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Review: Noise Reduction Headphones

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Review: Noise Reduction Headphones

Do they work at all?


Some years ago I bought the Sennheiser (NoiseGard mobile HDC-451) noise-reducing headphones as an experiment. I can't remember exactly what I paid, possibly ~£80, so not cheap, but not the most expensive by a long way. Would they work at all? Would they have any strange side-effects? Well, I did wear them on flights and in noisy places where I wanted to concentrate or relax, with and without playing music through them, but if they helped at all the effect was barely significant in my opinion, rather changing the nature of the irritation than eliminating it. In particular with this model when I flicked on the power switch on the battery box I always felt as if entering a tunnel on a train or descending sharply on a flight; a 'pressure' on my eardrums sufficient to give me a tension headache. So turning them off became a relief each time.

Generally reviews of Sennheiser noise-reduction headphones that I've read on the Web have been positive, indeed on the gushing side in many cases. Assuming that these reviews aren't fake/astroturfing, some users definitely like them, and Sennheiser's technology seems to have a good reputation.


Having tried them again recently and given up in frustration, I popped into Maplin and lashed out £30 on a pair of Pro-Luxe NC-4 noise-reduction headphones. These are also foldable and incorporate a single smaller battery into one earpiece so are more convenient for lugging around in my backpack every day than my old Sennheisers.

Now the first thing with the new headphones is that turning them on does not give me the unpleasant 'pressure' feeling in my ears, and there is a definite change in the soundscape, bringing any music to the fore (and adding a little mains hum, and sometimes mobile-phone chirp RF break-in, curiously). But I'm still not convinced that they make any significant difference overall, albeit having only tested them in a generally quietish large open-plan office. (I'd really like something that can eliminate the tsk-tsk-tsk of (non)personal stereos with volume at 11, and people eating potato crisps with their mouth open: I don't fly these days!)

I gave my Sennheisers away to a co-worker as I could not bear to use them any longer, but he liked them so much that he gave me £30 unbidden, the current second-hand price! So he likes Sennheisers too. My hearing is clearly an oddity...

At the end of the day I now have a more physically convenient device and I'm not out of pocket. And I'm still game to find out if there is a device that does what I want.


Annoyingly, towards the end of June my new headphones were starting to physically fall apart, so I may be going back for a refund.

A roundoup of noise-cancelling headphones in The Register caught my eye...

Damon Hart-Davis, March 2009.

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