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Are noise cancelling headphones right for me?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by dennis1077, Oct 19, 2020.

  1. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    My new apartment sucks! It's my first basement apartment so I'm running a dehumidifier, air purifier, and a fan to get airflow. Additionally, I can hear my neighbors upstairs. Pounding footsteps are consistently heard overhead. If they decide to watch TV, I hear it too. It's all very distracting when listening to music.

    I figured I would buy a pair of noise cancelling headphones.....then I started to research them. I'm not sure they're right for me. I'm reading about complicated controls. Apparently you need an app on your phone to even use the headphones. All I want to do is plug into my headphone amp and listen to records!

    Occasionally I'll use the headphones to watch a movie on my laptop. 99% of the time I'll be listening to records and CDs on my system. Literally every review talked about connecting to phones and computers via bluetooth. Do people even use noise cancelling headphones to listen through a traditional 2.1 receiver?

    I'm left wondering if noise cancelling headphones are right for me? Do people use them for critical listening or are they solely meant for riding the bus and working out at the gym? Do they sound good or are you paying for technology instead of sound quality?
  2. formbypc

    formbypc Forum Resident

    Get a pair of industrial ear defenders, and a decent pair of earbud-style earphones, with an extension lead if needed

    Put the earbuds in, and the ear defenders over the top. Try a cheap pair of ear defenders to start with, see if it's a comfortable solution for you. No batteries required.
  3. BackScratcher

    BackScratcher Forum Resident

    In general, noise cancelling headphones are great for steady state noises, like HVAC systems, airplane/train/bus engines, etc. But they are not very good at cancelling intermittent sounds, such as footsteps, voices, TV shows, and the like.
  4. punkmusick

    punkmusick Formerly 4011021

    I have the Sony WH-1000xm3 noise canceling headphones.

    First, about complicated controls. If I just want to plug it to the amplifier, it's really just plug and play. I press "power", noise canceling turns on, I plug it to the amp an it works fine. When I first bought it, the first thing I did was to connect it to my smartphone via bluetooth, when I did some configurations to optimize sound cancelation. It was a couple of years ago. I did not plug it to the amp before that, so I'm not sure if brand new from the box it's just plug and play too, but I believe it is. I suppose you don't need a phone app unless you want to use it with the phone via bluetooth and optimize the sound cancelation.

    About the noise cancelation: it works fine. It should easily cancel a dehumidifier, an air purifier and a fan. More dynamic sounds like footsteps and TV are harder to cancel. They will surely reduce it but don't expect them to give you a completely silent experience.

    About sound quality. It actually sounds pretty good. I had a Bose QC 35 II before the Sony and it sounded good too (noise canceling was a bit less effective). Notice that I said "pretty good", not "fantastic". Both headphones are bass heavy and don't have the same frequency response and "headstage" as my Sennheiser HD-650. Anyway, I still enjoy the Sony when I'm outside or moving around the house and need a wireless experience. I would buy them again. Glenn Danzig will sound fine through them.
  5. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    That's an interesting solution. The ear defenders alone would be worth it for reducing noise while reading.
  6. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the reply. I was actually looking at the newer Sony model. Think I'll give them a try!
    punkmusick likes this.
  7. Mike-48

    Mike-48 A shadow of my former self

    Portland, Oregon
    Good choice! I've been using the Sony WH-1000XM2 for years, and in even a moderately noisy environment, I prefer them to my Sennheiser HD-650s. To me, the NC far outweighs any loss of ultimate fidelity (not that the Sonys sound bad).

    People sometimes talk about lowering the noise floor by changing power units or cables. With NC headphones, you are getting many decibels of reduction, which adds up to far better sound & a far more relaxing listening session.
    dennis1077 likes this.
  8. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    That's quite an endorsement! I was seriously considering the Sennheiser HD-650s before the noisy apartment. I was worried that I'd be trading sound quality for noise reduction but my concerns appear to be unfounded!
  9. Bananajack

    Bananajack Forum Resident

    My wife has Sennheiser PXC 550, very recommendable she says. They also sound very nice
    But for music a closed headphone will do.
    Have a look at ESS 452H for 199 Dollars. Sound wise an absolute steal, you need a very
    low Ohm output amp though. Schiit Magni does the job well.
    dennis1077 likes this.
  10. Mike-48

