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Poor Man’s Bose – Open Office and on the Go Noise Control (e1z.ca)
152 points by nwrk on Oct 9, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments



I'm gonna step in and defend the Bose headphones that he seems to have had some seriously bad luck with.

I had a pair of wired QC25's as my first pair, and they had some really good noise cancelling. I could still distantly hear people talk, but when I had music on them (albeit probably louder than him) I could hear almost nothing. Regarding Quality: Those QC25s were used when I got them (couldn't justify full price at the time), and they lasted for about 2.5 years beyond, being used literally every day for 5+ hours per day (Programming with music is my thing)

When those broke, I had absolutely no problem justifying what seems to be an exorbitant price for the newer bluetooth QC35 set. These are far beyond what the other set were. Nowadays I keep my music much quieter - listening to soft electronica at maybe 1/4 of the volume I used to, and when I do that, I can't even hear myself type on my mechanical keyboard, let alone any people talking. People can come up to my desk and talk directly to me and I won't realize it unless I see their mouth moving.

I'm not sure why his experience with Bose has been so bad, but I'm more likely to suspect he got a lemon for his headphones. I have had my QC35's now for....2 years, with I would average at 6-8h of use every day at work. They don't have a single iota of visible wear on them, and the battery life is still 24-32 hours on a single charge. I imagine that, barring any accidents with them, they will probably last another 2+ years for me.


I have had my QC35's now for....2 years, with I would average at 6-8h of use every day at work. They don't have a single iota of visible wear on them, and the battery life is still 24-32 hours on a single charge. I imagine that, barring any accidents with them, they will probably last another 2+ years for me.

Same here, but I use them walking 1+ hour a day. With all that sweat over the years, still look and perform like new.

Yes, they were expensive, but I consider them the best value of any purchase in the last few years.


I've had a little less luck with wear on my QC25s, but repair was easy. I've just had to replace the earpads and the cord, both were easy and inexpensive repairs. And I'm happy with the noise cancellation.


The OP talks about the QC20 - which are "Acoustic" noise cancelling in-ears. That is, there is no active noise cancelling, it's just "plugging" the holes around the earcups.

What he really needed was the QC25, which is an in-ear with active noise cancelling much like the QC35 has.

EDIT: The author said QC20 but then he talks about ear-muffs - so seems he misquoted the model number I guess.


Sorry, but you're wrong about the QC20s. They do, in fact, have "active" noise cancelling. I have been using a pair for at least a year, and they are great.

I actually prefer the QC20 noise cancelling to that of the over-ear versions I tried (which were either QC25 or QC35, I don't remember).


You are right. Terms are so confusing.


Agreed!


I've had my QC35's for a bit over a year. Initially I was amazed by them but after a while I started to hear sharp noise when in complete silence (and not using the QC's), e.g. when going to sleep. So while I still use them I don't use the noise cancellation, which kind of defeats the purpose of having them...


Sharp noises? You mean you have developed tinnitus after using the Bose headphone and you think it was related?

Do you know if other people experienced the same?


I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that I developed tinnitus after using them. I occasionally experienced it from time to time even before I started using my QC35's. But it has definitely made it worse and more frequent.


I developed tinnitus during a time when I was using noise-cancelling Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b over-ears for 5+ hours a day. I did have other things going on though, so can't specifically say that was the cause.


This the same reason I stopped using my QC25’s i’ve often wondered if any other people may have had the same result.

My logic was that they are creating opposing frequencies at the same level of sound pressure as the ambient you are trying to override meaning it’s still loud, just not in a perceptible way. So especially on airplanes, I now use earplugs instead.


Active noise cancelling does mean that the headphones create a sound wave which has the same frequency but is out of phase by a single wave length. This causes destructive interference which causes the total energy of the waves to equal zero. You are partially correct but active noise cancelling has the same effect as putting earplugs in due to wave mechanics.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_interference


I believe that should read "has the same frequency but is out of phase by HALF A wave length".

> active noise cancelling has the same effect as putting earplugs in due to wave mechanics.

Simply from experience, I would disagree with this. Every time I have ever enabled active noise cancelling, I have experienced an increase in eardrum-pressure, volume, or both (both with and without music playing).

I understand that wave mechanics would theoretically work as you state, but in practice, does not.


Same here, have tried QC25s and didn't keep them because it made me feel like I had a cold, gave me headaches, and felt like my ears were not equalized pressure wise.

I use concert earplugs now, they are invisible unless someone really looks in my ears, and they attenuate all frequencies equally. This way I can also use them at concerts and they won't ruin the music, just make it much quieter across every frequency.

The open office can't die soon enough, what an absurd fad this is.


I have to report the same experience, and I used to turn the volume right down when using noise cancelling too


I discovered the Bose QC15 6 years ago. What was then borrowing my boss's headphones then led to me buying one for my travels. After my passport, it's the bose headphones that I make it a point to never forget. Air travel is so much better for me because of them. At least for me, the sound quality is absolutely great. Noise cancellation is top notch. I got them for my then girlfriend who has ADHD and it changed her life as well.

(I have tried a variety of headphones and earphones for the past 12 years or so and have decided I'm not buying anything else. Also, I'm 100% not the type to go by a brand name or pay an exorbitant amount for products that are not necessary)


My experience also. They seemed like a crazy large expense for a set of headphones I only use a dozen times a year. But I can't travel without them.


My QC25 bought new for 120$ are damn awesome. Half of my office tried them over last year and the conclusion was unanimous - they are great. Office noise is cut completely including most of the normal talking. Airplane noise is cut especially effectively, it seems they are optimized for it. Old subway and old trams are very high frequency and are cut only partially but still noticeably. As for build, soft materials look flimsy but neither band nor earpads are torn or degraded after 1 year of usage (office and rare travel), cord is good too. And wires in the moving part of headset looks very well implemented.

I think up to 200$ ANC headphones are a very good buy, 350$ is debatable.


I've tried many and I must agree with the OP - Bose headphones are terrible in terms of build quality and materials, bad in terms of sound quality, average when it comes to noise cancelation, poor in terms of features and absolutely bad at this price tag. I've settled for Sennheiser's Momementum and can't recommend them more - made of metal and leather, build to last, superb sound quality, very good noise cancelation and nice features and amazing support. I'm really surprised they're not discovered by people spending such amount of money on headphones.


Some empirical results seem to contradict your claim "average when it comes to noise cancelling":

https://www.rtings.com/headphones/tests/isolation/noise-isol...

This gives Bose QuietComfort 35 overall attenuation -27.08 dB, which is only beaten by the Sony wh-1000xm3, and some Etymotic in-ear buds.

Notably that number is more than 2x the attenuation of the Momentum, at -12.35 dB.


That's more like 30x better, since dB is log scale. Each +/- 3dB is about double/half as loud.


It's important to differentiate between power and perceived volume.

Usually a person won't notice an increase in volume unless it has a 3-5dB (3dB = double in power) increase. And won't perceive a double in volume without a 10dB (10dB = 10x increase in power) increase and even then it depends on the specific frequency.

Some things to check out would be: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevens%27s_power_law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weber%E2%80%93Fechner_law (and thus Just Noticable Difference [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-noticeable_difference])


Those Sennheiser are not active noise cancelling which is the defining feature of Bose QC headphones - and why people are paying the money. Closed back headphones do work great for blocking noise, but are usually heavier and less comfortable.


That's been my experience with people who go on about how terrible the Bose headphones are. You can get passive noise cancelling with Shure in ear phones (basically ear plugs) that is pretty good, but Bose is by far the best for active noise cancelling.

