May 11, 2003
Noise cancelling headphones reviews
I have a couple of intercontinental flights lined up for the summer, and I am considering investing in a decent set of noise-cancelling earplugs / headphones to reduce travel fatigue and to have a more enjoyable musical experience on the flights.

As far as I've heard, the BOSE QuietComfort™ is top of the line, but at 249.99 US$ it's a bit over the top, pricewise. Furthermore, curiously it's not for sale in their UK webshop while being available in France...

Does anyone have experiences with the Sony MDRNC10 or MDR-NC11 Noise Cancelling earplugs? They are the actively noise-reducing variants of the Sony MDR-EX70LP (a lot cheaper)... City offers Audiobahn Noise-Canceling Headphones but at US$29.99 they almost seem to cheap to be effective?

Any advice or comparisons most appreciated!

Sponsored links
Related Entries

Nice blog!

Posted by: Maria on May 11, 2003 04:27 PM

Try Etymotic ER-6 earbuds; they are highly reccomended by audiophiles. Instead of cancelling noise, they are earplugs with speakers in. They are available at

Posted by: Eli Sarver on May 11, 2003 05:06 PM

I know that you've already ruled them out, but the Bose headphones are incredible. I got them as a birthday gift a few years ago (it's one of those things I'd never think to buy), and I take them with me all the time on campus. Not only do they drown out most of the noise around you, it's damn near impossible for people around you to hear the music.


Posted by: AJ Schuster on May 11, 2003 09:44 PM

I must second the vote for Etymotic headphones. I'm a self professed headphone geek, having spent more on headphone related purchases than most people have on their entire stereo systems, and having had opportunity to tour around listening to some of the highest end headphones made today, I can confidently say that Etymotic headphones are exceptional in both sound blocking and sound quality.

Traditional noise cancelling headphones are cool and all, but typically the total drop of ambient noise is less than that of a quality canal-phone with no electronic noise canceling. The fact of the matter is that noise cancelling technology is young, and has difficulty with certain ranges of sound, and can create a noise of its own. Not to mention the less than optimal effect it has on the quality of the sound.

I know its expensive, which might put it in the same 'too expensive' category as the Bose, but you would do yourself a favor by at least checking out the Etymotic ER-4P or the ER-4S. The S model is higher impedence, and is designed to be driven out of a headphone amplifier, like a Creek, or those sold by Headroom ( However, if you are intending to drive them straight out of a Walkman/iPod/other portable device, then the ER-4P (P meaning 'portable') is better. The P has had its impedence lowered, so it can be driven better from a low powered portable device. The ER-4P is considered in hifi circles to be the ideal iPod headphone, because of its quality sound, and small size.

The sound quality from the ER4s is incredible. For many people, it is the best they have ever heard. I compared them side by side to headphones like the legendary Sennheiser Orpheus and the AKG K-1000s, as well as many other headphones, ranging in cost from over 10,000$ to under 50$. The ER4s held their own all the way up the line. Compared to the highest end phones, they weren't quite as rich sounding, but their accuracy was rivaled only by the highest end electrostatic phones. For many users of the ER4, its like hearing their music all over again.

But you don't care about that, you want noise canceling! Etymotic designs earplugs for musicians and sound engineers, and the headphones are based on the earplug designs. Etymotic claims up to 25dB of noise reduction with their canalphones. 6dB is 'half as loud', so it halves the volume 4 times, plus a little more. Bose does not list a noise reduction value that I could see, but based on my side by side comparisons, the level of reduction was definately less. With the Etymotics, you could hear your own heart beating through your body before you'd hear people talking in the same room.

The ER-6s are very similar, and have much of the same quality and isolation features of the ER-4. It may be hard to find a dealer in your area, but if you can, it would be worth your time to go test the phones you are considering! One disadvantage of the Etymotic phones that you could decide on if you had a chance to actually test them, is that some people find having an earphone in their ear canal a little weird feeling, if not straight up uncomfortable. The ER phones have both foam and silicon tips to use, and some people prefer one or the other, and after a few minutes of adjustment, are totally comfortable, but some people never seem to adjust right. They are also very small. Smaller than earbuds. This means they are ultimately portable, unlike a large over the ear style phone. They are also easier to lose.

Damn, long post. Anyway, I don't work for any headphone companies or anything, I'm just a headphone-phile who's spent way to much time testing out headphones. My biggest recommendation to you is to try to find a headphone dealer in your area who will let you try out the headphones! Ultimately, your personal comfort, personal ideas about sound quality, and personal needs for acoustic isolation are the priority, and that can only be determined for sure by actually trying them. Good luck, I bet you never thought it would be this complicated!

Posted by: sam on May 11, 2003 11:37 PM

Oh, one more thing, you might want to check out and read the forums a bit. There has been a lot of discussion about noise canceling phones there, and there are a lot of knowledgeable people on the forums. You can also find reviews and comparisons of all the headphones you've listed, which might give you some insight.

Posted by: sam on May 11, 2003 11:44 PM

Hi Eli, AJ and Sam! Thanks for the thorough comments on the earphones-question I posted in my blog! This is why I love blogging -- there are so many helpful people with such a load of experience out there!

At the time of writing, I happen to be in London, very near Tottenham Court Road (which is a Hi-Fi shop Mecca in this town) and I'll try and look for the models recommended :-)

The Etymotics sounds like the way to go if they fit my ears...

Happy blogging (& commenting)!

Posted by: Anders on May 12, 2003 09:26 AM

Alison Scott wrote about her experiences recently at

Personally, I'm not sure I dig the whole noise cancellation thing. I *like* being able to hear a little bit of the outside world when I've got my headphones on!

Posted by: Martin Sutherland on May 13, 2003 12:30 AM

Indeed I did; but the nature of gooey shove-in-the-ear plug type headphones is that you don't get a chance to comparison shop. I'd have liked a chance to compare the Etymotics. I am, however, completely convinced by the noise-cancelling nature of earplug-type headphones as opposed to traditional ones.

