Noisebuster NB-FX Headphones
noise reducing headphones
Noisebuster is back! After an 18 month absence,
there's a new model of what was formerly my favorite noise
But they look very similar to the new Plane Quiet and
all the other 'clone' model headphones out there. Are
they truly different, or are they identical?
Part 9 of a series on noise
reducing headphones -
click for Parts One
At $69, the new Noisebuster
NB-FX noise cancelling headphones are more expensive than the
previous version of Noisebuster headphones, and also more
expensive than the look-alike
Plane Quiet headphones ($59.95 and
with a special discount for Travel Insider readers).
What extra do you get for your
What You Get
The Noisebuster NB-FX active noise
reducing headphones come in an easily opened plastic pack,
albeit of a different design to the Plane Quiet headphones.
Inside the pack are the
headphones themselves, plus an AAA battery, an instruction sheet
and warranty certificate, and a thin plastic carry-bag with
drawstring top. A bold sticker on the outside of the box
proclaims and promises 'World's BEST Performing!' (their caps
There is also a double prong
adapter that is needed for some types of airline audio systems.
The warranty is a measly 90
days only - a sad contrast to the lifetime warranty offered by
Plane Quiet, and inadequately less than most purchasers would
Their claim to be the
world's best performing is supported by this chart that they
which shows the Noisebuster
headphones to offer generally broader and better noise
cancelling than three unnamed competitors.
Noisebuster declined to name
their three competitors. Their strange unwillingness to
name the other products tested detracts from the credibility of
Noisebuster claim a battery
life of 40 hours, but when I turned on their headphones with the
supplied battery, they were dead within about 12 hours of being
turned on - shorter than the Plane
Quiet unit. Noisebuster told me that the battery must
have been bad, and so I did a carefully timed second test with a
brand new Duracell alkaline battery, and this time got a battery life
close to the 40 hours claimed. The point at which a
battery is 'dead' is rather subjective. As the battery
voltage reduces, the red LED glows more dimly but performance
remains much the same.
Comparison with the Plane Quiet
Externally the two different
brands of noise reducing headphones look similar, but not
completely identical. PQ
is in black and silver whereas NB is in black and brown.
And whereas PQ has an elastic headband, NB omits this and
instead has padding on the band that goes over the head.
Both fold the same way, have
the same switch and battery box and even the same cord length
and provided battery. It is an open secret that they are
both made by the same Chinese manufacturer, along with several
other brands of look-alike headphones.
Interestingly, both PQ and
NB, while conceding that external appearances are nearly
identical, claim that their unit performs the best because
they've uniquely specified improved performance requirements for
their respect products.
Joanna Lipper, Marketing VP
for Noisebuster, says :
We chose to use the same
exterior design because it was a good, workable design and we
didn't want to spend the time and money creating a new design
and tool. The design is lightweight and foldable for
travel and it just worked for our purposes.
However we have modified the
electronics to achieve much better sound quality and active
noise reduction performance than the others that look similar to
ours. We would definitely go up against Plane Quiet any
James Dabbs, Director of
Operations for Plane Quiet, says this :
The Plane Quiet is, indeed,
manufactured to our own specifications. The industrial design is
similar, however, we have developed a strong relationship with
our manufacturer that has allowed us to negotiate our own
specifications for performance and stringent quality control
So accepting these two sets
of statements at face value, one would expect audibly different
performance, even though the two units look the same.
Actually, there are more
obvious differences in appearance than performance! In addition to the slight
difference in headband mentioned above, there is also a slight difference in the
ear pads - the NoiseBuster ear pads that sit on your ear are
slightly thicker and softer, and so form a slightly better seal
than the Plane Quiet ear pads, which let a bit of ambient noise
The slightly different color
- black and brown compared to black and silver - might seem
trivial, but after almost sitting on the Noisebuster headphones
in the semi-dark of a night flight, I've decided I prefer a
black and silver color combination which is easier to see in
semi darkness such as on a plane at night.
Plane Quiet's carry bag is
thicker than the Noisebuster carry bag. While I have not
yet damaged either set of headphones while carrying them in my
case, it is possible that the thicker PQ bag may be more
The two companies have
slightly different performance specifications. Noisebuster
says their headphones have an effective noise cancellation range
- 1,200 Hz, with a maximum of 18dB reduction at 100-200 Hz, and
the chart above suggests that their measured performance is
actually slightly better than this.
Plane Quiet says their headphones cancel noise of 'up to 15dB across the sound spectrum'
and also '15dB
at 300 Hz' on their packaging and 'up to 17 decibels across the
sound spectrum' on their website.
I've tested both headphones,
side by side, both in my office where the major sounds are
computers and air conditioning, and on airplanes. I hoped
to hear some differences between them. The following table
summarizes the results :
Hiss in a
level and sound.
reducing in an office environment
reducing in an airplane
has a slightly thicker foam pad that fits very
slightly better on the
ear and so slightly better passively blocks out
ambient noise, but active noise cancellation
level of played music
volume with noise cancellation both on and off.
quality of played music
might be very slightly brighter, but this might
just be random variation within manufacturing
tolerances (or my imagination!).
As you can see from this table, there is almost no difference at
all between the two different sets of headphones in terms of
sound performance and noise cancelling.
Noisebuster offer them for
sale through their affiliated company
Pro Tech Communications, at $69. Several other
companies also sell them, but no-one seems to be discounting
them below the $69 list price.
Considering they have only a
90 day warranty, this makes them appreciably more expensive than
the Plane Quiet NC6
headphones, which sell for $54.95 less a 5% Travel Insider
discount (making a $52.20 net cost).
The new Noisebuster
headphones perform well and are comfortable on long flights.
They may be very slightly
better than the Plane Quiet headphones, but the performance
difference - if any - is almost inaudible.
The Plane Quiet headphones
remain our favorite based on their lower net price and better
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19 Nov 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
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