Here's your chance to join the fray and be heard. You can respond to my columns and share your own opinions and insight.
Note : The Reader Replies for the second part of this review series are also helpful and relevant.
a reader from Raleigh, NC, writes : Regarding the
noise-canceling headset discussed in this week's column, I have flown
around the world twice in first class since July on AA, BA, and Qantas,
and thus I've had an opportunity recently to use the noise-canceling
headphones on AA and BA you mentioned. They are different from each other,
and different from the brand you mentioned.
AA uses the Bose model. At $299.99 from Bose, they are the most expensive noise-canceling headphones I know of, and they are not discounted anywhere as far as I know. However, the Bose product is far superior in two ways to other brands: First, in canceling noise, they are noticeably quieter than the Koss and Sony noise-canceling phones (I've tried them both and returned both). Second, the Bose phones are a much more comfortable fit on the head and ears over the many hours of long international flights because the earmuffs are large enough to fit around the outside of the ear instead of squashing the ears against the head the way others do. The Bose unit is designed so that the ridge of foam around the ear is deep enough to hold it off the ear once in place. This is especially important when trying to sleep with the headphones on. I've found using the Bose phones that I don't wake up with my ears hurting like I do with other brands.
QF also distributed noise-canceling headsets, but they were neither as effective in toning down noise nor as comfortable on the head and ears as the Bose model. I believe they were made by AR (Acoustics Research). Still, I was very glad to have them. They were much preferable to the cheap styrofoam earplugs BA gave me instead for the interminable flights between Heathrow and Sydney.
You were absolutely correct describing the astonishing difference in sound clarity when using any of the noise-canceling headphones in conjunction with watching a movie or listening to music on flights. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world! For the first time, I can really enjoy a movie on board because I can hear all the dialogue. I never realized how much I was missing. Now that I've experienced an in-flight movie with noise-canceling phones, it's just not possible to use the cheap headsets handed out on most flights.
The Noisebuster brand you discussed this week is not one I had heard of, but the picture you provided looks very similar to the one Qantas is using made by Acoustics Research. At $40 (or $34 with the 15% discount you mentioned), these appear to be a tremendous bargain compared to the Bose model, and I will probably buy a set. I would prefer to buy the Bose unit because it works so well and is so comfortable, but not at almost nine times the price.
drawback, at least for me, has to do with space when traveling. As much as
I would like to have any of the noise-canceling headsets, space in my
carry-on bags (a modest suitcase and a large laptop-carrying
Fellow columnist Paul Schindler writes : There is another set of similar headphones, similar technology, similar price, for sale at Brookstone, available on the web or in their stores.
I first saw them in a Brookstone store, and was so happy with them I bought a second pair. If you'd get one and compare them to the ones you reviewed, I'd love to know which you think is better!
I have a portable DVD player. You can't heard the sound track in airline headphones, and if two people are listening on a splitter, it is even worse. But with noise canceling headphones, you can hear fine!
David, a reader from Brussels, writes : Very interested to read of the availability of these on the market at a reasonable price.
Over two years ago I cashed in airmiles to give myself a business class return from Dulles to Brussels, and United were supplying these. I was very impressed but until now had only seen the $300 versions advertised by Bose.
I can endorse their effectiveness, and will now try to buy my own pair.
Another David, this one in Indiana, writes : I have owned a pair of these for nearly a year now and I am as duly impressed as you. The battery life is astounding as well as the small size and light weight.
I use them mostly in my office. All the cooling fan noise from all my office equipment drops out and I can listen to my music at a comfortable volume. I have also used them in noisy vehicles very effectively.
I also like how the smaller-than-a-pager battery pack unit clips to my belt so I can walk around without having to disconnect and reconnect all the time.
Jose, emailing from somewhere in the US, writes : Very nice to find a noise-canceling headset that works- for $40! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
The headsets dispensed to American Airlines First Class passengers is the never-discounted Bose® set- MSRP $300 (Bose® QuietComfort™ Acoustic Noise Canceling® Headset). Maybe they will begin to lower the price, now that Noisebusters is on the scene!
Cowart from El Paso writes : Here's another product that certainly helps make my flying less tiring. I would get tired after flying and it did not matter if it was one hour or 12 hours. I bought an 'Ionic Breeze Personal Air Purifier' on a trip to Fort Lauderdale at a Sharper Image store. I used it on my way back to El Paso and when I got home I felt a lot better and refreshed. So, for $50 I can highly recommend this product from personal experience.
Jose writes again : I stopped in to Fry's today for some software, and a quick glance revealed:
Aiwa $50 claims 10
Most claim the nose reduction figures around 150 - 400 Hz, generally around 300 Hz. I just had a quick glance, did not take time to write models, much less open the packages and squint. Some looked comfortable, some looked minimalist, one folded (the AIWA, I think), some come with two-prong adapters for older-style headphone outlets on aircraft. Not sure how many (one I do know did) have volume adjustment. Most looked less bulky than the $300 Bose QuietComfort™ Acoustic Noise Canceling® headset (they charge by the word, I guess; I don't see any decibel claims for noise reduction / cancellation in their information on the website or in the unit's instructions).
Looks like Noisebuster is the cheapest, at $40, of the currently available crowd. Phew!
David replies : This is very helpful extra data, but should be treated with a bit of caution. The number of decibels that each headset manufacturer claims can be a bit misleading. A set that has 'only' 10 dB of sound reduction, but over a wide frequency range, will probably give a better result than a set that has 15 dB over a narrower frequency range. The only meaningful test is to actually try several different sets in the environment that you're planning on using them.
The Koss claim for a 30 dB may be a mistake - looking on their website shows two models of 'passive' noise reduction (ie they do nothing at all except block the sound) and a $200 active reduction set (this is almost certainly the set that Fry's sell for $150) that claims >15dB between 40-200Hz and an average of 10dB between 30 -1000Hz.
Stay tuned for some comparison tests in the near future.
Phil from Dover, NH writes : As a regular user of the Bose noise reducing headsets, have you had any dialog with any of the airlines with regard to the use of the headsets during the most noisy times of the flight - the take off and the landing?
For the most part, the flight attendants ask me to remove them for takeoff and landing. I find it very interesting to sit in the front row and, with them on, I can hear and understand everything the flight attendants say. With them off, the noise is ear shattering. Most of the airlines accept advertising for them in their inflight magazines.
How would you suggest we move forward on this? I for one would like to save my ears for the future, that’s why I use them as often as possible.
David replies : I think the main reason we are asked to remove them for take-offs and landings is due to the concern about operating electronic devices that might somehow interfere with the electronics in the cockpit. The potential for these headphones - or any other electronic device, for that matter - to interfere with the plane's avionics is a very debatable issue, but for now the airlines have taken a 'better safe than sorry' approach and there is little we can do other than to accept their requirements.
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Copyright 2001, 2002 by David M Rowell.