I'm also worried about the durability of earplug-type headphones; headphones take a considerable bashing in daily Tube-commuting life, and both the Sonys I have and (especially) the Etymotics are pricey. And my headphones get really filthy; do other people have cleaner ears than me or something?

Etymotics can be bought in the UK from these people.

Martin; a little bit of the outside world isn't really a viable option on the Underground, sadly. Even when I get a perfect earpluggy fit, the trains are pretty noisy with the music off.

Posted by: Alison Scott on May 13, 2003 08:51 PM

Thanks for the URL, Alison!

It's funny, I didn't find this dealer linked from Etymotic's site directly. Ah well...

Bit of an issue: PJBox sells the ER-6 for £129.00
( )

At the same time I can get it sent from the States even including USPS Express shipping across the pond for less than £100.00:

Hmmm... Maybe I should give the PJ Box guys a call...

Posted by: Anders on May 13, 2003 09:40 PM

A classical music lover, I felt I needed sound quality with my ipod. and went the Etymotic ER-4S route, with the Headroom amplifier. It works to block out the sounds of the New York subway (!) and the quality is very good, but it bothers me that the bass is very lacking.
Someone on the Internet recommended hooking the same amplifier up to a pair of Sennheiser MX500 earbuds at $20. I tried it, and in my judgment, the sound quality is actually superior. Doesn't hide the noise though.

Posted by: David on May 16, 2003 10:44 PM

There are a good few revierw over here too:

Posted by: Anders on June 9, 2003 07:22 PM

For the interested readers (and there seem to be more and more of them recently, after this posting hit the search engines) ;

I eventually bought the Etymotic ER-6, and reviewed it here:

Posted by: Anders on July 16, 2003 03:51 AM

Nobody has mentioned CUSTOM FIT ear buds/monitors. These are the pinnacle of quality! I have a set, and they completely block out external sound, and have superb sound quality. They are expensive (£180 or about $220 US) and you have to be patient as a mould is taken of your ear canal and the buds then made for you (takes about 2 weeks). The sound quality is sensational, try -




Posted by: Gavin on October 9, 2003 08:38 AM


Posted by: ch on November 9, 2003 02:47 AM

This is one excellent excellent earphones.

Posted by: ER6 on November 22, 2003 08:53 PM

For those times when you only want quiet and it doesn't matter how you look, here's a funky NO-COST solution that works better than the noise-cancelling headphones and avoids the health issues of earplugs(the greater risk of infection by inserting plug into ear canal). I took some dead open-ear headphones, cut off the wires, taped two inch-long bottle caps to the insides of the ear pieces so the bottle caps press against my ear flaps (you know, those flaps on your ears that close the ear canals when you press them with your fingers). After adjusting this contraption on my head, I put a headband over it to hold the bottle caps firmly against my ear flaps, and--voila--great noise cancellation and no ear canal discomfort or risk of infection. After wearing it for an hour, my ear flaps were a little uncomfortable, so I took it off briefly to rest them.

Posted by: jason on December 3, 2003 12:55 AM

Get the Sony MDR-NC-20 model headphones.Cheaper than the Bose,more effective by my testing and quite durable.Comfortable for many hours.

Posted by: Brian on February 6, 2004 05:36 AM

I'm trying out the the Sony MDR-NC11 noise-cancelling earbuds (I can return them withing 30 days). I have to work around a lot of computers and the noise wears me out. With noise cancelling on they make a constant static white noise, and does help a good deal with the computer noise. I'm not so tired, and the white noise is negligible with music. Bass is good if that's a factor. I'll take a look at the Etymotics.

Posted by: Toby Fernsler on June 6, 2004 07:23 AM

I got a set of the Earhugger EH-1420NC phones from that I'm reasonably happy with. They handle low rumbles well, and I love being able to actually *hear* the inflight audio, for a change!

Posted by: on June 9, 2004 07:23 PM

When I was looking for a pair of headphones for my Hawaii flight, the Bose was a little expensive for me, and so were the Etymotics (which I'm sure are excellent).

The PlaneQuiets looked a bit fragile and I could not get much info on them except from a travel site who appeared to defensively review AND sell them as well!

After looking around a bit, I finally settled on the EX29 from It claims a noise reduction of 29db. I was a little apprehensive at first but when I used them to watch the movies on the plane, all my doubts vanished. The noise blocking is superb. I did not need to crank up the volume of the headphones to overpower the jet noise. For the first time, I actually enjoyed watching the movies in a plane. I could hear everything.

I use them now at home for my DVD movies as well as working in the yard. No problems with sweat and the thrashing around in the garden.

All in all, I must say I made a wonderful investment. Saves my hearing too!

Posted by: Jack Lanford on September 29, 2004 06:10 AM

I am a college student and have ADD...thus all outside room noise distracts me in a testing situation. I am trying to find something that will block out the other students coughs, chip eating, penclicking and talking.
Does anyone know of any type of product that would help to block out the surrounding noise and give me an environment that I can concentrate in?


Posted by: Xandra on October 16, 2004 10:49 PM

I've found this blog helpful in my planned present to myself (prolly the Shure E2C or Etymotic ER-6i).

Beware of the "Jack Lanford" post. At a similar headphone blog I saw a post by the same name and he said he first tried the EX-29 "on the way back from Singapore." Here he shopped for them to prepare for his "Hawaii flight." Hmmm...

Posted by: Max in Mplr on November 5, 2004 07:27 PM

I recently went to Prague from LA on American. They gave out the Bose headphones in business class. I brough my own -new ones from Brookstone. The differences are: Bose does not have volume control-I couldn't hear anything on my Sony CDWalkman. Brookstones (soundshiled sst500) have a terrific volume control. Bose let in more high pitched humming, Brookstones let in a little low pitched sound. I went back and forth and stayed with my Brookstone for the rest of the trip there and back. I tried the Sony earplugs-they kept falling out and I didn't want them pushing into my ear while I tried to sleep on the plane-the headphones are more comfortable Sony's dont have volume control. Sennheiser has some also - smaller than normal headphones - they work pretty well, but no volume control. No volume control is fine for the in-plane video and music, but not with portable players.

