Let’s talk noise canceling headphones

You might have come across noise canceling headphones, and if you are like me, getting easily distracted or stressed by noise and traveling a lot, this might be for you.

This is not a comprehensive review of noise canceling technology, a specific headphone, nor is it a comparison of different models. This is just a general opinion.

I get easily distracted by noises and noise very often is stressing me out. Not loud music on concerts, I love loud live music. I’m talking about all these unwanted background noises. The nearly omnipresent traffic, children screaming, babies crying, smartphone ringing, you name it. Sometimes even to many loud conversations in a restaurant can stress me out, because my brain wants to listen to all the conversations at once and it gets hard for me to focus.

That’s why I almost always listen to music, podcasts or audio books when I’m walking around or traveling alone and that’s why I became interested in noise canceling.

But when I first heard about noise canceling headphones and especially after seeing the price of these things, I thought that it just seemed like a marketing feature to sell overpriced gear. I tried some in a local electronics market and I was not convinced at all. The sound quality was alright, but not better than my Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro at home, which had cost only half the price.

This was several years ago and for a long time, many people seemed to be thinking like me. I never saw many of these headphones in public, or I just didn’t notice them. But in the last ~2 years this changed. I had to go on more business trips, and more and more people on trains or planes with me were wearing these headphones. Some colleagues from work also bought some and were pretty fond of them.
So that got me thinking again, but still the price tag was a huge hurdle. But then I saw this deal for the Sony MDR-1000X for ~170€ instead of 300€. Yes I know there are the Bose QC 25 for the same price, but if I was to get new headphones, I wanted wireless ones. The price was something I could live with, if these things really keep what they promise. And from some reviews I had read the Sony model seemed to be the right one for me. Especially because I’m not a fan of Bose. Sorry folks, but if there is one name in the HiFi-World that stands out for overpriced products, well next to Beats, I’d say it is Bose (to me).

So I bought them and oh boy did they deliver!

I think the last time I was so surprised by a new technology being such a game changer was, when I bought my first SSD. The story was basically the same. Everybody was saying how huge of a difference a SSD was in comparison to the god old HDD, but I was like ‘not for that kind of money’. And I was wrong, it was totally worth it.

Same goes for the noise canceling headphones I’d say. Almost immediately I found out, why I didn’t recognize it from the start, back several years ago. Because you need to get them out ‘into the wild’ and hear, or better not hear, the difference. All fades into the background,  e.g. cars on the street. But the real deal comes when you are on a train or even on a plane for a longer period of time. At first you put the headphones on start listening, and you might be wondering ‘why am I still hearing these noises around me, is something wrong?’. Then you take the headphones of and realize how loud it really is around you.

There it really hit me. It is not about blocking all external noises so that you can listen to something in a totally quiet atmosphere. No you are still able to hear cars, hear turbines, you might still be able to hear talking. But the loudness level is very different and that’s what counts. The noisy world around you gets blurry and quieter, and the headphones help you to focus. On train ride you can work easier, or even better you can just lean back and arrive much more relaxed.

And I think most of the reviews don’t focus on this part enough. They just treat them mostly like normal headphones, go into detail on the sound characteristics, which headphone is good for rock music, which one is better for rap music and so on. This is important too, don’t get me wrong, but the effect of noise canceling in general should be more in scope.

As a conclusion, after using noise canceling headphones for ~6 month on a daily basis for commuting or longer business trips, I can totally recommend getting such things. Especially if you are susceptible to noise like me. I’d still argue that the standard price tag for the Bluetooth models is pretty expensive. But if they help to reduce your daily stress level and thus might be beneficial to your health, at least I hope they have a small positive effect for me, it is something you might want to consider.

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