How to Buy Noise Cancelling Headphones for the Budget Conscious

28 Mar

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Ed

Finding a good set of noise cancelling headphones can be tough. Quite often, you do get what you pay for and I’ve gone though a lot of these over the past 15 years. I found that I’m always upgrading every two or three years. I tried plenty, ranging from ear buds, in-the-ear, over the ear and the like. That list includes Princess Leia style mufflers! But to find that what’s suitable is never ever perfect. There’s even days I feel like a Cyberman because of what I put over my head.

To nail that right pair of speakers to strap on to the sides of my ears or anyone else’s really depends on the shape of each individual’s ears and in how that person perceives sound more so than the latest fashion trends. Yes, I admit it, I still love my TRON inspired KOSS Porta-Pro. The foam needs replacing but for the rest, it has yet to die on me even though my much beloved V-Moda for my iPod Mini (still the best engineered sounding player in my opinion) from 2004 have long since disappeared.

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The top ten lists on the Internet I browse through these days credits Bose’s QuietComfort series as the best. There’s no denying that, but not everyone wants to shell out $300+ for an awesome set of headwear. When travel fever hits, I want to relax to the soothing sounds of Mozart and Quiet Riot while on the train, plane or automobile without hurting my convention budget. But when there’s that low-frequency rumble from the vehicle’s engine, is there any other brand that I can attach to my ears to other than Bose?

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Sennheiser makes an excellent PXC 250-II that I adore. The highs are crisp and I can hear the high hat being hit with a drum brush. Def Leppard’s song, “Hysteria” (when encoded as an Apple Lossless file than MP3) is a beauty to listen to with these receivers, and that’s why I believe this particular model is still in high demand.

They retail for $250 on average but on Amazon, they sell as low as 128.00. On the right set of ears, I believe their Noiseguard technology can do the job of filtering out about 75% of the rumble from a bus and street noise. But these over the ear style speakers sit quite small against my ears and I need something larger to get proper noise filtering. That’s important to consider when shopping around for a perfect set of headphones.

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KOSS’ QZ Pro is an attractive looking set of mufflers, but when I tried it, there was terrible hiss that I surmise is used to help filter out environmental noise. As much as I’d like to spend the money to try more noise filtering ear muffs, I suspect the stores will not be happy with me constantly returning every product that I do not find perfect. I returned the QZ Pro the next day when I found it could not even pass a basic test: street noise from cars passing by (even though it did a great job of masking the toilet being flushed).

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I thought about Sony’s MDRNC13 ear-buds, MDR-ZX110NC Over the ear devices and MDR-ZX550BN Bluetooth version next, but when looking at the price, I suspect they function no better than the QZ Pro. Saving readers the hassle, I’ve found reports for the ZX series are all over the map — there’s no census.

When trying the models available at the stores, I did find that the MDR10RNC are nice, but when trying their noise cancelling function, I was able to hear the store music over what was being piped through the headphones. When my ears are sensitive enough to hear conversations at a concert from people next to me, that kind of distraction can get grating.

The Bose QuietComforts were nearby and when comparing the demo track to what’s examples of jet engine noise from other speakers, I more than realize this line of products is considered the best of the best. But with no specials going on and the salesman not bending at offering the last sale price (some stores might consider doing that just to earn a sale), I had no interest in giving up my hotel budget just for eight hours of travel bliss. I’d rather suffer.

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