Posted by: Chauncey on November 7, 2004 10:46 PM

I bought the Sony noise cancelling headphones. I reckon they are pretty good having tested them on a 7 hour flight. There are 2 features which make for better sound - first they have a soft insert for the ear so they block out way more ambient noise than usual bud phones. Second the noise cancelling does work well - hard to put a figure on it but I've read they take out 70% of ambient noise and that sounds about right. However, they work best with low sounds so are great for planes where they take out a lot of the rumble noise from the jets. They are not so good at high frequencies so they don't cancel all noise. What they also do is introduce a slight hiss when they are on but you won't pick this up on a plane. Finally, they come with a plug so you can listen to the in-flight movies using the adapter which works well. Hope it helps - Jon

Posted by: jon on November 23, 2004 01:51 PM

I bought the inexpensive Philips SBC HN050 a few weeks ago for my iPod. I fly a lot, so I thought I might as well buy some comfortable headphones that are a bit active in the noise cancelling department. They were about $50 at Best Buy and run off of one AAA battery. They are wrap-around-the-back-of-head headsets and NOT earbuds (had enough of those, thanks). They work pretty well for normal ambient noise while the plane is in flight, but they are no good when they get overwhelmed (like, say, when the plane is taking off or landing). I suppose I'm not supposed to be using them anyway, but when I "forget" about turning them off, my music gets choppy and sounds like a CD player skipping badly.

Overall, though, I'm pretty happy with their comfort and sound quality. Not too bad. (Oh, they come with that funky two prong plug for "use in airplanes"...but I've never been on a plane with one of those kinds of plugs. Maybe just American airlines aren't using those anymore?)

Posted by: eliot on November 24, 2004 06:36 PM

I just bought a pair of Philips HN-060 earbud noise cancelling, and they are pretty good. At less than $40US +shipping, I didnt expect too much. I did have to do a little modification with an Xacto, but after theat they worked well. They do a pretty good job on the plane, but they cannot contend with most of the over the ear phones, and the circuitry box makes them much more unwieldy that regular earbuds. I was at an airport Brookstone, and they had about 8 models out for comparison. I was impressed by the Sennheiser PXC250s, mostly because they were fairly compact, even though they did not cover the whole ear, the cancelling circuitry did a great job just with echoes in the airport. I also tried the MDR-NC11 and they were total crap, their active (and passive) cancellation was MUCH worse than my cheapo Philips'.
Generally, the kind with foam earpads arent as good. I had a pair of the Aiwas like that, and after I fitted a pair of muffs from a set of Sony studio monitor phones, it was much better.
If you want earbud headphones, try the Shure E3c, INCREDIBLE noise isolation (no active cancellation). They are very light and durable, but run about $150-200US on ebay.
I guess if I were going to get another pair with active cancellation, I would go for teh Sennheisers, becuase the small size is important to me, but the big Bose can't be beaten overall.

Posted by: vatoman on November 30, 2004 04:43 AM

I'm looking for purely noise-cancelling headphones, for a friend who lives right next to a highway and wants to sleep better at night.
This means that the headphones (earbuds would probably be physically too irritating) need to be somehow comfortable while lying on one's side for 8 hours or so at a time - an impossible demand? (At least the question of quality of musical delivery is basically moot...)
TIA for all comments & suggestions!

Posted by: Pierce R. Butler on December 14, 2004 06:18 PM

I've read a lot of your information and have found it extremely informative, however, I haven't seen the mention of physical activity and exposure to sweat. I want to couple a set of noise cancelling earplug phones to my Dell Pocket DJ, I use it a lot at the gym, running, mountain biking and I sweat profusely, which inherently will make its way towards my ear. I am leaning towards the Shure E2c or the ER6 earplugs, has anyone used these in the course of extreme physical activity and how do they hold up? Are they worth the expense? Thanks

Posted by: Ezra on January 5, 2005 03:26 PM

I had the Sony MDR NC-11 earbuds.
The pros: Compact (earbud style) and effective noise cancelling capability
The cons: Low durability. One of the wires that connected from the noise cancelling module to the earbud broke in less than 6 months. With only a 90 day warranty, it was too late to get fixed.

Posted by: B on January 9, 2005 12:01 AM

hey guys any one of you know what kinda chips that they are using to reduce noise on the headphones.
if any one of you know please eamil me with the info.

Posted by: antoney on January 14, 2005 07:40 PM

Andrew/Antoney, chips are only used in the actively noise cancelling headphones, not in the passive ones (like Etymotic). You can probably find more / relevant information here:

Posted by: Anders on January 18, 2005 04:06 PM

I'm looking for noise cancelling earphones for my wife. We have some neighbours who play their hideous dance and rap music loudly enough that she can hear their bass inside the house with all the doors and windows closed and it's drivingher nuts. (Yes, I've complained and, no, no-one seems to be able to do anything about these bastards.) She's tried earplugs of various kinds so I don't think the Etymotics are going to be of any use. Do the active noise cancelling earphones cut out the kind of bass frequencies our beloved neighbours are addicted to?

Posted by: Graham Storrs on January 21, 2005 05:48 AM

I have been using the sony MDR-NC10 for quite some time. fantastic solid bass ( I am a bass person). When you listen to music with the noise cancellation signal on, you do not hear anything except the music. As they got older, there are issues about loose contacts which disrupts the music. I cleaned the contacts with ethyl alcohol and it improved a bit. I am planning to buy another one, if I can find it in the market or if there is nothing better out there. Plese let me know if the shure or etymotic are more superior.