Their build quality and sound is also pretty good. I have a decent music background and also have Sennheiser HD650s which the audiophile crowd loves, but I think their build quality is cheap plastic (they're also open, require an amp, and cost $400).

I think the Bose hate is mostly tribal nonsense - it's cool to signal audiophile virtue by hating a dominant brand that lay people like.


> I think the Bose hate is mostly tribal nonsense - it's cool to signal audiophile virtue by hating a dominant brand that lay people like.

I think most of the Bose hate comes from their speakers which cost quite a bit for the sound quality. Much of that might be historical.

These days though I don't think anyone buys Bose products solely for their sound quality, they buy them for specific use cases like noise cancelling, or filling a room with a very small speaker (those Bose sound docks were pretty incredible when they came out). Bose has done a good job at doing something unique while offering sound quality that is mostly good enough.


For the record, many people think that Sony’s new WH-1000XM3 have better ANC than Bose. Bose hasn’t been the clear leader in at least a few years.


I have Momentums with ANC. They were rebranded as HD1, and now the Momentum is just closed back. But as far as I am aware Sennheiser makes the only headphones with both ANC _and_ premium materials, built to last.


Sennheiser did sell an ANC Momentum for short while, before rebranding the ANC version as the HD1, so I assume that's what GP is talking about.

I happen to have a pair of those, which I chose over the QC35s, however I would disagree with GP that their ANC is superior in any way - at best it's almost as good as the QC35s.

I bought them because they were more comfortable on me, the ANC was good enough for my occasional use, and I liked the way they look.


The Momentum Wireless with ANC is still being sold under that name at least over here: https://en-de.sennheiser.com/momentum-wireless-headphones-wi...

But there's half a dozen other Momentum headphones, some with, some without ANC. Sennheiser's naming schemes are aggressively unhelpful. Just look at this small subset of their overall headphone selection (hit Show all): https://en-de.sennheiser.com/music-headphones-portable

Naturally, they don't call it ANC, it's NoiseGard™ [sic].


Sennheiser Momentum Wireless are absolutely with active noise canceling, and that's the model I was talking about when comparing to Bose of course. I wouldn't compare non-anc headphones with anc ones, even though I own non-anc Momentum's too and they're so great that they've even survived being sucked into airport x-ray machine rolls, something I couldn't say about Bose or Sony, that are falling apart on their own.


I'm going to go against you and agree with the person your commenting on. I really only bought my QC35's because I was backed into a corner with my iPhone 7. I wanted bluetooth over-the-ear headphones that could also do wired, had good battery life, and sounded okay. After plonking down the $350 I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality, 20+ hr battery life, and the comfort. The noise reduction is pretty incredible and I've heard things in songs that I've never heard before.

They are not the 100% best sounding headphones. However, the clarity and imaging they provide is pretty astounding and I think they compete with any similarly priced competitor. I'm the kind of guy that will take speakers over headphones any day, and I find myself using the QC35's more than my speakers these days.


Are there ANY noise cancelling headphones that could be said to have REALLY high quality sound? I didn't full appreciate the difference until I got HD280Pros for at home (I don't need noise cancelling in my house) and realized how much better they sound then my QC 25s I use at work.


Have you tried using your HD280Pros at work? They are closed back recording studio headphones, explicitly designed to not let a lot of sound out, so that backing track isn't picked up by vocal mic etc. So passive noise isolation should be O(20dB), which should be sufficient unless your workplace is very noisy.

I have a pair of AKG K271 mk2 at work (same category as your HD280), as well as the Bose QC35s. The AKGs give a bit less isolation, but for extended use (6-10h) wearing comfort as well as audio quality, they blow the Bose right out of the water. The QC35s have been relegated to travelling only.


Depending on where your cutoff for "REALLY high quality sound" is, the Bowers & Wilkins PX are pretty solid, and people on /r/headphones seem to like the Sony WH1000XM line.


I can also recommend the Sony WH-1000XM line. I have the XM2, though the model 3 is out now. Some of the only headphones out there that beat Bose in active noise-cancelling. The sound quality is top notch; the one complaint people tend to have when I show them off is that the earcups are on the small side and they touch some people's ears. Doesn't really bother me though.


I think it's a balancing act... for the most part the differences in sound will come down to preference. There are also variances in price, comfort, etc. I think the Bose QCs strike a really good balance. I find them to physically be the most comfortable for around-ear headphones on my head. They don't weigh too much, they don't squeeze my head like a vice...

It just depends.


Huh, weird how much opinions differ. My current main headphones are HD650s but my work headphones are qc25s, and I have no complaints about the Bose build quality, noise canceling, or comfort. Sure they could sound better, but music at work is a background thing, not a foreground thing.


I've had similar conversations with people about headphones. My theory is that there are alot of fakes in the channel.

Barring subjective things like sound quality that I'm really not comfortable weighing in on, I just haven't found the Bose products to be fundamentally flawed in terms of build quality or noise cancellation.

It may vary based on your office -- I don't have some crazy person simulating machine guns on a mechanical keyboard 3 feet away or a super loud, pure open office space with warehouse ceilings either.


I sometimes wonder if my QC25s are on, or whether the weirdly oval silicon earbuds are actually in my ears. They don't cut out music or conversation. When I take them off I realise they've cut out a lot of white noise/background noise. But they just focus distractions, really.

With music on, yes, they work much better. But whenever there are gaps between the music the distractions come right back.

I need earbuds rather than headphones for portability, and I was prepared to be realistic about what this meant for noise reduction. But if there was anything better than the QC25s in a similar form factor I would switch in a heartbeat.


I have BOSE QC for years now too, but they haven't been reliable at all.

I've been lucky that BOSE keep replacing / fixing them... There was a period where they were needing replaced every 8 months or so and I like to think I take good care of my stuff. I'm not rough with them. The current set has at least been good for a few years now. All I have to do is replace the ear muff bits but that's expected and I had to replace the cable about 9 months ago.

Can't fault the sound quality though and the noise cancellation is great.


similar - went through a pair of QC20 - replaced 5 times in 3 years. rarely do we get extended warranties - my wife had read a few places saying to get it, and we did. she got a pair - no problems, but she uses them at most a few hours a week. mine, I'm wearing probably 8-10 hours per day, 7 days a week. I slept with them in, initially, but I'm sure that contributed to the first breakage, so I quit doing that.


I still have not used a pair of NC headphones that muffles noise as well as my QC35. It's like stepping into a bubble.


don't they make your ears hot? i can wear my 25's but have to take them off at least each hour just to cool off.


When I put music on my shitty earbuds I can't hear anything else either.


I read this as "the work water-cooler was full of poison so I found some cheap antidote and now I only suffer mild headaches."

I'm glad this person found some inexpensive tech that works for them. But if we only focus on blocking the sound (which is not that effective for some) rather than focusing on what it means to have an effective working environment, we're missing opportunities to shape our working cultures/environments to be one of "library quiet respectful".

I'm extremely sensitive to sounds of all varieties. I don't understand how anyone works with music blasting into their ears. Even white/pink/brown-noise feels like a barrage of sound. Earplugs make me feel claustrophobic, and I have the uncontrollable urge to rip them out after 15 minutes. Noise-cancelling tech almost always fails to block human voices (our brains are hard-wired to listen for voices after all).

At the risk of stating the obvious, we need to pay more attention to making more "zone-friendly" workspaces. I.e., not loud, open offices where everyone feels okay talking at full volume.


