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Noise-canceling headphones

Started: 2006-07-08 23:08:49

Submitted: 2006-07-08 23:36:52

Visibility: World-readable

Sometime last fall, when I had been to Boston twice already with an indeterminate number of trips still to follow, the thought crossed my mind to acquire headphones that were more suitable for airplane listening than my iPod earbuds. Don't get me wrong; I love my iPod earbuds, but they're really inadequate for airplane listening; there's a limit to how loud I can turn them on, and they don't block out any noise. In most cases, that's ok, but with something like 60 or 70 dB of ambient noise on an average airplane, there's plenty of noise that needs to be blocked. I researched online and the consensus was that was that the best noise-cancelling headphones for less than US$100 were the Sony MDR-NC6. (Those serious about headphones buy Bose, but I wasn't quite willing to spend that much money.) I took three more flights last year without the sexy headphones (once more to Boston, once to Portland, and once to Oklahoma City). In March I finally got around to buying the headphones. They're pretty good with the noise cancelling turned off. Without any ambient noise (the headphones can really only cancel out regular noise), turning on the noise cancelling amplifies the signal and adds a bit of random, slightly irritating noise. With regular noise in the background, turning on the noise reducing switch adds the random noise, then after a few seconds it sounds like the bottom falls out from under the background noise. The effect is pretty amazing, and fairly effective. It creates a quieter environment even when I don't normally detect air conditioning noise.

On a plane, the effect is truly amazing. I finally got the chance to try them out on my flight to Portland last month. It seems to do best with the higher-frequency air conditioning noise; the lower-frequency engine noise was also attenuated, but not by as much. (My casual Googling didn't reveal any frequency response curves for the noise cancelling features.) Still, the noise-cancelling headphones made my flight far more pleasant, and made it much easier to hear my music.

A few weeks ago I heard something I hadn't heard before on an album I've listened to constantly for almost six years: Robert Miles' Dreamland. At the end of track 9, "In the Dawn", starting at time 7:40, there's what sounds like a sample of a subway train leaving its station. A male voice says "Next (unintelligible) Marienplatz (unintelligible)", followed by the sound of an electric train accelerating in a tunnel. Could it be that it's a sample of the U-Bahn or S-Bahn in Munich?