Posted by: Larry on February 3, 2005 06:14 AM

I just received a pair of Jensen foldable.... Not bad for their price. Ergonomics is acceptable, sound quality is fair to okay, noise cancelling is bad. Only eliminates mid range spectrum and sometimes amplifies bass when room speakers are out of phase. Bottom line, I will keep searching.. your advice is welcome.

Posted by: Jose on February 19, 2005 01:41 AM

This is a most interesting blog as I find a lot of similarity here when compared to my efforts to find a replacement for a lost pair of Sony MDR-NC11's that were misplaced somewhere between London and Mumbai. I travel internationally rather regularly and when you are forced to endure the cacophony of 20 plus hours of airplane noise on a one way leg of a trip that is enough to drive anyone mad. So, the saga continues. I enjoyed the active noise canceling and the compact size of the last pair of Sony's. The worst thing about them was that no matter which ear pieces you used, your ears would get sore after a few hours and the ear buds would not stay in the ear very well. After an ungodly amount of timing researching different options available I came up with purchasing a set of in ear monitors that are custom fit to a mold that is created of your ear to the second bend of the ear canal. For all you squeamish folks, this is not an uncomfortable process. What you will experience is almost TOTAL silence when the silicone is injected into the ear canal. This passive noise cancellation is utter bliss in comparison to what any active ear bud style or circumaural unit can provide and is the first introduction to the beauty of a custom fit in ear monitor. I chose Ultimate Ears as my product supplier. I purchased their UE-5c, which is their lowest priced unit. Don't be shocked, but the price of this little sucker is double of the Bose QuietComfort 2 and rings in at an even $550 + the molds of your ears + the shipping of your molds and order to Ultimate Ears + the return shipping. That said the sound quality is stunning. The comfort is incomparable even if you wear them all day long. Finally, I don't think you can find a more definitive statement of confidence in this product when you take a look at the client list which looks to include any and all major band/musical groups in existence currently. This investment was worth every single penny and I would buy them again! Then again I don't plan on losing this pair! :-)

Posted by: kewllewk on March 2, 2005 12:41 AM

Unlike last poster I opted for the lowest cost option available at schiphol (Amsterdam) airport last week, I chose the active noise cancelling Philips SBC HN110 set for about Eur 65, thus less than $45. This is a 'traditional' design, but very light, foldable and i found it comfortable to wear. The alternatives were Sennheisers and Sony's

I am completely satisfied, the sound is good (I am a classical music listener). More importantly, I finally slept on a flight (8hr to MSP), and best of all, in the appartment where I now stay there is this bad humming ventilation. It gets cancelled very well. NB, the canceling can be switched off, I don't think Bose has that option

So, don't forget the more affordable solution...

Posted by: Erik on March 6, 2005 10:53 PM

Interesting comments about the noise cancelling technology. I play the drums, and want to play along with my favorite CDs on my Discman player, but the sound of the drums drowns out the music I'm listening to. So I have considered "noise cancelling" headphones. Any suggestions ?

Posted by: Kelly on March 14, 2005 05:29 AM

I bought Philips SBC HN110 to go with a Rio Carbon and for noise reduction. Now I wear them everywhere - car, work, planes/airports, even at the puter to loose the fan noise - Its good to switch em on and get a little zone of quiet, sometimes I listen to stuff - sometimes just use them for the hush!

Great value (I paid about £38 'duty free' at Heathrow (UK) airport). Sound is good enough for me listening to mp3, very comfortable to wear and noise reduction is effective, also seem well built. Only negative is that you look like an extra from Dr Who with a big silver can on each side of your head. I didn't compare or research - it was an impulse purchase and I had them on and working within 5 mins because you get a battery in the box too, and I'm well pleased.

Posted by: Ian Wilson on March 20, 2005 10:27 PM

I love my Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones, MDR-NC11. They are lightweight and small enough to fit in my pocket with my ipod. Also they work great on airplanes, with the adapter you can use them on the plane to watch the movie or on your laptop.
They work so well that I haven't heard cars comming up behind me when I walk!
Happy Travels!!!!!

Posted by: liza on March 21, 2005 10:51 PM

Try the shure e5c great sound canalphones or if you can aford go with the UE-10s for the ultimate in sound

Posted by: Rick on April 3, 2005 11:29 PM

Ok I have read all the blogs re noise reducing headphones, but I do not have an ipod or similar, what else could I connect them to while I am on that long haul flight to where ever.

Is there anything on the market which would blank out any sounds(particularly plane engine noise) with out inputting music? I do not particularly like music (I know..... shock horror)- I am a spoken word person!

Posted by: Anne on May 30, 2005 05:04 PM

Anne, a lot of airplanes have inhouse entertainment (movies, talk/comedy shows, BBC World etc). You just plug your headset into a hole in your armrest to tap into the entertainment there. PS be aware that some airlines have non-standard plugs (to avoid theft of their own headsets, presumably). Check in advance & get an adapter (which shouldn't cost more than a dollar or two.

Posted by: Anders on June 10, 2005 01:29 PM


I was looking at the Etymotic noise cancelling headphones on Friday and discovered that they also make noise cancelling earplugs

which could be a good alternative.

Posted by: Verne on July 6, 2005 12:25 PM

Just got a Sony HDD player and found the earphones a little uncomfortable when used for long periods. Came across your site as I want noise cancelling on flights.

I think I've decided on Philips HN060 noise cancelling, bud type phones are probably better for cancelling external sounds. I'll review them soon.

For talk station Anne: You can download much of BBC Radio 4 (comedy/drama)content via the web - works well on my Sony.

Posted by: Further on July 21, 2005 02:48 PM

I have the Sony MDR NC11 I have had them for a couple of years the initial price was high about $150 they have come down some I think they are great the only downside is finding the earbuds when you lose them. Sony sell them for about $5 but to me their website is a hassle.