Unfortunately, we're all doomed to seek workarounds for the time being. A "zone-friendly workspace" is an abstract concept that will show in productivity over long time. An open office is cheap right now, and will be cheaper as headcount increases. Then you have conflicting individual interests - programmers may dislike open floors, but sales people (apparently) love them, the bosses love them, and even among programmers there's always this likable extrovert who likes open floors and is vocal about it, ruining any chance of collective action.

(It also seems people dislike open floor plans for different reasons. You don't like sounds. I don't mind sounds, I don't like feeling the presence of other people around me all the time.)


> It also seems people dislike open floor plans for different reasons. You don't like sounds. I don't mind sounds, I don't like feeling the presence of other people around me all the time.

Alas, I suffer both but it's more socially acceptable to blame noise...


Now you make me wonder - maybe we're not the only ones, but people only talk about noise because the core issue is taboo...


I don't know if taboo is an accurate description but I agree that we don't seem to be talking about this issue honestly, on either side. Every manager I've ever had claimed it was about saving money, but when pushed eventually admitted it wasn't really about money at all. It's like everybody is afraid to talk about what it really is about.


> programmers may dislike open floors, but sales people (apparently) love them, the bosses love them

Strange how at most tech companies I've worked at, programmers got open floors, while sales people and bosses got private offices, then. Why are we putting everybody in an environment they dislike? Let's Gale–Shapley this and swap rooms.

> An open office is cheap right now, and will be cheaper as headcount increases.

Yet in my experience sales people always get private offices, so clearly it's not simply about saving money above all else.


I'm like you, mostly. It's not that the type of noise, it's the presence of noise that gets to me. Tried the earplugs, abandoned them because I don't like the feel or the wax buildup. My doesn't work workaround are a pair of JBL around the ear headphones sold under the false pretense of having ANR. Not that ANR would help with frat house-style conversations.

> "library quiet respectful"

!!!

When 2 layers of management above the one I (software puke here) have access to responded to my request for quieter digs with this incite-ful retort: "We're not a library reading room" I realized I'm managed by persons who neither know nor care about my work product. I care though, so it seems time to move on.

I really can't upvote your thoughts enough.


I think your situation is more common than not. Most people aren't bothered by sound, and most managers don't care. If they did, they wouldn't cheap out with open offices in the first place. It's the most discredited idea since phrenologuy.


I think it is more common than I want to believe but I haven't given up faith of finding a place with less inept middle management than this one, one that recognizes it'll get better work product, for less money, by supplying a library reading room-like environment for those who thrive in it.

I'm lucky to be in a part of the country with lots of little hi tech places. Some day we'll be together


> At the risk of stating the obvious, we need to pay more attention to making more "zone-friendly" workspaces. I.e., not loud, open offices where everyone feels okay talking at full volume.

In an office of six employees it takes six to maintain silence and only one to cause noise. That's the sad truth. Also stepping in and enforcing silence is a simple way to become unpopular very fast. Also lot of noises are caused by sounds which are direct expressions of someone's personality - that simply cannot be stopped by asking for it.

It's a lost cause. And the reason why I resorted to QC25 and since two years ago to QC35. It's a subpar compromise - but there's just no better option when working with several people in one room.

I'm very much looking forward to the wh1000xm3 - sadly, they seem to be sold out in Germany for weeks to come.


Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Most people don't have the power to make their employers remodel their offices. But most people can buy a pair of headphones and make their open office more bearable.

Getting a new job is not a good solution either -- lots of tech jobs are in open offices or cubicle farms these days.


After working most of my career in open and semi-open offices, I realize now that cubicles are the most brilliant invention ever. I wish I worked in a cubicle farm. The noise is the easiest thing to deal with, but cubicles create some semblance of private space, where you don't feel the presence of other people so much.


Last time I had a cubicle, the desks were much smaller than in the open plan part of the office. Half my team got headaches within the first hour from sitting too close to our monitors.


> Earplugs make me feel claustrophobic, and I have the uncontrollable urge to rip them out after 15 minutes.

I used to have similar problems; but I've learned to adapt to them with time and patience. All other things being equal, I've found that earplugs can be very effective in reducing noise levels and stress, at the slight expense of vague uncomfortability.


It's the opposite for me. I'm a musician so I wear earplugs all the time, and find them very comfortable. But in an office setting, they cause me anxiety.


We called them offices, complete with walls and doors.

But apparently people were too productive, so that had to come to an end.


You can pay attention all you want, but your managers and your co-workers don't care. That's the way it is for me, and I hate it, but there's literally nothing I can do about it, except turn up my music and hope I find a new job soon.


I can work quietly on my own at home. I go to the office so I can talk to other people. A lot of people share your distaste for the noise level in open offices, but I don't think that asking everyone to sit quietly for 8 hours is a viable solution.


> some cheap antidote

That you have to pay for.


That's probably why they didn't use the word "free", yes.


The point was that it was cheaper than a water cooler with non-poisoned water. Free wasn't even mentioned at all.


As someone who works in a garage most of the day as a mechanic, just what is office noise? they all seem pretty quiet to me. What are we trying to reduce?

Around the shop I carry a few pairs of disposable foam Howard Leight earplugs. They come in small plastic bags, or you can buy them in boxes of 500. I'll hand them out to apprentices I catch not wearing ear protection or to old timers so they can sneer at me. they work wonders for any kind of noise. We once had a garbage truck plow through a rolling dumpster out back and I never knew about it until lunch.


As someone who works in a garage most of the day as a mechanic

As someone who has worked as a mechanic professionally, and now slings code for a living, I'll take a whack. You've put a set of brakes on a Chevy, you've put brakes on about all of them. Hell, put disc brakes on a car of any make, and you've got the general idea. I'm not saying it's not a tough job, hey, I've been there. But he nature of the work is different. What makes an alignment hard is not the same as what makes implementing this piece of code hard. What makes an alignment hard is frozen fasteners and having to go reference the manual because Mercedes decided that fifty years of prior art on caster adjustment just wasn't good enough for them, and invented their own. What makes this morning's software task difficult is that, though similar work has been done, no one has had to make it work quite like I need to do today (otherwise, I'd just buy something off the shelf). I'm making a new invention; not on the scale of the light bulb, but it's still new and there is no reference manual.

So, in the shop I can be fine with lots of noise and music as m 3/8" air ratchet backs out the brake caliper bolts. I don't need to concentrate on that much, I'm not going to bring the whole shop down if I screw it up. Pull the bolts, pull the caliper like I've done a hundred times. That Mercedes alignment, yeah, I might turn the radio down while I think about what I'm doing. But an oil change? Crank it up! (But even for an oil change, I recall having forgotten the drain bolt before putting in oil at least once.)

Software, OTOH, I need to mentally hold fleeting abstractions in my head. Someone droning on about the fscking SeaPigeons game on Sunday can easily break the tenuous grasp I had. I didn't even like being interrupted in the middle of a brake job if I were in the flow, but at least the brakes are right there in front of me when I have to go back to it. Not so with that algorithm for...oh, what the hell was it?

In summary, the nature of the work is quite different, such that mechanical work can be more interrupt-tolerant than software work.


I'm guessing, based purely on my own experience, that there's something neurological going on - that programming involves heavy use of parts of the brain that are also kicked into gear by certain kinds of auditory stimulus. Language almost certainly, but maybe some other bits I don't know about.