    Mike-48 A shadow of my former self

    Portland, Oregon
    Well, it's horses for courses. The Senns are more detailed and open; the Sonys, smooth and relaxed. In a noisy environment, noise cancellation is really important to me. When I'm really listening, I actively "open my ears" to the music, which opens them to noise as well -- I find the noise startling and unpleasant. So by reducing the noise considerably, NC phones let me relax and enjoy the music more.
    dennis1077 likes this.
  11. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I'm looking forward to the NC phones. They originally felt like a compromise but I'm starting to view them as an asset. Besides, I also have a pair of Sennheiser HD 558s to complement the Sony phones.
    Mike-48 likes this.
  12. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident

    San Francisco
    I would just get closed back headphones.
    noise cancelling headphones are mostly as another user suggested good for planes , etc.

    I had the Sony WH1000xm3 and returned them just because I don’t travel often. But they are amazing at blocking out plane noise and such. Not footsteps and talking.

    I think they sounded pretty blah.
    Especially compared to hifi headphones no. Not even close to hifi headphones in the same price category without noise cancelling.

    unless you are in a plane or other similar constant noise I would definitely recommend closed back over noise cancelling. Just cause the noise cancelling ones are a complete meh at music.
    dennis1077 likes this.
  13. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident

    San Francisco
    Actually want to hear a funny story? Lol

    I had my Sony WH1000xm3 on a plane ride to Greece and back. That’s 18 hours from where I’m at mind you. One flight was 11 hours.
    Anyway I had in my backpack my Sony’s and my Beyerdynamic in ears
    I didn’t like the Sony sound so much that I put in my Beyerdynamic In ear headphones and put the Sony’s on top to cancel the noise on the plane.


    Worked great AND I had way better sound than the Sony’s.

    yup that’s how crazy I am. Lmao
    patrickd likes this.
  14. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I'm sitting here listening through my Sennheisers and I hear the constant whirring of a fan over Rush. As much as I want a pair of hifi headphones, I think it's time to experiment with noise cancelling. It will also be cool to use with my laptop!
  15. tIANcI

    tIANcI Wondering when the hifi madness will end

    Noise cancellation headphones are great when you travel on trains, planes and busses. But their sound quality will not beat wired ones of the same price.

    I have the Sony WH1000XM3, they work great with good sound quality but it still loses out to my B&O Beoplay H6.
    bever70 likes this.
  16. head_unit

    head_unit Forum Resident

    Los Angeles CA USA
    "Experiment" is a good word. Don't buy anything you can't return easily. I like the NR on my Bose QC25, however the damn things just do not have enough gain. Any quiet recording can't be turned up enough. Plus, while the noise reduction is good for jet noise, and fairly for lawnmower, it is not so effective for a weed whacker. Ambient noise...some. It really depends a LOT on your hearing, some folks are more sensitive to random noise and if so (like me :() no amount of cancelling or earplugs can really keep you from noticing it with soft music.

    I've listened to the Sony WH-1000XM3 a few times. One time they sounded pretty good but a bit tight on my head (another reason a reasonable return policy is a must), another time good but not great and not as tight, the third time same. I must say the NR was amazing-I literally could not hear the sales guy talking to me, how fantastic! :laugh:

    My friend represents Chinese factories and has listened to like every NR headphone since the dawn of time-I have 6 of them here in my house since COVID and want to get rid of them!-and says the 1000XM3 is the best hands down for NR. He felt the B&W might be my favorite but all that testing stopped with COVID. All of the 6 have WAY too much bass...Sony WH-CH700N, JBL Everest Elite 750NC, some TaoTronics model, I forget the others. Barf.

    Oh, if you want to plug in, check that a cable is available. I believe they generally still are, but don't assume.
  17. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Fortunately the company I use has a generous return policy. Something tells me I might be sending these back.
  18. ogdens_sliced

    ogdens_sliced Walnut Plug

    I use a pair of Sony noise cancelling now and then. They do what it says on the tin and no complaints sound wise. My only niggle is that they make my ears hot after circa 2 hours and a timeout is needed. They are a very snug fit and the pleather has zero ventilation due to the closed design.
  19. eddiel

    eddiel Forum Resident

    Toronto, Canada
    For your situation (and I've been there before) noise cancelling headphones aren't really necessary. I would just get regular headphones, probably closed back to give you a bit more isolation than open back, but not even sure that would be necessary.

