Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 18 April 2015 - 2:25pm

Jeannette’s office is being remodeled, and will be moving to more “modern” open, low-walled cubicles. She’s already worried about the noise distraction, so I’ve been looking into noise-cancelling headphones/earbuds for her.

Since the dawn of time (or as long as they have been in business) I would say that I’ve not been a fan of Bose. Having worked in an audio shop while in college, we did some repairs to some of the original Bose 901 "direct/reflecting" speakers, which appears to be an array of 4" paper cone drivers like you would find in a clock radio... While the reflecting concept was interesting, they didn't seem to have a very full range. I preferred more open systems like the Magnaplanar or a time-phased array speaker like the Dahlquist DQ-10, upon which my home-built speakers are based.

I have an older pair of Yamaha YHD-1 orthodymanic headphones, which are open back, and have a nice airy sound. However, since they are open back, they aren't good at blocking ambient noises! When I decided that I needed noise-canceling headphones years ago, I bought a set of the original Bose Quiet Comforts, which I really liked. The sound wasn’t perfect from an audiophile perspective, but the noise-cancelling worked noticeably better than any others that I tried. After using those for several years, the sound on one side became intermittent, but I couldn’t tell if it was the cable or the electronics...

When I was moving into our new open office building a couple of years ago, with low walled cubicles, I realized that I was going to need good noise-cancelling headphones that worked properly. I looked at some other options like the Sennheisers, and also checked into getting my Bose QC fixed. I found that Bose doesn’t really do repairs, but they do trade-ins that cut the price of the new pair by almost half! That made a new pair of Bose less expensive than any of the other options, so I traded in the originals for a new set of Quiet Comfort 15.

I also have a set of earbuds that I really like. None of the Apple models seem to stay in my ears unless I'm sitting perfectly still, so I went looking for a better option. After some research several years ago, I decided on a set of Shure E3 in-ear monitors. I actually ordered them online from a pro audio shop, as their price was a bit lower than the E3c "consumer" models that they had begun packaging for the iPod or iPhone. After a couple years of use, one of cups became intermittent, so I sent them back to Shure for service. They actually just replaced them with a new set, which I'm still using today. They have good noise isolation, since they are in-ear, and are very small and portable to carry around, but I like the Bose QC better when flying. The in-ear fit is a bit snug, so I don't find them as comfortable for long periods of time.

After doing some research earlier this week on current offerings, and looking more at earbuds than headphones, it was pretty clear that the Bose Quiet Comfort 20i was the best choice. We picked up a pair at BestBuy on our way home from dinner last night, and Jeannette is very happy with them. I opened them up in the car before we left the parking lot, so that she could try them out on the drive home.

I found a couple of interesting review sites in the process. One of the best reviews was at WireCutter, which had some references to a site that specializes in headphones, InnerFidelity, which has very thorough reviews.