Me, I can deal with sound in general, and I even like to listen to music while I work. What really messes me up is words - people talking, music with lyrics, stuff like that makes it very difficult for me to get my work done. Strong rhythms are also a bit of a challenge. So the sounds of people walking are tricky, my mechanical watch needs to go into a drawer if the room is particularly quiet, and the music generally needs to be something classical.

But there's also a threshold where there's so much cacophony going on that my brain just gives up and tunes it all out, and I'm back to my productive zone. When my coworking space is starting to get a bit too noisy for me to concentrate even with my headphones on, I typically deal with it by packing up and going to a nearby coffee shop that I can trust to always be busy.


As I've narcissistically considered my own comment since I wrote it, I think it might have to do with noise our lizard brains feel it has to process. Because as I thought back to my time in the shop, with the air tools, compressor in the back room, cars in and out...you know, I could probably plop down with a laptop and be fine hammering out some code. It's just noise (and for some reason, the thought of an air tool sound makes me think in a Pavlovian way that work is getting done!).

But "Hey, how about that game last night!" behind me and...

LizardBrain: "pattern identified: human speech. Attempting to parse...colloquialisms not found...setting parsing process to 'high' priority...audio sensitivity set to 100%."

ConciousBrain: "nooooo, I don't give flying shite about the SeaPigeons! Trying to work here!"


Yeah, and, at least for me, people's attempts to try and be respectful of each other in an open office type situation make it worse instead of better. Talking in hushed tones makes the speech harder to understand, which makes the lizard brain work even harder.


Working in an open office where the main language is your native language: you spend some cognitive energy tuning it out.

Working in an open office where the main language is a language that you understand well, but not natively (my every day life in Germany): you spend a ton of cognitive energy tuning it out, because your lizard brain insists on having that surrounding speech parsed first, just in case it has something to do with your work, because every so often, it absolutely does.

Working in an open office where you have absolutely no comprehension of the language (two weeks in Seoul): amazingly productive, because the lizard brain doesn't even bother.


I'd agree with a lot of this experience. There's a huge amount of music that I can just zone out while I'm programming. Though I'd add that new music will typically pull me out of it, much as a conversation would. Maybe it's something about new stimuli that triggers the brain to get out of the zone, and conversations always count as new stimuli, while listening to Led Zepplin IV for the thousandth time isn't doing anything new for my brain.

Additionally, I have a really hard time focusing without _any_ music. Typically I need some beat to be able to get in the zone at all. It doesn't matter what the beat is - EDM, ska, soundtracks, lo-fi beats to study to, but there needs to be something.


> As someone who works in a garage most of the day as a mechanic, just what is office noise? they all seem pretty quiet to me. What are we trying to reduce?

It's not about the loudness, it's about its nature. I can't give you a precise characterization, but for me the most distracting noise is other people talking about stuff potentially relevant or interesting. Other things are easy to ignore, unless I'm in an irritable mood. Also note that people (myself included) often fight this kind of noise by playing even louder noise on their headphones - but that latter noise is not distracting and completely under control. Programming is a job requiring a specific kind of deep concentration, and it's easier to tune out a 747 flying directly overhead than two cow-orkers talking in the same room.


For me it is an officemate talking loudly on the phone that is really distracting. Last year a guy in the office would have long, loud, sometimes heated conversations on the phone with me and 2 other people sitting in the office. Apparently, he was also a preacher and his cell phone ringtone was "Our God is an Awesome God" and he was one of those people that when he made a call on his desk phone he would put it on speaker phone, dial, let it ring, and then pick up the phone. That's when I brought in my over the ear hearing protectors.

Luckily, he got a different job but oddly, the person who sat behind me moved to his desk and now she has started making lots of calls. Maybe that desk is cursed or something?


Should've asked the guy to perform an exorcism on the desk before he left the job.


The problem isn't raw noise volume or surprising sounds, it's background chatter that drowns out the internal monologue needed to carry out the work at hand.

Crude analogy: Picture you're working on some annoying electrical gremlin under the hood and you've got the shop manual open trying to troubleshoot. The manual's telling you to find the blue wire and set the jumper to position 23, then turn the smallest hex bolt adjacent clockwise two and a half turns. You've got the flashlight out and there are about 20 different blue wires and several dip switch panels.

Now imagine three people stood around you talking at an un-ignorable audible volume 'nimbius blue green 24 41 brown nimbius twelve yellow forty three hedgehog..' on and on, indefinitely. More people come and go all the time and they never stop.

You're gonna keep re-reading that shop manual and it's gonna keep getting pushed out of your head by the chatter. You will get frustrated. That's what it's like, all the time, coding in an open office.


Many offices are very quiet normally. Then when people are talking, even relatively quietly the sound carries and it is very distracting. A fountain to make some white noise, or a better arrangement of cubicle walls can make a big difference on cutting down these distractions without preventing people from having conversations.


Imagine trying to fix something that's not exactly like things you've dealt with before, but of the same nature. While you're concentrating on the problem, several people around you are talking about related things, using similar terminology, but trying to accomplish something else.

It's wonderfully distracting.


We were recently moved into a temporary space where there's a dozen or so people in a 40x40 room at any one point.

A lot of them have meetings with our business partners, which requires a lot of talking on the phone.

This noise isn't background noise, it isn't random white noise, it's noise that diverts your attention constantly because you may know what they are talking about. It's not something you can tune out.

I'm currently googling for noise blocking headphones.


Impact wrenches hurt your ears. People talking hurts your brain.


I'm going to piggy back off of your comment to say that I have no problems working "in the zone" in an open office. I can just ignore what is going around me. And I had HR sitting right behind me (as in 1.5m away) for a while. The sales guys were also quite close. Lots of loud phone calls.

Just to bring a counterweight to the usual "I'm a virtuoso that needs absolute silence to work" stuff that gets posted every time open offices get mentioned.


I think that is a particular ability - I can do so as well, but I also recognize that it may be more the exception than the norm.

That said, I very much like private offices more.


I'm not saying I need quiet because I'm a virtuoso genius. I'm saying I need quiet for programming like I needed quiet for my math finals in college.


From my experience, it is not so much the noise level, but the distractions that they create. A nice set of noise-cancelling headphones allow me to focus in on my tasks.


I never knew how much noise the AC made in my office until I got noise cancelling headsets. After my first week of using them I noticed how loud the HVAC fans really are.

One thing I did notice was I have to pop my ears when I have the noise cancelling on. A few times it also made me feel nauseous when I turned them on.


I've never used any active noise cancelling headphones. I swear by wearing shooting or construction style hearing protectors. I wear them on air planes with my corded earbuds under them. And since I haves tarted a job where I share an office I definitely swear by them when an officemate starts talking loudly on the phone. I have these but I only bought them because they were in stock at the store https://www.amazon.com/3M-Earmuff-Protectors-Hearing-Protect...

I used to feel weird wearing them on a plane but with big Beats-style headphones so common now I fit right in.


My range cans have an aux port and speakers on the inside. Maybe it's psychosomatic but I stand by the improved effectiveness gained by not breaking the seal snaking earbud lines under em'. ;)

I use your strategy from time to time though. If it's safe to shoot a .50 cal in em' it'll probably drown the shrill winging.

If you want to pump up (down?) the jams you can wear inner ear plugs under the outer ones. It's like a sensory deprivation tank for your mind.


I'm extremely sensitive to noise, so I've tried my fair share of solutions as well.