    If you require wireless ones, there are some good ones on the market these days SQ wise, but almost all seem to come with noise cancelling. But that can usually be turned off. Just prepare yourself to hear a difference with bluetooth vs wired listening.

    I'm actually in the market for a pair myself and did a bit of listening yesterday. Need to go back to do some more listening but what I found is that even the higher end ones have big boost in the bass. My advice, if you can audition in person, is to listen for longer than 30 seconds. Really let it set in before deciding. The best way it's been described to me is that some headphones are designed to impress you for the first 30 seconds and IME, it's kind of true.
    bever70 likes this.
  20. eddiel

    eddiel Forum Resident

    Toronto, Canada
    I tried the B&Ws yesterday. I was so disappointed with them and felt there was a big bass boost in them. Honestly the new M4 Sony's felt more balanced. You probably won't like them judging by your too much bass comments. I got the impression that a lot of the headphones out there have a boost in the bass frequencies...I believe they call this "modern sounding" : )

    I also tried the Dali's IO-6. Good presentation with no bass boost but they felt really polite and lacked a certain sparkle and dynamics. But I might just need to give them a bit more time.

    I currently use the Audio Technica ATH-M50Xs and wanted to try the wireless version. The wired ones are great at their price point, but some of the more expensive ones I tried yesterday were definitely better, as they should be since they were twice the cost :) I'll give the wireless versions a shot next time I go in to the shop.
  21. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    Funny you mention this, my daughter just bought the Sony WH-700N. So I was curious as well to do some comparisons with my B&O H6...no comparison really. The Sony might be ok for loud planes and trains (I wouldn't know actually) but I don't really like their sound.
    The WH-700N is now replaced by the 710, but several reviews claimed that the 700 has a more balanced sound (which I allready find too boomy) and also has aptx bt (which 710 doesn't have).
    Now I wonder if the b&o models with noise cancelling would also sound boomy...anyone tried them ?
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2020
    tIANcI likes this.
  22. head_unit

    head_unit Forum Resident

    Los Angeles CA USA
    Yes unfortunately most headphones I try out have too boomy bass-not just too loud but uncontrolled. My kid has some Beats some time back, those had strong bass but actually not overpowering and not loose. Broken. And not quite for me. I've gone back to my QC25 and just accepted their sound. The low gain still drives me nuts though, and how they sound better with the amp OFF which is ridiculous. I do love love LOVE how they run off AAA batteries though, no charging worries since I don't have a great spot for that.

    When COVID eases I'll try B&W and Sennheiser from my buddy and see how they are. I see Bose has a QC35 wireless, I assume it can be wired also, wonder if the sound is better and the gain higher. I could even customize to purple! But would it be $350 better, hmm, that IS the question.

    Let me also rant here that with all their technology I do NOT understand why Apple does not make wireless headphones that can directly accept the 256k AAC stream from Apple Music. I get why maybe they don't want to license AptX, but hey Tim Cook borrow a few folks off the Homepod project to make your own transcoding-less version already!!!!
  23. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    I've been using sound cancelling headphones at my workplace for 20 years. These can be a godsend if you have relatively constant types of environmental noise such as fans, furnaces, AC units, airplane-noises, etc. But these work less well for cancelling conversations, and dynamic noises.

    You do normally sacrifice a some fidelity when compared to conventional headphones. But depending on the headphone, this may or may not be enough that you actually care about it.
    dennis1077 likes this.
  24. _cruster

    _cruster Well-Known Member

    Tacoma, WA
    I recently bought the Sony WH1000XM3 for use while I'm exercising - being tethered to a cord was a bummer.

    The noise cancelling technology is pretty freakin' amazing. The sound quality is, to my ears...meh. They sound...fine. I had previously used IEMs - Etymotic ER-6 for "walking around"; ER-4P for more serious listening - and I vastly prefer the sound of either one of those to the Sonys...vastly.

    My setup for yard work is wearing my IEMs under a set of shooting earmuffs...between the seal of the IEM in my ear and the earmuffs, I don't hear much of anything. Maybe an option?
    bever70 and dennis1077 like this.
  25. dennis1077

    dennis1077 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I DO have a fan that can be heard over my current headphones. Sacrificing a bit of fidelity may be required in my situation. One thing I have going for me is that I'm not a true audiophile. Obviously I care about sound quality, but as long as they don't sound horrible, I can make due.

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