Fancy a mile-high earjob? We've had five!

Our correspondent gives five noise-cancelling headphones a flight test

Review Yes, noise-cancelling headphones are useful in all manner of times and places, but they really shine during air travel by blocking some of the endless bass rumble that jet engines emit.

Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones

Make your flights less hum-drum with some noise cancelling headphones

Manufacturers know this and try to ensure their products will fare well in the air by adding bags or cases that make it easy to organise their wares for use within aluminium tubes. I do about a dozen long haul flights a year and try to take night flights whenever possible (my family and the Vulture South team deserve to have me around) so am keen for anything that makes my time in the air easier, and easier to recover from.

My first experience with noise-cancellers was with the Mutant MIG-NC102 – more on them later – that made a big difference despite being decidedly cheap and cheerful. Checking out some better models seemed a good idea to see (or hear) what I and you are missing out on.

Before I get to the tests, the basics.

Noise-cancelling headphones come in two flavours: active and passive.

Passive headphones use padding and cunning acoustics to block ambient sound. Just about all headphones do this to some degree. Passive noise-cancellers are engineered to do it better. We're not considering passive headphones in this review, because they're not as effective, or fun, as their active cousins.

Active noise-cancelling headphones work by sampling the ambient noise and pumping an inverted sound wave into your ear. The result is you think you're not hearing the ambient noise. Doing that trick needs some clever audio circuitry and a power source. Noise-cancelling headphones can therefore be a little on the bulky side, although the electronics required are small enough that size shouldn't matter.

Indeed, one can buy noise-cancelling earbuds that usually sport a USB-stick-sized dongle on the main wire. Nobody in their right mind wears earbuds for the duration of a long-haul flight, so we're leaving this category of product for another day, too.

Makers of noise-cancelling headphones make varying claims about their products, but the core thing to look for is the claimed reduction in decibels at different frequencies. Not that those specs make it into their manuals.

If you can find the data, know that inside a plane you'll have to cope with about 80 to 100 decibels. Planes make noise in a few ways – notably air flow over the fuselage and wings, mechanical engine noise and the noise of the hot gas engines emit – the frequencies of which are known to headphone-makers, who should therefore tune their devices accordingly.

Models intended for in-air use can add value by including an adapter for the odd three-pronged audio ports some airlines still use. Battery life is also important, as you don't want your cans conking out on a long-haul flight. Indeed, this may influence your choices as you'll be stuffed if your rechargeable cans run out of juice, although all of them claim double figures and then some. Even so, cans relying on AAA batteries at least give you the chance to add a fresh ones if you've remembered to pack some.

Also, keep in mind comfort, because if you struggle to sleep in the air you can do without cans that pincer your cranium into a headache. Price plays a part too. I've used list prices, but of course you'll be able to do better with a little effort.

Got it? Good. On with the reviews, from a pool of products that coagulated after I asked leading manufacturers for their products best-suited to air travel. Audio-Technica and Sennheiser did not respond to my requests. I'd have prodded it more, but I literally had a plane to catch as all the products listed here were tested in the air.

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • NASA's InSight doomed as Mars dust coats solar panels
    The little lander that couldn't (any longer)

    The Martian InSight lander will no longer be able to function within months as dust continues to pile up on its solar panels, starving it of energy, NASA reported on Tuesday.

    Launched from Earth in 2018, the six-metre-wide machine's mission was sent to study the Red Planet below its surface. InSight is armed with a range of instruments, including a robotic arm, seismometer, and a soil temperature sensor. Astronomers figured the data would help them understand how the rocky cores of planets in the Solar System formed and evolved over time.

    "InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "We can apply what we've learned about Mars' inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems."

    Continue reading
  • The ‘substantial contributions’ Intel has promised to boost RISC-V adoption
    With the benefit of maybe revitalizing the x86 giant’s foundry business

    Analysis Here's something that would have seemed outlandish only a few years ago: to help fuel Intel's future growth, the x86 giant has vowed to do what it can to make the open-source RISC-V ISA worthy of widespread adoption.

    In a presentation, an Intel representative shared some details of how the chipmaker plans to contribute to RISC-V as part of its bet that the instruction set architecture will fuel growth for its revitalized contract chip manufacturing business.

    While Intel invested in RISC-V chip designer SiFive in 2018, the semiconductor titan's intentions with RISC-V evolved last year when it revealed that the contract manufacturing business key to its comeback, Intel Foundry Services, would be willing to make chips compatible with x86, Arm, and RISC-V ISAs. The chipmaker then announced in February it joined RISC-V International, the ISA's governing body, and launched a $1 billion innovation fund that will support chip designers, including those making RISC-V components.