In terms of absolutely blocking sound, the best I've found thus far are a pair of Etymotic in-ear headphones. I don't recall the model I have. They aren't noise cancelling; they're basically just earplug headphones. But they are really effectively. Just be sure you use them correctly. It's easy to think you just plop them in your ear like normal earbuds. You have to insert them like ear plugs. When done correctly they create a seal and the noise blocking is incredible, even compared to the big PPE ear equipment I have. Plus they look just like any other earbuds to other people, so you don't look like a dork :P

Besides those, the Bose noise cancelling headphones are "okay". As others have mentioned, they're really poor at blocking nearby voices. If you're going to be listening to music, that's not much of an issue. But I tend to listen to podcasts, videos, etc, so there's nothing else extra to drown out what the headphones miss. And you're paying quite a premium for headphones that, in terms of build quality, sound quality, and features, are worth maybe 1/3 of the MSRP. Not much you can do about that; Bose holds patents on the best noise cancelling.

On a slight tangent. My sensitivities to noise have led me to some ... interesting solutions over the years living in noisy apartments. Hearing people's TVs, talking, etc through walls really bothers me. The solution I came up with was to pump white noise through a subwoofer, turned down really low. It creates a very subtle, low frequency rumble. It's just loud enough to drown out the stuff that bleeds through walls, but quiet enough that you forget it's there. By using just the subwoofer you target the majority of frequencies that can make it through walls, without adding the annoying "hiss" of regular white noise machines.

For me that was really effective for dealing with the day-to-day noise of apartments.


I have a pair of Grado earbuds that create a seal similar to Etymotics, but not as deep. Often times people will stand next to me and speak to me and I won't hear them (music at a moderate volume). I imagine your Etymotics are even better. The only reason I didn't get Etymotics is because my ears are super waxy and I didn't want to clean them every usage.

If you have the models I think you do, they're as expensive as the Bose QC35 headphones. However, Etys are easier to pack, have a better sound quality, and don't need batteries.


> If you have the models I think you do, they're as expensive as the Bose QC35 headphones.

Now you've got me curious; I don't remember them being too pricey.

Looks like I have the MC5. <$100. Specs say they are rated for a noise reduction of 35-42dB. For reference the safety ear muffs I use are 34dB. (I'm half tempted now to use the Etys for PPE :P )


I was thinking of the ER4XR.


I take a similar but alternative approach to music in a loud environment. I install a pair of short stem earplugs [0] then wear a pair of circumaural headphones. Strong broadband noise reduction with some fidelity loss, but effective!

[0] https://www.amazon.com/DownBeats-Reusable-Fidelity-Hearing-P...


> pump white noise through a subwoofer, turned down really low

That is an intriguing idea that I will have to try. Thanks for sharing that!

(I also wonder if it would work with speakers and a lowpass filter...)


Headphones are NOT a solution to open office plans. When I wear headphones or earbuds, I can block out the sounds, but I become more sensitive to other non-sound cues indicating human activity around me such as movement seen out of the corner of my eye and even air currents. And these become more unnerving with the sound blocked out.

And open office plans are never adopted to "foster collaboration". That's bullshit that management feeds you to mask the real reasons:

1) they save money by packing more employees in the same space

2) it's an easy-to-implement panopticon, letting management keep tabs on you easily


I keep reading how we're "in demand" and how we're hard to find and retain - and then we're treated as disposably as fast-food burger-flippers: you're lucky you even have a job, you ungrateful wretch, so you'd better not complain about all of your efforts to make it nearly impossible to get your job done.


Bose convert here after years of working in open offices, coding in cafes, flying, and what not. I have somewhat sensitive ears as a classical (hobbyist) musician and am always paranoid about hearing loss.

My main pain points have been:

1. Distinct voices in conversation - I find that voices block voices, and instrumental music does a poorer job at this since it's maybe on different frequencies? I usually use a cafe-noise app like coffitivity to best stay focused.

2. Loud continuous noises a la plane - the Bose headphones basically reduce the noise by ~20db I think, which makes the experience overall more bearable.

The main downside of noise-canceling headphones for some subset of people (alas me included) is that you get a weird pressure feeling when using them for prolonged periods of time. Apparently this is just us perceiving the change in ambient sound as a pressure difference so we feel like popping our ears. This basically happens in hour 1 of my usage.

As for attrition - I've had my QC35's for about a year and they haven't had any issues yet. My old QC25's lasted for 3 years and still work fine but got donated to make way for my new bluetooth ones.

https://smile.amazon.com/Bose-QuietComfort-Wireless-Headphon... (note affiliatized Amazon donation link)


For a brief moment I was interested in noise cancelling headphones for airplane usage.

Much, much simpler, cheaper - and certainly more effective - is to use any old earbuds that you prefer and put them underneath a pair of these:

https://www.amazon.com/3M-Earmuff-Protectors-Hearing-Protect...

No batteries to deal with, no mode switching, much less expensive, etc. It works wonderfully and the only downside is that you look a little odd.


Noise cancelling isn't hearing protection, fwiw. Ear protectors do a much better job of that, too.


Yes, I have a pair of Bose QC15's ($150 refurb) that have given me excellent service for the past 3 years, but lately I've discovered that earplugs work just as well if you're not trying to listen to music.

Also when you're trying to sleep on a plane, Bose's active noise-cancellation stops working when you lean your head hard against a headrest (such that the earmuffs touch the headrest). I think it's just the nature of active noise-cancellation. I've resorted to earplugs when trying to sleep while flying.


Noise canceling isn't perfect, so it leaves comb filter peaks of uncanceled sound in the sound field.


It wasn't noise-cancelling not being perfect (it worked just fine), but noise cancelling going bonkers when the earmuffs come into contact with another solid object (in my case, neck cushion on seat). I think it broke the around-ear seal a teeny bit and that threw the noise cancellation off.


Right. I'm saying even when used correctly, it wasn't protecting your hearing from the noise of the flight. Notches of noise were poking through the filters despite the impression of quietness, and causing fatigue damage to the cells tuned to those frequencies.


Right, with noise cancelling headphones on I can talk on a plane at a normal volume and hear everything better generally. If I just wanted to block out noise entirely, ear plugs/muffs would do a better job.


I've also found success with a solution like this (earmuffs + earbuds) for travel and certain office environments.

I've tried a few different earmuffs, and this model from 3M has been the best for me. They're low profile, (more) comfortable, and as effective as any:

https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/all-3m-products/~/3M-...

Wearing glasses underneath earmuffs meant for high noise exposure environments can be uncomfortable, as the cups are meant to press into the side of your head.


For the longest time this is actually what they did in the League of Legends eSports scene. Even if they could have afforded proper equipment they continued like that. I guess it's a pretty good enough solution.


I got a pair of Howard Leight Earmuffs to use at the range. They work amazing, and can be adjusted to amplify talking if you want. They have a small cord for plugging into your phone.

https://www.amazon.com/Howard-Leight-Amplification-Electroni...


How's the sound quality on those?

I've tried 3M "worktunes" eamuffs (which have an audio jack), but at low volumes the sound quality is quite bad (there is background white noise).


I own similar ear protection that I wear to sleep on the bus, plane, and if I'm going to bed early while my neighbors are being loud. Mine are completely black, and almost look like big headphones with earbud wires coming out of the bottom.


The HD280s are basically equivalent to this. Similar noise attenuation and already designed to work as headphones. I used to switch between the earmuffs with earbuds below and the HD280s when playing drums along to music.


There’s no way the HD280s are blocking 30db.

Here’s a source that says 12db.

https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/sennheiser/hd-280-...