Posted by: Ivory on July 28, 2005 02:38 AM

I have a problem where my family really enjoys turning up the volume of the music in the car. Unfortunately, I do not share the same preferences of music as them and rather find it hard to stand.

Can anyone recommend a pair of headphones, preferably, that would be good for blocking out outside sounds and decent sound quality? A pair of headphones costing around $100 or less will be appreciated. :)

Posted by: pq on August 8, 2005 06:06 AM

pg - even cheaper than 100 bucks are the Etymotic Musician's earplugs. They have 'consumer' versions too. I use a pair of those any time I go to concerts etc:

Posted by: Anders on August 9, 2005 11:20 AM

I know these headphones (Extreme Isolation
Noise Cancelling - Canceling Reduction Headphones EX29) may not be Bose but I have found them to be quite good and work better than the Bose noise reduction headphones. There are many reviews here as well. [URL removed]

Posted by: Noise Reduction / Cancelling Headphones on August 11, 2005 07:23 AM

HI, I have noise sensitivity issues living near a highway, airport, as well as trains. When I study I ussually use earplugs- but that gets annoying after a while. I also can't listen to music. I'm curious if these noise canceling headphones will actually cancel out these noises without the need to hook up audio to them.

Posted by: Audji on August 26, 2005 02:18 AM

I've seen lots of questions about people who want to cancel out other music (ie. family in the car, or next door neighbours booming bass etc). Can those of you who own these headphones let us know what effect they have on such external noises? Even if you just put on your stereo with some loud music and then put the headphones on to see how much it cancels out the music, that would be appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by: JJ on September 2, 2005 05:50 AM

Okay, I BOUGHT the Entymotics headphones (ER6i) and have little good to say about them. I wonder if the company posts messages to promote its products.

1) You have to shove them deep into your ears and they are uncomfortable.
2) No matter how often you clean your ears (I am a neat freak and do so thoroughly and daily) they accumulate wax over time and get kind of yucky -- as another person pointed out in another post.
3) You can't equalize pressure easily on airplanes without taking them in and out. Because they stuff up your ear, they can actually be painful on takeoff and landing if you do not remove them.
4) As the "filters" get clogged you lose both volume and tonality.
5) Replacing the filters is not hard, but you have to buy them -- who ever heard of replacement parts for headphones?
6) The sound quality is not as good as is hyped -- yes, better than standard ear buds... if you are willing to put up with a chunk of rubbed stuffed deep into your ear!!
7) Prior to the Entymotics, I had a cheaper pair of Sony noise cancelling headphones. While the sound quality was not signifcantly better, the Sony's noise cancellation was LEAGUES better and the comfort was... well lets just say that the Entymotics suck in this regard.
8) The one thing I have to say that is good about the Entymotics is that when I THOUGHT I had a problem, they were ready to replace the unit no questions asked and were very nice about it. As it turned out that (as the web site discusses) one of the filters was clogged which is why I had almost no volume out of one side after about 6 weeks. I replaced the filter (spent an additional $25 on "accessories" including extra filters and rubber ear buds) which fixed the problem. You have to regularly replace the filters to keep sound quality up.

Clearly, I would not recommend these. For me the disadvantages far outweight the advantages and I think they are overpriced for what I believe they are -- essentially $30 ear buds with (for $80 more) an uncomfortable "shove it in your ear" rubber tip.

Posted by: Bob on September 9, 2005 09:48 PM

I am going to buy the noise cancelling headphones
and I have read a lot of feedback in this forum, but no one mentioned the Plane Quiet Solitude Noise Canceling Headphones. If anyone already tried this one, please post your comment here.

Posted by: John on September 22, 2005 06:18 AM

I have tried these noise isolation/reduction headphones and like the fact I don't here the hissing that I sometimes do from the noise cancelling headphones. They also don't require batteries.

Posted by: noise reduction headphones on October 3, 2005 06:56 PM

My experience over the last two years...
I travel internationally 6 or 8 times/year. My historical solution was to use simple ear plugs then put the plane's cheap headphones on and CRANK UP the volume -- which kinda blocked the airplane noise but I felt sorry for my seatmates.

I coveted the Bose, but thought "too expensive" so bought the Sony active noise-cancellation ear-buds (forget exact model #). Really did not like them -- primarily because of the annoying hiss (which I was warned about on websites like this), but also I found them uncomfortable after 1 or 2 hours.

After using nothing again for many more months, I decided to buy the Bose, but left it for the last minute and couldn't find a dealer. At the airport, the Bose kiosk was also closed. I'd had two vendors say the Shure passive ear-buds gave better performance than Bose. I liked the fact that the Shure were so much smaller to carry and easier to sleep in, despite being the same price as Bose. Plus, the shop selling Shure was still open, so I bought them to try. I just got back from a round-world trip, and will keep them. When not listening to audio (e.g. trying to sleep), I just use basic ear plugs. The Shure blocked airplane noise just as well, plus had very good sound. They come with several ear-bud options, but I just used the foam ear-plug version. I'm very satisfied (and the Shure fit in my laptop case, the Bose would not.)

My last observation to the many asking questions about noisy situations: my understanding is that these active devices all tend to mute repetitive noises, and don't work so well trying to cancel out loud music, noisy students, etc. I think 29-cent ear-plugs may be your best bet.

Posted by: Ross on October 13, 2005 04:25 AM

Hi everbody.

Here's my experiences with a few noise abatement solutions, specifically on planes: (I play trumpet and I'm an engineer - so I reckon I like good sounding music, and I like to understand the equipment I use!)

1. Sony MDR-NC6 - Active Noise Cancelling Headphones. Battery is in the headband - very conveniently out of the way.

I've had these about a week now, and done a few flights of 3 hours or so. The noise cancelling on these is very effective below about 250 Hz, just like the specs say. This means low frequency stuff, like lower engine noise and continuous rumbling noises are effectively reduced. They are not effective at reducing higher frequencies, like speech, wind noise and higher frequency hiss. Partly because the faom surrounds do not close the ear off very well.

