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Ask HN: Soundproof headsets?
33 points by pg 1809 days ago | hide | past | web | 19 comments | favorite
I'm on a plane, and the woman in front of me is so loud I can barely think. Does anyone know if there are headsets that block all noise? I'm willing to look like someone on the deck of an aircraft carrier if necessary. But the headset has to block all sound, not merely attenuate particularly loud sounds.

(I have Bose noise-cancelling headphones with me. They are no match for this woman. In fact, it's better without them, because they cut the noise of the plane more than they do her voice.)

There are limits to what you can accomplish by putting anything in and over your ears. It's about 37NRR. That's because even if you completely block your ears, the bones of your head still transmit a lot of sound. To make it really quiet you need a helmet.

I'd try good earplugs first, earplugs and your headphones next, earplugs and noise protection ear muffs next.

A simple $25 test is to get Laser Lite foamies and Leightning L3 earmufs. That's the best you can do without a helmet in actually blocking noise. If that's good enough you can optimize for comfort/size/style from there. If not, then try tricking yourself by pumping white noise through headphones on top of earplugs.

Personally, on planes I use http://www.howardleight.com/earplugs/laser-lite foam earplugs. 32 NRR. Any drug store or Amazon in bulk. You can still hear people, but even crying infants don't bother you much. And they get rid of engine noise. Most comfortable earplugs I've found. You need to learn how to put them in properly. Good enough NRR that when you open your mouth it gets noticeably louder.

When shooting I double up and wear MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X upgraded with gel seals over earplugs. Get the neckband version. http://www.srstactical.com/communications/electronic-ambient... Sordins are 20 NRR by themselves. Probably 35NRR over earplugs.

For indoor handgun shooting I like Howard Leight Leightning L3. http://www.amazon.com/Howard-Leight-R-03318-Leightning-Shoot... 30NRR and extremely comfortable. Probably 37NRR over earplugs. They are big enough to cover a lot of area around your ears. When doubled-up you can't understand other people and can barely tell they are talking.

I'd pay $20 to see pg carry around a Helmet of Silence he quickly puts on whenever somebody starts annoying him.

If you just want to block sound:

Get some earplugs (squishy silicone work quite well). Put them on under some earmuffs. I like the Pro Ears (just get the cheap passive ones). It basically buys you 29-30dB from the plugs and maybe the same up to 33dB from the muffs, which is pretty good (as much as 35dB?).

If you want or will tolerate music (or background noise):

In Ear Monitors, ideally with custom made earmolds. Try a cheap pair first just to see if you're comfortable with the feeling of having earphones crammed in your ear canal, but if you like those, I'd strongly suggest getting custom earmolds made at an audiologist (maybe $200).

I have both Etymotics ER-4s and Logitech Ultimate Ears 6vi.

I wore them (underneath my electronic shooters muffs, sometimes, other times bare) on ranges with 14.5mm machine guns firing, as well as on helicopters, and they are awesome. Essentially 29-30dB earplugs and audiophile-grade headphones. As a plus, they're the size of a set of earbuds.

These are what professional musicians wear on stage.

The absolute best are the custom Ultimate Ears (well, there are 2-3 other great brands) -- they go up to about $1500. You can get what I have for $100-300, and those are also great.

Also, uh, Ambien. For her or yourself.

+1 on the custom molded in ear monitors - usually have my iPod volume on the 2nd or 3rd bar (15%?) and that drowns out pretty much everything - crying babies on flights, annoying co-workers etc.

If no music is need / just silence - industrial foam plugs (30-33db attenuation) + gun-range ear muffs on top; and that should only cost about $25 in total too.


With foam plugs - many folks just stick them on top of the ear and think that's it - you have to squash them into a thin roll, quickly insert them into the ear so only about 1/3 of them sticks out. They expand in your ear in about 10-15secs, and are usually more than enough to dull out most annoying sounds.

I wear earplugs, then put headphones over those, then play brown noise via (ugly but reliable) http://simplynoise.com. The combination of earplugs and sound works surprisingly better than either does alone. But I've not tried the Boses.