It's not the same thing, but even simpler is just a white noise app and regular ear buds. That's worked well for me everytime, I don't need silence to fall asleep on a plane I guess.


They're not yellow, so they don't actually look that odd. If I walked past someone wearing them, I'd probably not notice what they are.


Those are what I use too


Noise cancelling cannot cancel out voices. It's designed to cancel out predictable lower frequency sounds such as fans, A/C system fans, engine rumbles and jet engine noise.

The noise cancelling system has an inherent delay in processing the sound it's listening to output an opposing waveform. Since voices are not predictable, outputting a waveform after a slight delay will just cause it to be out of sync and cancel out nothing. Maybe some ML system could do this in the future, but it would have to be absolutely perfect to not sound distractingly strange at times.

Fans on the other hand are predictable, so you can output an opposing waveform despite the processing delay because you can predict how the waveform will act after your processing delay and keep them in phase.


There's an interesting twist on the active cancelling idea for stopping voices. You embrace the delay, increase it to ~200 msec, and just play the normal waveform out loud. The result is uncomfortable and will make the speaker shut up.

https://arxiv.org/vc/arxiv/papers/1202/1202.6106v1.pdf


What amount of delay is acceptable?


In order to effectively cancel, it would have to be less than the time difference between the sound being detected/processed by the headphones and the sound being detected by your ears.

So, roughly the time it takes sound to travel at most an inch?


I've worn headphones in open plan offices and that combined with a bunch of concerts and clubs has given me some good noise-induced hearing loss & tinnitus.

My Audiologist suggested the headphones dont help the Tinnitus as they trigger the Limbic system and heighten anxiety which could trigger Tinnitus. Anyone heard this?

So advice to people - go easy on the headphones, even if the volume isn't high - too many hours a week is bad. I'd avoid the white noise too - maybe just ear plugs are best.


Headphones generally help my tinnitus as long as I have something (anything) playing in them, even at extremely low volumes, but it's interesting there's a chance it could (temporarily) make it worse! That said, yes concerts/clubs, and poor choices when it comes to car audio, etc have all contributed to some hearing loss and tinnitus for me. I think headphones have been the smallest overall contributor. I typically don't listen to headphones turned up loud, however.

I'm pretty sure as long as the volume is always kept to a reasonable level, wearing headphones constantly shouldn't be an issue as far as any hearing damage is concerned. Especially when it comes to NC headphones- I would think this would often cause the wearer to not have to have the volume as high since less needs "drowned out".

There are other issues with long-term wearing, though, at least for some. For existing tinnitus I suppose it could be a problem- though even earplugs aggravate that for me because the less sound I hear externally the more perceptible my tinnitus gets (power outages are the worst because when a room goes dead silent my tinnitus goes nuts). And of course there are issues of comfort, migraines/headaches, etc


I also depend on noise to mask my tinnitus. However, depending on the type of noise, it doesn't take much. I've found certain genres of music (e.g. noise rock) to require less volume than white/pink/brown noise to have the same masking effect.

I use an earmuffs/earbuds combo for travel and certain office environments as I find that grants me the most control over the noise my ears are exposed to. That way, I can limit noise to useful/intentional noise, and keep the volume as low as possible.


>My Audiologist suggested the headphones dont help the Tinnitus as they trigger the Limbic system and heighten anxiety which could trigger Tinnitus. Anyone heard this?

that is a known theory in AUD, also when wearing hearing protection you decrease the outside noise which increases the perceived volume of your tinnitus.

As well by reducing your hearing ability when wearing ear plugs can cause your brain to shift into a "hyper hearing" mode to compensate.

This is also why it is not recommended to wear ear protection to sleep. (once in a while is ok, extended usage is not recommended)


> As well by reducing your hearing ability when wearing ear plugs can cause your brain to shift into a "hyper hearing" mode to compensate.

> This is also why it is not recommended to wear ear protection to sleep. (once in a while is ok, extended usage is not recommended)

Very interesting point. I'm using ear plugs for sleeping for about twenty years (each and every night) and I am definitely more noise and sound sensitive than most people.


> I noticed that most of their “noise-cancelling” was actually passive and consisted of good noise suppression from the good seal created by the headphone ear cups.

This is absolutely not the case, you can turn the cancelling on and off while still wearing them and it makes a huge difference to background noise. Many years ago they had a demo where you stand in the store and they blast a low-pitched white noise roar (like a jet engine) at you, and have you turn the cancelling on and off -- it's something ridiculous like a 45db drop. I bought a pair on the spot.

It's certainly the case that the cancelling is less effective at higher frequencies like voices than it is at low-pitch background noise, which does decrease their effectiveness in an office environment.

I have mixed opinions about build quality -- the originals were solid, I wore these around town most days for a few years, and they are now about 6 years old and still working. The replacement cups that I bought were garbage and disintegrated within 6 months of only at-desk wearing. So perhaps construction is not what it used to be.

Interestingly I heard that Bose patented the physically optimal geometry for noise-cancelling microphones, which would mean that their competitors are necessarily inferior at pure noise cancelling; don't know if that's true though.

I also find it annoying that these headphones require batteries to function even if you aren't using the noise cancelling feature; makes it very unreliable for carrying around town, but not a problem at my office desk. Without knowing anything about the electronics involved, it seems like it would be much better to have it degrade to being non-noise-cancelling powered headphones, instead of bricks, when the battery dies.


Pretty sure most of the current crop of ANC headphones can be wired in.


I own a pair of the Sony Wh1000mx2/B. It was pretty pricey (I think $250ish?) when I bought about a year ago. They work flawlessly. I work in an open office and I think it's one of the peripherals I use the most out of anything, including my phone. No visible wear/damage or battery degradation so far. I highly recommend them! According to reviews the newer generation (Sony wh1000mx3)is even better than Bose's comfort and NC (significantly apparently).


I second the Sony WH1000XM2 or XM3. I owned both of them. In terms of noise cancelling I didn't notice much difference between them, except XM3 feels a bit more comfortable. Compared to Bose QC35, however, they were significantly superior. They were not even close.


Yeah, my ear area gets a bit sweaty if I wear it too long. How is the charging for the XM3? It takes a "while" to go to 100% full for my XM2. I hear that the XM3 blocks voice a bit better too?


XM3 has a usb-c connector with fast charging, so it's better than XM2. Going to 100% takes a while though (maybe about 1 hour) but charging it for about 10 min is enough to get you going for the whole day. I charge mine about once a week.

As for the noise cancelling, I haven't noticed much of a difference with XM2, but I'm not an audiophile anyway, so I'm not sure.


I bought I also have the WH1000xm2s and are very happy them but the new WH1000xm3s are tempting me.


Same, I like the USB-C port since my phone is the same. I hear the new QN1 chip is pretty good on the XM3.


+1 -- I have the same pair and can't imagine working in my open office without them


Personally not a fan of active noise cancellation as I dont like the feeling of it, plus the Bose are expensive and I mostly want to mask speech. I settled on noise isolation in the form of studio/dj headphones, that work well wearing for long periods with glasses on. Got these Beyerdynamic https://www.amazon.com/beyerdynamic-770-PRO-Studio-Headphone... though paid around $130 instead. The 80 ohm version still works well with my phone without amp.


I have the 250 ohm impedance versions, they work really well for office-like situations and I used them extensively in college for studying, sometimes not even listening to anything.

However they really don't do a thing when on a plane or in a place with a lot of low frequency noise as passive noise cancellation doesn't work well for that. I ended up buying a cheap pair of active noise cancelling bluetooth headphones for traveling (which are pretty terrible at blocking voices/footsteps).


