Noise cancellation is having a moment right now. Deservedly so. It’s not just rising in popularity, there are also new form factors and innovative technologies.
My first noise cancellation experience was with Bose. It was magical: instant transportation to a quieter world. It’s amazing: When you silence all that noise around you, you’re left with pure sound.
The Bose gave me a new appreciation of music. And a bit of awe about this technological achievement. Bose offers a range of options. There are Quiet Comfort wired earbuds tailored to iPhone or Android (it’s worth getting the right ones or the controls will drive you nutty). And there are over the ear wired and wireless options, including a new augmented reality release. Finally, there’s the QuietControl wireless headphones which have a neckband thing that seems outdated in a world of AirPods.
Until recently Bose technology was unrivaled. But with new form factors and competing technologies, I’d keep my ears open. But this isn’t a pitch for Bose. In fact, the truly wireless design of Sony’s earbuds inspires envy. I recommend you do your research and keep an eye on this evolving field. You may have read my colleague’s review of two new Sony models (the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless earbuds and the WH-1000XM3 over-ear set). The article is especially worth reading because it pits also Sony’s buds against the Apple AirPods.
If you don’t have noise canceling yet, you should get it. The reason you’re listening to anything is that you want to hear the content, the signal, exactly as the composer and producer intended it to be heard. With traditional headphones, the way you compete with outside noise is by cranking the volume. That’s bad for your ears. Over long periods of time, you’ll damage your ears.
The Apple AirPods are especially serious offenders when it comes to hearing damage and loss because they don’t do a good job of noise isolation. There’s no substantial physical barrier keeping your ears and the device on the inside and the traffic and noise on the outside. Not only do you generate noise pollution in your own ears, you also contribute to a noisier ambience for everyone around you. Noise isolation features will improve the effectiveness of any noise-cancellation system. The tradeoff is the bulk of the physical barrier.
Ok, some will save their fingers pointing out traffic deaths because people are so impodulated that they can’t hear oncoming traffic. To these critics, I like to reply in an excessively loud voice, “SORRY, can’t HEAR you — noise cancelation!” Seriously, though, the tech is improving on this front. Manufacturers offer a range of in-app settings and manual switches that titrate the balance of inside /outside sounds. Factor this into your buying decision.
The real benefit
Research shows that prolonged exposure to loud noises triggers stress hormones that cause premature aging and various forms of physical harm. To me that’s secondary. Enjoying the auditory world comes first.
Whatever you do, protect your hearing and grab a pair. The sooner you do, the longer you’ll have over a lifetime to enjoy full range audio. If you’ve got kids who love music, teach them early. Especially if they’re musicians, supply them with high quality ear protection. You don’t see great photographers staring into the sun. Deaf rockers are only gonna get so far.
You only get two eyes. Take good care of them and they’ll take good care of you. Noise cancellation: expensive but worth it.