big you might as well get fluffy earmuffs instead because they're fashionable and cheap and very cool.
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Old 02-07-06, 10:30 PM
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I'm a fan of the in-ear canal-phones that provide a good seal rather than active noise cancellation. The new Sennheiser Canalphones are supposed to be fan-friggin-tastic. I personally have a pair of Panasonics right now that are quite nice.
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