Extreme Isolation EX-29s. I have a bunch of them from my recording studio. 29dB of isolation. Me and my partner never fly without them. She puts earplugs in under the phones but I tend to listen to music or noise.

In my opinion sound isolation headphones blow away noise cancelling headphones for air travel. As long as you're comfortable with the look.


Some other suggested the etymotics, but I can't stand in ear phones, or ones that rest on your pinna. I find them so uncomfortable. The Ex29s are circumaural so are very comfortable for long sessions.

Try your headphones + http://simplynoise.com. I like to set it to brown noise. It's not perfect, but it helps a lot.

You have my sympathy. I've been waiting some decades for a real solution to this problem. Unfortunately, the physics involved and available so far have proven fairly intractable. (I've tried variations of most of what's been posted here. And I can't use music as a block -- too distracting.)

If someone really takes on this problem, my anecdotal experience is one of having encountered a significant number of people who would buy in. People looking for an Apple-like experience: High quality manufacturing and performance combined with a simple choice or set of choices. This includes ergonomics; for example, in addition to not providing complete attenuation, tightly sealing over-ear muffs can become extremely uncomfortable, tiring, and physically distracting during extended wear.

In a pinch, standard silicone earplugs work extremely well when you disregard the instructions and slowly push them deep inside your ear canal until you have a perfect seal.

With the Bose noise cancelling earphones, it's actually considered a feature that they don't block out conversational frequencies.

You aren't likely to find anything that will be soundproof altogether. The best 'headphones' you can find to eliminate noise are likely considered 'ear protection' on a gun range.

If the objective is a standalone device for noise isolation, those are the closest you're likely to get.

Slightly better would be the earbuds you see with scalloped inserts (the kind that look like this: http://gearmedia.ign.com/gear/image/article/771/771337/gdc-2...) -- they have more layers of insulation when inserted, and have the added benefit of being able to be augmented by speaker-borne audio.

Noise canceling is harder in high frequencies. You'd need ultra fast mike, circuit and loudspeaker to inject in the air the same wave in opposite phase, before it arrives to your ears.

Our maybe a pill, like some analgesic, freezing your auditory nerves for a while.

I have noticed that loud speaking is much less disturbing if you don't understand the language, maybe a drug messing your language brain could help, but if the purpose is to think about something else it will not help...

I bet the best fix is to tell this women you have misophonia, and pray her to tone down a bit.

You need actual airplane headphones. A Bose would be around 2k USD. David clarks are cheaper but they are a bit heavy.

You can stand in front of a V6 engine at full throttle and will barely hear it.

Those are the ones I have:


Etymotic's in-ear headphones are pretty great, especially if you spring for the extra $100 to go to an audiologist and get custom ear molds made.


or, with an iPhone compatible microphone:


I don't want music, just quiet.

I get good sound isolation from hf5s: http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/hf5.html -- they are basically ear plugs with the ability to pump in audio. They work well enough to quiet (but not silence) a room/environment/train without audio hooked up.

The other extreme is to just use shooting range ear protection: http://www.earplugstore.com/hunting-and-shooting-ear-plugs.h... (or amazon'd: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Sports-Outdoors-Hunting-E...)

I would expect ear protection (to avoid damage caused by extreme pressure changes) and volume reduction to be quite different.


I may be misunderstanding you, but you may want to opt for a noise-canceling headset or IEM + white noise rather than complete silence. The reason is that if you have just quiet, any noise that makes it through is guaranteed to be a distraction (fragile). With white noise, almost all outside interference will just blend into the white noise (robust). (By white noise, I mean any sound that you find easy to ignore. This could be certain songs, ambient sound, or white noise.)

I guess you couldn't go wrong with theBoom... http://www.theboom.com/v/military/index.asp

Bose does make some commercial-grade noise canceling headphones. They're like 1k but I'd be willing to bet they would work too

Since buying phones mid-air is though, I'd suggest an app that does binaural beats like ambi-science, or one that generates white noise like the sound of a waterfall or a fountain, that would drown the noise and the mind wanders off instead of focusing on the sound.

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