I use mack's ultra soft ear plugs (correctly inserted, which most people don't do) and Bose QC35's with sound cancelling on playing non-lyrical electronic music loud enough to only hear faintly.

You will not hear a 747 land in your back yard.

Edit: How to insert correctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF1CjCugD_M


Bose are great headphones for looking like you are an audiophile.

If you aren't an audiophile. Some audiophiles might well think, "Why are you wearing those? You're not on an airplane!" I much prefer passive noise isolation. Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80 Ohm is my recommendation, especially if you like bass. The 80 Ohm is much easier to drive, and you can even run them off your laptop in a pinch. The earpads are pretty good stock. Not everyone's head is compatible with big circles pressed up against them, however.


I have found that using sound isolation earbud foam tips from Comply, which I can slip on my cheap earbuds from Sony /panasonic , along with my music helps me not go postal when the guy across from me is taking a conference call on this phone. Also I can't pull off that cool the-over-the-ear-phone-wearing-hipster look.


Comply foam tips are incredible. I bought a cheapo pair of in-ear wireless earphones off wish.com and the sound quality was abysmal, I stuck some Comply tips on and now they sound excellent. The tips cost more than the earphones.


Thirded. Half-decent earbuds plus dense foam tips like Comply and I couldn’t care less about a crying baby in the next row on the plane. Cheap, compact, and effective.


I have had good results by using this noise generator: https://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/cafeRestaurantNoiseGenerat...

This site lets you customize the sounds that are generated. I crank the left ones (bass) up until it drowns the people that are talking around me.

The first minutes are a bit confusing because you are in the middle of a stream of conversations that you are not able to understand. After a few minutes you brain blocks everything, even the real conversation around you. It even works with my regular earbuds.

Sometimes, I put some mall/elevator music (the main artist for those is called Muzak) over it and I really feel like I'm working in a mall's Starbucks.


I have the Sony WH1000XM2s and they work very well for an office. They have held up very well and give me noise cancellation, durability, and good sound quality. Sony just released the WH1000XM3s which are probably worth a look if you are in the market.


Drummers have an interesting perspective on this problem:

http://www.drummerworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=114491

The linked thread gets into some details that are irrelevant for programming, unless you use a click track to time your keystrokes. However, a lot of the same considerations apply, particularly the need for really strong attenuation, and the same discussions are had regarding in-ear versus over-ear monitors.


I work in an open office. Turns out that if I’m in the zone, noise around me isn’t a problem whatsoever, so long as someone doesn’t say my name.

I end up wearing my Bose much less often than not.


For me, the office noise isn't a problem when I'm in the zone. The noise is a problem when I'm trying to get into the zone.


I think it depends on the voices. I have one person who has a gravelly loud voice which can be heard above all others. Using noise cancelling headphones seems to make their voice even clearer.


Article links to Ultraphones, - high isolation headphones.

”UltraPhones are SONY 7506 Studio Monitor headphone components mounted in a comfortable 29 db passive isolation hearing protection muff.” https://www.gk-music.com/product/ultraphones/

Any experience on these? I’ve been using the BeyerDynamics mentioned in the thread, but I’m not fully satisfied with the isolation.


I’ve never used them but I would never recommend the Sony MDR7506 to anyone, they sound awful to me.


They're ( they, the MDR 7506 ) kind of a industry standard in professional editing and mixing settings, not to mention as monitors. They sound pretty good to a lot of people. I 'grew up' on them, perhaps I'm biased. I've got a pair kicking around that are over 20 years old.

Absolutely, get the cans that sound good to you. Get whatever sounds good to you, doesn't matter what they are. But, please, give a listen to as many different cans as you are able to. Speakers and headphones are terribly, terribly subjective.


I got the big Leight headphones a while back and more recently QC35's.

My wife happened to get the older model MPOW adapter in the post; it broke with the blue-flashing-light issue that appears in some user reviews--she replaced it with a Yeti, which worked. Also, MPOW has newer models that might not have the issue and at least one reviewer said MPOW replaced their blue-flashing-light unit.

Seems accurate that the Leight things' passive isolation, combined with playing most any sound through them, should make background speech indistinct enough to be less distracting. Generally, like the post says, ANC is great at quieting deep rumbles (cars, trains, etc.), and physical isolation is better at blocking higher pitches (speech and higher noise). (Also ++ to the comment saying it's a shame many folks have to make up for employers imposing open offices, but only so much a single worker can do about that.)

What the Bose have going for them are 1) ANC seems like a legit win for train or plane trips, 2) I wanted a BT headset (including a mic for phone calls) and the QC35s provide that, 3) the QC35's are decent, though not audiophile-level, as headphones. And I'd heard lots of praise for them from acquaintances, which made me hopeful there'd be no unpleasant surprises.

The QC35's are doing the job. I don't know if some cheaper/different arrangement would also have done the job. ANC seems great when you want it, but for me that's not every day; maybe I could have gone w/something cheaper, or two setups similar to the blog post, one for work/calls and the other for the occasional noisy trip.


I swear by the the 3m X5A headphones[1] (which have 4.8, 8.1, and 12.4dB better attenuation at 125Hz, 250Hz, and 500Hz than the Leight Sync headphones in the article, according to their datasheet[2]), plus the Koss KSC75 headphones[3], with the clip removed and shoved inside, per [4].(I've since added a little wedge of foam behind each of the headphones to better keep them in place.)

The better attenuation at low frequencies makes these really good at blocking human voices, which is the thing that I find most distracting in an open office. With even a little bit of music, I can barely tell that people are having a conversation 10 feet from me.

The headphone cables can sometimes break the seal, but I find shifting them usually fixes it. Besides, the noise that sneaks in is high-frequency stuff like key clicks, not distracting voices.

The downsides are: these are extremely large cans (2.5-3" deep), the KSC75s have a pretty short cable, and if you drop your cans or yank the cable, the headphones will tend to pop out.

1. https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CPCHBCQ 2. https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/845196O/3m-peltor-x-seri... 3. https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0006B486K 4. https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/comments/5bwu48/homemade...


I recently tried a coworker's QC35s and was impressed. I decided to buy the TaoTronics TT-BH22 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075CBHN9M/ (about $60; don't get tricked by the "newer model of this item" link which is quite different) -- and I think they're a fantastic value with maybe 75% of the noise cancellation performance of the $300+ name-brand product. I use them basically all day in our open office. The active noise cancellation cuts down tremendously on low-frequency noise from air handlers and distant conversations. Would recommend.

One downside is that when they're first turned on, I can faintly hear the switching power supply charging up the internal capacitors for the first few seconds. But I've been told that I have unusually good high-frequency hearing, and this basically goes away once it's charged, and is certainly not audible over music.


I've done the same thing with the sync. the only difference is that I have hot glued the bluetooth adaptor on the right side of the head band. I have a small 3.5mm cable that links the adaptor to the headphones.

Proper ear monitors are the holy grail, as they are comfortable (if you have your ear cast/pour done properly) and should have >28 db of noise reduction. Alas I don't have a proper cast anymore, its about £200 to get it done properly.

The problem with noise cancelling headphones is they are great for white noise/whirs/traffic, they are terrible at blocking voices.

However I don't have music playing in the office. I just use the ear defenders as attenuators. Its only on the commute do I listen to stuff.

The sync only knocks off 25db, you can get ear plugs/defenders that reduce noise by 34db. Some of the howard leight squidgy earplugs are super comfortable, soft enough to sleep in.


