I just treated myself to a new pair of noise-cancelling headphones that have me tap-dancing down airplane isles with joy…
As you may recall, a few days ago (as I pen these words) I flew out to Seattle, Washington, to give a talk to a bunch of engineers at Microsoft. While I was there, I texted my wife ("Gina The Gorgeous") to tell her I’d been told that there were 70,000 Microsoft employees scattered over the various Redmond campuses. She responded with a text saying “OMG!” which I thought was jolly enthusiastic of her. However, it turned out that she had misunderstood what I was saying and she thought I was giving my presentation to all 70,000 of the little rascals (I would have required a stadium the size of the Super Bowl venue :-)
During my outbound journey I decided to watch a free pilot episode of a new TV program called Franklin & Bash that I’d downloaded to my iPad. The quality of the video itself was wonderful. Sad to relate, however, I had only my old iPod earbuds in my backpack, which made it somewhat difficult to hear the audio track over the plane’s engine noise.
The thing was that I had also downloaded two science fiction films to my iPad, and I was looking forward to watching these little scamps on my return journey. Thus, I determined to treat myself to some new noise-cancelling headphones.
As an aside... The films in question were Monsters and Outlander. The first, Monsters, is about extraterrestrial lifeforms that were brought back to earth in the form of seeds / spores by a malfunctioning NASA space probe. We join the story six years after the probe crashed, by which time the entire northern part of Mexico is a quarantine zone.
The story follows two Americans who have been stranded in Mexico below the quarantine zone and who have decided to fight their way overland through the zone back to America. If you look at the reviews on Amazon you will see an average of only three out of five stars from 184 reviewers. This doesn’t seem so good, and normally I wouldn’t have gone further, but the positive reviews I read were very positive, so I decided to take the plunge and I’m glad I did.
This film isn’t for everyone. It’s not a fast “shoot-them-up” sort of film and the alien “monsters” aren’t “in your face” all of the time. This is a more thoughtful, slow-paced film with great cinematography and music. It’s hard to describe. I liked it. I probably won’t watch it again, but I’m glad I did watch it this time.
The second film, Outlander, is a combination of the classic tale of Beowulf with a science fiction twist. It involves spaceships and alien monsters overlayed into ~750 AD Norway. This may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but in fact the end result is really rather good – great acting, fantastic special effects, and enthralling action that left me gripping my seat and thinking “There’s no way you would get me to go in there…”
But we digress… I already have a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones that I purchased two or three years ago (I’d left these at home because I wasn’t thinking). To be fair, the Bose do cancel out quite a lot of aircraft noise, but not as much as I’d originally hoped for. Also, they sit on top of my ears, so they start to become uncomfortable after a couple of hours.
With the leaps and bounds in signal processing algorithms and the increases in processor performance we’ve seen over the last few years, I decided that noise-cancellation technology had probably advanced a lot since I purchased my Bose. Also I decided that I should treat myself (who deserves it more than I?)
Thus it was that, on the return journey, I arrived at the airport early enough to give myself time to fight my way through security and check out the headphone offerings. I went to a little electronics store in the main terminal and – without much hope of receiving an intelligent answer (if the truth be told) – asked the young lad behind the counter “What are the best noise-cancelling headphones?”
He took me by surprise by being incredibly knowledgeable. He first said that it depended on exactly what I wanted. If I was looking for the best noise cancellation he would recommend the Sony MDR-NC500D
; but if I was looking for the best possible audio quality coupled with a little less on the noise-cancellation front, then he would recommend something else (I can’t remember what the alternative was).
I opted for the Sony MDR-NC500D
headphones and I have fallen in love with them. Quite apart from anything else they are easy to use. The main control is an On/Off
button (I can handle that). There’s also a Monitor
push button that disables the noise cancellation as long as you hold it down. I’m not sure exactly what this button’s reason for being is, but I found myself pressing it every 15 minutes or so just to I could contrast the huge amount of noise with the headphones disabled with how fantastically quiet things were when the noise-cancellation was active.
The Monitor, On/Off, and AI buttons are
visible on the right-hand earpiece
The other control is an AI
(Artificial Intelligence) button. The guy in the shop explained that different planes have different noise profiles. A Boeing 747, for example, will have more base frequencies than a smaller jet. When you push and release the AI
button, the headphones sample the ambient sound profile for a few seconds and then adjust their noise cancelling algorithms accordingly. Also, these little rascals are large enough that they fit completely over my ears, so they remain comfortable even after hours of use.
In one of the films (see above) there was a part where we were in a forest and the only sounds were crickets and birds and suchlike … and everything sounded as clear as one could hope. You really have to try these little beauties to fully appreciate just how amazing they are (but you will have to purchase your own – the only way anyone will get mine is after a fight when they pry them from my lifeless hands).
How much were these headphones? I’m embarrassed to say. I’m sure that they cost more in the airport and that you can get them cheaper on the web, but I wanted them then and there so that was that (if you see what I mean). Suffice it to say that I have never in my life paid so much for a pair of headphones, but I think they are worth it because I actually travel quite a lot in the scheme of things. In a couple of weeks, for example, I will be going to England to visit my dear old mom – and my new headphones will make my journey much more pleasant.
When you divide the cost of these headphones by the number of hours I will use them over the course of the next 10 years … they are still #$%^ expensive when I come to think about it … but I just don’t care because I’m worth it (grin).
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