This means when used on an aeroplane they cut out the low frequency drone and rumble, but do nothing for the higher hiss. They do make listening to the inflight entertainment a lot easier, but they don't cut out nearby conversations, and you can still hear the stewards when they take your order.

Comfort wise I found the pressure on the outer ear a bit uncomfortable after an hour, but I persevered.

2. Koss Plug. Passive in-ear ear-plug type.

Cheap and cheerful, and very effective at reducing outside noise levels.

These have the soft rubber pads that you compress and then jam in your ear. After a moment the rubber expands to fit snuggly against your ear canal, just like an industrial ear-plug. The sound you want to hear travels from the outer conventional-looking earbud through a very small plastic tube which is in the centre of this compressible foam, to your ear. The tube does not protrude beyond the soft foam, so there is no chance of damaging your inner ear.

These things feel like an industrial earplug, so if you don't like that feeling these are not for you.

Sound quality on these are pretty good, I feel. Certainly better than the earbuds on my Creative MP3 player, which doesn't say much. Yes they pick up ear-wax, but are easily cleaned in warm soapy water and left to dry. No drama.

These effectively reduce noise across the entire spectrum - low engine noise to high hiss. So they give an overall effect of being more effective than the Sony MDR NC6. But they also block out conversation, so you will difficulty having a conversation with the person sitting next to you.

3. Philips HN060 Noise Cancelling Earbuds

In-ear bud-type earphones with a small box halfway to the jack for the noise-cancelling electronics. This box can be cumbersome.

These were very good at reducing noise across the spectrum. The in-ear component on these is a double-flanged type rubber seal - like a ear-plug for swimming, instead of the compressible foam in the Koss buds. These flanges are easier to clean than the Koss plugs, as they can be wiped dry.

Music-wise, these things sound very good.

The interesting feature is that these enable you to have a conversation with the person next to you, despite the noise concelling being on. In fact it easier to hear the person next to you when the noise cancelling is ON, as the speech is not filtered as noise. Whereas with NC OFF, the device is passive and the speech is passively reduced through the ear-plug effect.

Conclusions? I don't mind stuffing things in my ear, so I find the ear-plug style a great advantage when packing for travel. The in-ear plugs need to be insertde propoerly to be effective, otherwise they are a waste of time, and irritaingly fall out. I like the Koss Plug as they are passive - no extra batteries - and they sound pretty good. But for overall sound quality and convenience inflight, I'd probably recommend the Philips noise cancelling earplugs. And cheap too. So give em a go!!

As for sound quality, I found the adjustable equaliser settings on my MP3 player were very effective in obtaining a 'pleasing' sound to my ears for almost any headphone/earplug, so if you've got this feature - use it! "Good" sound is a personal thing, so don't blindly trust another persons opinion.

Finaly, the best noise cancelling I ever encountered was with the Koss plugs and a pair of industrial ear-muffs over the top. OK it wasn't sexy, but nothing disturbed me for 3 hours, and I heard every nuance and whisper of that crummy film !!

A very comprehensive review of active noise cancelling earmuffs compared to passive earmuffs is hear (!):
It is 3 years old, technology might have improved, but the practicalities haven't. Well worth a read.

I hope this helps at least one person. Let me know.


Posted by: Bruce on October 25, 2005 08:06 AM

Re: The Etymotic 6i: Its refreshing to see an honest comment on a product from Bob. Yes, if you can truly jam the earfoams deep into your ear canal, the etymotics sound good. But then, getting an airtight fit in the ear takes a lot of effort and can be painful at times. The manufacturers recommend "moistening the ear plugs before insertion" So, now, you have to be carrying a bottle of water with you just so that you can listen to music through these headphones.

It maybe that I have small ear external ear canals but for now, I am back to the bulky Bose noise cancellation headphones - in terms of comfort, these truly work.


Posted by: Roy on October 30, 2005 12:30 AM

Has anyone tried any of the above to cancel out the noise of a riding lawnmower? My ideal is to hook them to a portable radio/cassette player to not only cancel out the lawnmower noise, but to listen to audio. Don't know the decibels, but they probably rival plane takeoff and landing, or worse?

Posted by: Kirsten on November 3, 2005 08:59 PM

I work in a cubicle, so desperately need to cancel out the extraneous noise of the office. I wear glasses, so headphones are out (they smash against the earpiece). I would like quality sound, but I'm NOT an audiophile. I also like cheap. So, I want noise cancelling, ok sound, long cord (5 feet?) and comfortable to wear with glasses. Also travel a lot, so could use on airplanes. Any suggestions? So far, the Koss is looking good.

Posted by: Carolyn on November 15, 2005 07:25 PM

Carolyn - It seems from the above that there are lots of options for ear buds/plugs/foams that wouldn't impact your glasses wearing. Cheap, I don't know ...

Also, a question to everyone else - Just came across Heil Noise Cancelling Headphones on the C.Crane site, which was recommended to me as a reputable source. Has anyone tried these?