I found moldable earplugs to be better than the foam ones. Something like this:

https://earplugsonline.com/

Yo don't have to wait for them to expand like the foam ones. They also don't press on your glasses like over-the-ear headphones or ear protectors.


The author says he tried the bose qc20 (in-ear headphones), but then goes onto describe the bose qc25 (over-ear headphones). I'd like to defend the honor of the bose qc20, which has superior noise canceling to the qc25. While it's true that it doesn't block out talking, it makes it sound like it's in a distant room, and with a little bit of white noise or music it makes the open office noise a non-issue for me. Furthermore, it's a godsend in a loud city and it's incredible to hear the little details in your music and not having to crank your volume past 50%.

That said, they're super pricey and they do fall apart, but I've got mine patched up after three years and holding onto them until other products can match this level of noise canceling.


I bought 3 pairs of QC20s. Each of them fell apart in less than a year, despite absurdly careful care. There's a design flaw where the wire connects to the battery pack. Tape could only hold them together for so long.

After 3 failures I vowed to not buy another one, despite the exceptional sound canceling. I switched to a cheapo $30 Samsung pair I bought at an airport, beat it to hell and back, and it's in perfect shape years later.


It's true, the build quality is bad and my coworker has the same exact issues as mine (rubber coating came off the casing, volume up button stops clicking but can still be mushed down to use). The battery pack casing started to open up and would cause line noise, especially when charging.. I glued the case back together and it seems to be better now. I think I could have used the soft case more, instead of keeping them bare in my pockets, but it seems inevitable that they'd fall apart anyway. I can't really recommend them because of these issues, but the noise canceling is one of those magical life upgrades for me.


It's crazy that people actually buy the qc20 when you can get just as good active noice canceling for $20 eg. from Bluedio.


I'll have to check those out, thank you. Gotta admit I've only personally tried qc20 and qc25, but most reviews of new NC headphones that I've read on The Verge still hold Bose as the standard-bearer of high quality NC. Everyone else, even the very expensive stuff from Sony, seems to come very close but not surpassing the bose NC stuff.

edit: maybe it's a little self-rationalization for paying so much for the QCs. I'll have to give those Bluedio's chance before shelling out anymore to Bose


These have higher DB cancellation: https://www.amazon.com/3M-Earmuff-Protectors-Hearing-Protect...

I use them, but without audio. Just for pure silence, then use my Bose headphones when I want to actually hear anything?


I've tried brown noise a while ago and it certainly didn't work for me. Being stressed out by a constant background noise is not the same as silence.


> NOTE 2: Depending on the shape of your head the head band of the earmuffs can make the crown of your head hurt – though this is not limited to earmuffs as may headphones have this undesirable feature.

I tied a piece of memory foam that I salvaged from an old mattress to the head band, using two strips of velcro tape. Looks ridiculous, works really well.


Having gone through a couple pairs of the Bose QC35, I am currently happy with the Sennheiser PXC 550. The noise cancellation is comparable and I feel like the sound quality is just a tiny bit better.

But perhaps the best part is they protrude less than the Bose, making it easier to listen while lying down.


Has anyone here successfully lobbied their management to get rid of the open office plan?

A good game plan for that seems much more valuable than headphone recommendations.


Aren't ear-plugs noise cancelling?

What if they just put tiny speakers inside ear-plugs and bypassed the whole active noise cancelling component?


That's pretty much the venerable Etymotic which also have the best isolation as per that site: https://www.rtings.com/headphones/tests/isolation/noise-isol...

For me, they're not comfortable for more than 3 or so hours while I can have either The QC30 or HD800S on all day.


> Aren't ear-plugs noise cancelling?

No, they are isolating. Canceling is an active process using destructive interference of sound waves.

Since it is a different mechanism you have quite different properties. For example size/material/fit on ear have different constraints and you can selectively filter out different frequencies (many noise canceling headphones allow you to let voices through for example, or sirens/warning noises).


A cheaper option is any type of over the ear hearing protection and in ear headphones if you want to listen to music.

But neat none the less.


That's pretty much exactly what option #2 from TFA is.

The author quotes a higher price, but that's only because the recommended pair of headphones costs more than the entirety of the first option.


It's funny that people are trying to hard to advance tech in active noise cancelling. The real secret is in the materials -- I don't know how but my favorite passive headphones knock out ambient noise better than most of the active cans (Bose or other) I've demoed at tech stores. Plus, they cost less and reproduce music more accurately (which may or may not be to everyone's liking)


This guy has a lot of misconceptions.

    > Bose are great headphones for looking like you are 
    > an audiophile. As far as I can tell – from talking 
    > to friends who are recording music in studios – nobody 
    > uses them professionally.
Listening to music at home != listening for professional use.

Most common pro studio headphones are Sony MDR 7506's. They are pretty enjoyable for home use too but (like all studio headphones) are a little thin on the bass.

Leaving aside the "audiophile" term since it means different things to different people.

Home headphones have bass that is typically either moderately boosted (as in the Bose QC15/25/35) or ridiculously boosted (some Beats headphones, especially the early models) That doesn't mean they're "bad" because his "friends who are recording music in studios" don't use them. You just can't realistically use them for creating professional audio.

    >  They do a pretty good job with steady constant droning 
    > noises (like the HVAC fans) but any higher frequency 
    > sound – like people talking – is left uncancelled.
Not true. High frequency sound isn't attenuated nearly as much as low frequency sounds, but is pretty effectively blocked by the Bose if you have any audio whatsoever playing, even at low volumes.

    > (i.e. they break apart within a few months of daily use)
Wow. I know lots and lots of people who own them and they typically last years. What's this guy doing to his headphones?

    > you need to purchase expensive replacement parts for them. I’ve 
    > replaced the ear cups on them twice so far and for the last pair 
    > I’ve been very careful not to damage them. The problem is they 
    > come undone even if I barely use them and at $30 a pair they are 
    > expensive!!! 
Ear pads last a year or two of daily use. Never had them "come undone."

BTW when I say "daily use" I don't mean abusive daily use. If you're transporting them you can't just throw them into a bag or they will wear out/break sooner. Of course that's true for most headphones.

As far as expensive replacements, there are great $15 unofficial pads on eBay, they are indistinguishable from the OEM pads to me.

    > I noticed that most of their “noise-cancelling” was actually 
    > passive and consisted of good noise suppression from the good 
    > seal created by the headphone ear cups.
This guy's really living on another planet. There's a very significant difference when you flip the switch from passive to active.

    > Music after a while gets tiring – especially when I’m in my 
    > 8th hour of listening through emotionally taxing soundtracks 
    > like Two Steps from Hell
"I listened to emotionally taxing music for eight hours straight and I found it emotionally taxing" Cool insight!

    > I got myself a pair of [actual passive noise canceling headphones 
    > like you'd find at a hardware store]
In all seriousness, if serious noise cancellation is what you need, yeah -- it's true. A cheap pair of passive noise cancellers from a hardware store will block more sound than a Bose. It's what I wear when using my table saw or other power tools. They are much, much larger than the Bose though. If you're cool with that, then you're set.

Lest anybody wonder if I'm some kind of secret Bose operative, I will also say that Sony's latest noise canceling headphones have really closed the gap in my opinion. Of course, maybe I could be some kind of secret double triple agent working for multiple Big Headphone entities.


such an annoying title. Bose is not synonymous with noise cancelation. Noise cancelation is a technology independent of a brand




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