It's All So Quiet...

It's All So Quiet...

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It was a fairly uneventful flight over to LA last night - except for the wildfires which made it feel like we were flying into an active volcano as we came down to land.

Bumped into Jon Honeyball whilst waiting for baggage and got chatting about noise-cancelling headphones. (Incidentally, Jon's one of the contributing editors to PC Pro and is one of my favourite columnists - he's usually got something incisive to say about what we're doing well or badly: even about blogging.) He's got a pair from Sony that he reckoned made all the difference to trying to get some sleep on the plane.

Several of my colleagues have also recently bought noise-cancelling headphones as well and I had a chance to try the latest Bose cans on the plane (thanks Nick). I was initially a little sceptical, but they work very well. After fitting them snugly, you flick a switch on the side of the phones. Initially nothing happens, but then you feel a rather strange sucking sensation - a little as if someone has put a vacuum cleaner nozzle to both of your ears at once. The sound fades out, and you're left in almost complete silence. It's a most unusual feeling, particularly when you start to speak to someone else, only to find yourself unable to hear your own voice! They sound great for music too - you could hear a very full dynamic range in the orchestral piece I listened to. I'm somewhat tempted to splash out, but at £275, the price is rather steep (although they're substantially cheaper in the US at $299).

There's a short article on the physics of noise-cancelling technology at this site (also see this FAQ). Devices such as these headphones work by generating "anti-noise" - a copy of the original noise but with inverted phase - which cancels out the original noise to the hearer, rather than masking it. It'll be interesting to see other applications appear for this technology over time - for instance, I've heard mention of its use by car manufacturers but couldn't find a link.

  • I remember seeing a demo (on Top Gear, I think) of a noise cancelling unit which was fitted under the passenger seat. It had a neat feature whereby as well as cancelling out your engine noise, it could generate engine tones from the sports car of your choice, matched to what your own engine was doing. Pretty cool, eh? :) It was at least a couple of years ago...
  • try the sennheisser pcx 250 - 80 quid, and nearly as good as nick's
  • What about a unit that fits on an outdoor deck, preventing traffic noise from entering into your quiet zone. I envision this to be a wall of noise cancelation, so noise can't pass through. Does this seem possible? Do you know of anyone producing a unit like this?

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