Posted by: Kirsten on November 16, 2005 10:54 PM

I am an audiophile and not fond of compressed digitial music.
What I have enjoyed about the iPod, is the fact that I can take a lot of music with me on the road or have an easily assembled playlist for the gym or a long walk. And the sound is palatable (so long as I don't reference it against my stereo system).
I have found that the stock iPod "ear buds" while slightly warm sounding, lack clarity and crispness to them. But for what they are (and cost), one cannot expect a whole lot out of them.
I have been looking and looking for a pair of ear phones that have a full, warm and clear sound to them.
Unlike a head phone, I want something compact that I can stick in my pocket if I have to.
a few months ago, on a store's strong recommendation, I bought a pair of the Shure E3C's. Upon plugging them into my iPod, I was stunned to find that the volume was abou 35% lower (on some recordings) than the iPod ear buds and that the there was a lot of musical information missing. What did get through, sounded as though it was comming through a closed door from across the room.
I thought that there was something wrong with them, so I took them back to the dealer along with a pair of stock iPod "ear buds" for reference.
First I had him listen to the iPod ear buds and then the E3C's. His jaw dropped and he swore that there was something wrong with my E3C's. We tried out two more pairs E3C's and found the sonics the same. Then he tried out the E5C and found no difference between those and the E3C.
After reading a review a week ago(in another blog) on the TrueSonic EM3, I checked their site out. The TS site lists an impressive roster of musicians that use their ear monitors.
The pair of EM3's that I bought arrived today and they sound worse than the Shure E3C. It sounds like someone turned off the bass, cranked up the treble, wrapped the speakers in a towel and put them in a closet.
At least the iPod ear phones deliver most of the music to your ears.
If you are an audiophile, then you know that there is no perfect speaker out there.
While I don't expect a perfect sounding ear phone,there must be something that can deliver all of the music (as the muddy sounding iPod ear buds seem to do) with clarity and warmth.
I am still looking and I came here and found that most of you are too.
If anyone finds anything that sounds amazing, if it would not be any trouble to you, could you please email me w/ some info?
Thank you for taking the time to post information and your opinions for people like myself to read and I wish all of you the best!

Posted by: Mj on November 24, 2005 06:08 AM

P.S. As an additional note, the store that sold me on the Shure line of ear phones stopped carrying them.

Posted by: Mj on November 24, 2005 06:13 AM

I have direct sound extreme isolation phones for home use, not very pretty but they do a good job. Too big really for planes so I bought some philips HN 060 off ebay without listening to them first. I cannot see how anyone can give these a good review they are terribe. Not only do they apppear not to cancel out any noise at all but the quality and sensitivity are poor. The cheapest ear buds are just as good, if not better. If you were thinking of these phipips ones I'd recommend trying first, then buying something else.

Posted by: mr peter on November 26, 2005 10:02 AM

I did not noticed Sennheiser headphones here. I made a mistake buying PXC 250 for my Sony NW-HD3. Basically, there are two big problems with them:
- weak cable, I will be replacing second pair (in period of 9 months) because of broken cable
- high impendance (300 Ohm) which might help faithful music reproduction in your home Hi-Fi, but produces very weak sound from MP3 player (typical earphones for these devices have below 30 Ohm)
Other (smaller) issues are:
- weak noise cancellation. It does not really help much in noisy places, like traveling in the tube or sitting close to the engine in the bus
- NoiseGuard power supply, as you need to keep it somewhere and replace batteries from time to time
I'm seriously considering switching to earphone with passive noise cancellation, like Etymonic

Posted by: Bronek on November 29, 2005 01:22 AM

I just switched to Etymotics ER-4P . It took some time to get used to earphones because they really sit deep in my ears (BTW: yellow eartips ER4-14C are MUCH better than anything coming in the box). Now I'm amazed. Sound isolation, sound quality - it just rocks!

Posted by: Bronek on December 12, 2005 12:35 AM

I'm another cubicle worker -- a proofreader, moved to a cubicle due to office space crunch after several decades of blissful silence in a broom closet with a door I could close.

The chatter, phone calls, office-home angst and over-the-cubicle conversations around me have cut my productivity by half, verifiable.

I'm going mad, I tell you.

I'm wearing Smith & Wesson in-the-ear plugs, underneath Leightning 3 Industrial over-the-ear mitts.

These things all seem to be 'safety' designed to pass through human voices, although they block fan noise and street noise.

Is there anything out there really effective?

NOTE -- I can't just turn up music, I have enough tinnitus that even the cheap "active noise cancelling" technology seems to set my tinnitus off after a while. I am hoping there's some superb technology coming along that really stops noise precisely.

Help! Please? I'll be watching the thread.

Posted by: hank on December 14, 2005 08:09 PM

Thanks Sam for your candid and thoughtful response to Noise Cancellation earplugs. I am the complete opposite of an audiophile, as much as I like to listen to rich sounding music as they were intended to be listened. And I've been looking for a way to reduce noise on the plane and other noisy envioronments - both office & home. I never imagine that earplug listening devices could be so state-of-the-art. Much less, provide more noise reduction than some of the competing headphonse mfgs. Unfortunately, I purhased today a Radio Shack head phones w/ 15db noise cancellation. Being rather new to this, the head phones work well. But after reading your blurb on Etymotic earplug headphones, and looking at their site, I realize that I need to be more attentive to some of the technologies that presently exist in 21st century (instead of blasting my ears with a cheap set of headphones). For me, a $300.00 investment is well worth the peace that it brings.

Posted by: Robert1 on December 20, 2005 08:18 AM

Here's a great pair of noise cancelling headphones that will cost you absolutely nothing. Just stuff a bit of cotton in your ears and crank up the volume on your airline issued headphones. You are essentially increasing the the signal to noise ratio, although you may annoy the passenger next to you.



Posted by: on December 24, 2005 06:28 PM

For the few people that have talked about silence as a primary goal (noisy neighbors, highway noise, whatever), I recommend spending a few bucks extra and buying silicone ear plugs. They're not very common, so look for them at large drugstores.

The package contains 3 pairs, a small travel-case for one pair, and a pair lasts through a dozen or so uses if you don't take care to clean your ears or the plugs. That's the bad news for someone seeking a nightly longterm solution.

The good news is I used them to silence an uncle that snores like a chainsaw. I've used them to drown out TV noise on nights when my wife had insomnia and I couldn't 'turn off my mind' and get to sleep. They work incredibly well for sleeping, they cut all noise out (but you can hear someone if they're talking to you and you're actively listening). If the foam earplugs are safety-oriented, these assuredly are not.

Didn't see mention, thought I'd pass the item along. When I learned of these (just before that camping trip with Uncle) I thought I'd gone to heaven.