    Continue reading
  • FBI warns of North Korean cyberspies posing as foreign IT workers
    Looking for tech talent? Kim Jong-un's friendly freelancers, at your service

    Pay close attention to that resume before offering that work contract.

    The FBI, in a joint advisory with the US government Departments of State and Treasury, has warned that North Korea's cyberspies are posing as non-North-Korean IT workers to bag Western jobs to advance Kim Jong-un's nefarious pursuits.

    In guidance [PDF] issued this week, the Feds warned that these techies often use fake IDs and other documents to pose as non-North-Korean nationals to gain freelance employment in North America, Europe, and east Asia. Additionally, North Korean IT workers may accept foreign contracts and then outsource those projects to non-North-Korean folks.

    Continue reading
  • Google opens the pod doors on Bay View campus
    A futuristic design won't make people want to come back – just ask Apple

    After nearly a decade of planning and five years of construction, Google is cutting the ribbon on its Bay View campus, the first that Google itself designed.

    The Bay View campus in Mountain View – slated to open this week – consists of two office buildings (one of which, Charleston East, is still under construction), 20 acres of open space, a 1,000-person event center and 240 short-term accommodations for Google employees. The search giant said the buildings at Bay View total 1.1 million square feet. For reference, that's less than half the size of Apple's spaceship. 

    The roofs on the two main buildings, which look like pavilions roofed in sails, were designed that way for a purpose: They're a network of 90,000 scale-like solar panels nicknamed "dragonscales" for their layout and shimmer. By scaling the tiles, Google said the design minimises damage from wind, rain and snow, and the sloped pavilion-like roof improves solar capture by adding additional curves in the roof. 

    Continue reading
  • Pentester pops open Tesla Model 3 using low-cost Bluetooth module
    Anything that uses proximity-based BLE is vulnerable, claim researchers

    Tesla Model 3 and Y owners, beware: the passive entry feature on your vehicle could potentially be hoodwinked by a relay attack, leading to the theft of the flash motor.

    Discovered and demonstrated by researchers at NCC Group, the technique involves relaying the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals from a smartphone that has been paired with a Tesla back to the vehicle. Far from simply unlocking the door, this hack lets a miscreant start the car and drive away, too.

    Essentially, what happens is this: the paired smartphone should be physically close by the Tesla to unlock it. NCC's technique involves one gadget near the paired phone, and another gadget near the car. The phone-side gadget relays signals from the phone to the car-side gadget, which forwards them to the vehicle to unlock and start it. This shouldn't normally happen because the phone and car are so far apart. The car has a defense mechanism – based on measuring transmission latency to detect that a paired device is too far away – that ideally prevents relayed signals from working, though this can be defeated by simply cutting the latency of the relay process.

    Continue reading
  • Google assuring open-source code to secure software supply chains
    Java and Python packages are the first on the list

    Google has a plan — and a new product plus a partnership with developer-focused security shop Snyk — that attempts to make it easier for enterprises to secure their open source software dependencies.

    The new service, announced today at the Google Cloud Security Summit, is called Assured Open Source Software. We're told it will initially focus on some Java and Python packages that Google's own developers prioritize in their workflows. 

    These two programming languages have "particularly high-risk profiles," Google Cloud Cloud VP and GM Sunil Potti said in response to The Register's questions. "Remember Log4j?" Yes, quite vividly.

    Continue reading
  • Rocket Lab is taking NASA's CAPSTONE to the Moon
    Mission to lunar orbit is further than any Photon satellite bus has gone before

    Rocket Lab has taken delivery of NASA's CAPSTONE spacecraft at its New Zealand launch pad ahead of a mission to the Moon.

    It's been quite a journey for CAPSTONE [Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment], which was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab's US launchpad at Wallops Island in Virginia.

    The pad, Launch Complex 2, has been completed for a while now. However, delays in certifying Rocket Lab's Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) pushed the move to Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.

    Continue reading
  • Alibaba Cloud adds third datacenter in Germany
    More Euro-presence than any other Chinese company, but still nowhere near Google or AWS

    Alibaba has pulled ahead of its Chinese rivals in Europe with the opening of a third datacenter in Germany.

    The company said the Frankfurt datacenter serves cloud computing products to Europe and "adheres to the highest security standards and the strict compliance regulations set out in the Cloud Computing Compliance Controls Catalog (C5) in Germany."

    The addition brings Alibaba Cloud to a network of 84 availability zones in 27 regions worldwide. The company's first European cloud center arrived in Frankfurt in 2016.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022