Oh, and one night on that same trip, 6 of us were on a 35' aluminum-hull fishing boat in a bay. Heard the hull clank (aluminum *echos* from water splashes) and reached for the silicone plugs. Next morning, the two guides were quietly discussing how little sleep they got due to the noise. I'd slept like a baby, rocked by waves and oblivious to the noise.

That said, I'd probably never try these on an aircraft: they create a tight seal in the ear canal and pressure changes due to takeoff and landing would probably be excruciating. I'm returning a set of shure e2c's today that were a christmas present for this very reason. As much as I like 'em, I got a headache trying to wear them in-flight.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: ID quiet on January 3, 2006 03:52 PM

Has anyone tried the Bose Quiet Comfort 2? I have the Phillips SBC HN 060 that were okay for my last Russia flight, but I'm hoping to find something better. I'm not an audiofile and don't listen to ipods or mp3 players on a regular basis. I'm not used to the "in your ears" ear pieces - they began to hurt my ears after an hour or two (heh heh should I warm up my ears prior to my next flight???) Also, I have to admit I'm concerned about my hearing for my golden years (that are approaching faster than I would like). I'd like to hear from anyone if they've tried the Bose QC2's...and if they're worth the $300 USD...

Posted by: Russia Traveler on January 5, 2006 10:40 AM

Check out the reviews on CNET:

Posted by: Laloo on January 5, 2006 07:28 PM

Beautiful and interesting site! I enjoy reading your site... keep it up guys! This is my site:

Posted by: Alex on January 12, 2006 10:05 PM

You have very nice and interesting site! This is my site:

Posted by: Drew on January 22, 2006 08:49 AM

wow, I looked around online a bit to compare different models, but this is easily the broadest discussion. I just want a pair that reduce enough noise so I can turn down the music and save my ears. I want earbuds, because I need it to be portable, and better than stock ones which came with iriver.

It looks like the Philips HN060 are either loved or hated, but in Vancouver they'd come to about $80 US and that's a bit much. The JVC HA-FX55V-W look like the best passive sound controllers and at $50 they'd be a great deal. Most reviews agree on their great sound range and bass. I think I'm going to try the latter, because I don't like how the former require a battery, thus increasing waste not to mention mass. I'll probably review them on my blog in about a week if anyone cares to look some more.

Posted by: Ricardo on January 31, 2006 09:00 PM

Ok, so I went with the JVC ones and they're great. Ok yea, they're not Shure E3C or whatever, but you're not gonna get better for $50 US. If you put them in right (which looks odd b/c they end up at a funny angle in my ears but no hurtin) everything else gets muffled and you don't have to turn your music up nearly as loud. The bass is good and the range is great, and it sounds very surround.

Two gripes though. One, cable is too long for me - I always end up with an extra foot or two to shove somewhere, but I'm 5'7" as well and usually have it in my pocket so it's probably best this length for others. Second, since it seals your ear, when you eat it magnifies the sound, but that's not really the headphones fault.

Ok, so those are pretty bad gripes - that says a lot I think. Oh, the volume control is handy too when someone talks to you but I don't use it for real volume control myself, yet. Much better than the stock iriver ones anyways.

Posted by: Ricardo on February 4, 2006 11:02 AM

I have a pair of Sony MDR-NC11a. I got them from Hong Kong on eBay for about £30, as they cost over £100 in the UK. I haven't tried them on flight yet, and mainly use them in the office. The rubber seals block out a huge amount of noise, and the noise-cancelling takes away the background hum of computers and fans.
They do have a faint hiss, unfortunately, but this is not at all noticable if you're listening to music. I find them quite comfortable for hours at a time. I'm going on a long flight in a few months so hopefully they'll cut out the engine noise and give me some peace.
If you can get them for a sensible price and put up with the hissing, I'd recommend them.

Posted by: Stoatbringer on February 9, 2006 03:01 PM

While spending time in the gym I like to listen to audiobooks. Because of the music and noise from treadmills I am forced to crank up my iPod.

In one online review I noted the following "One common problem with canal phones is that when anything brushes or taps the cord, the sound is carried up to the ears and produces an annoying thump".

Can anyone give me advice on a good pair for use in the gym? I'd like to save my hearing for future use.

Posted by: Kris on February 11, 2006 01:45 AM
Post a comment

(Will not be displayed if you enter a website below. Otherwise, it will be displayed "spam protected")

(if you have one)

What do you want to say?
(please don't bother posting "spam" (pornography, viagra-sales etc - I will delete such comments anyway))

Remember info?

Referrers to this page
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Anders Jacobsen's blog: Etymotic ER-6 Isolator™ Earphones Ordered (May 29, 2003 06:19 PM)
"Following excellent and thorough advice from fellow bloggers, I've ordered a pair of Etymotic ER-6s to be delivered to a US address on an upcoming business trip. "
Anders Jacobsen's blog: Etymotic ER-6 Isolator Earphones: Tested and Reviewed (June 9, 2003 07:23 PM)
"A fantastic product: I heard nothing of what people next to me were talking about, nor did I hear anything when the flight attendants asked me about drink- and meal-options."
Zagula spells trouble: Headphones (July 24, 2003 08:38 PM)
"I have been looking for good headphones for the plane but found that they are really expensive. Wanted to know..."
Anders Jacobsen's blog: A true story about noise cancelling (January 21, 2004 11:22 AM)
"It's true what they say; these babies work. Even at reasonably low volumes, all you hear is your music. Good bye temporary deafness form playing loud music in attempts to drown out ambient noise. Hello Pink Floyd!"
Anders Jacobsen's blog: How do noise cancelling headphones work? (November 24, 2004 06:41 PM)
"I've decided to start properly answering questions that have led people to this site. One visitor last month was someone searching for information about 'How do noise cancelling headphones work?'"

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

© Anders Jacobsen
[ photography]