If you’re not averse to having things in your ears, you can buy “in-ear monitors” that provide a lot of isolation (up to maybe 30 db) without any active electronics. I think the ones with triple-flange seals are the best at that. Etymotic is one company, Shure and Ultimate Ears are also. I haven’t used the canceling phones, but I hear they’re best at steady noises such as a jet engine while the IEMs might be better with transient sounds.
The reason I don’t like earbuds is that having something in my ears makes them hurt pretty bad after a relatively short time. I have weirdly sensitive ears (very stiff cartilage that doesn’t like to be bent out of its natural shape even a tiny bit). I have been woken from a sound slumber by the almost intolerable pain in my ear because…gasp…I was laying on my side with my head on a soft comfy pillow, squishing my ear. That given, the in-ear monitors probably aren’t for me.
As you’ll see, there are a couple of us in that thread that highly recommend Sennheiser headphones. They are inexpensive, and while not specifically designed as noise-cancelling, the over-the-ear sets do a wonderful job of reducing ambient noise.
Given this, you’re probably going to want the “circumnaural” type, these have pads that sit against your head around the ear, and not on the ear itself. These are the most bulky, but IMHO the most comfortable type for extended wear.
My only direct experience with noise cancellation headphones is with the Bose. They were pretty effective overall, and had pretty good sound, and seemed pretty comfortable to wear (I only wore them for about 10 minutes, so my experience with the comfort factor is limited). But they are pricy, as I recall they were around $300.
The thing about headphones is the comfort factor along with the sound. Comfort is so individual, that a set of phones that I can wear all day might give you a headache in 30 minutes. I listen while sitting quietly almost all the time, so I have no problem with ones that might slide right off your head as you walk. There are reviews of course, but nothing replaces getting out and trying a few on for 20 or 30 minutes.
For sound, low noise, good sensitivity, and overall flat response are important, but that still leaves room for plenty of individual taste. I’m older, so I need extended high frequency response. I listen to mostly R&B, soul, or light rock on the headphones (when I go to the harder rock, I like to feel the bass, so I go to the speakers) so I don’t need super high volume, instead I go for more dynamic range.
I personally have Sennheiser HD600. They are great headphones but are not noise cancelling, and are again kind of pricey. I wish I had more direct experience with the type you’re looking for, but I hope you find some you enjoy.
The HD600 are decidely not noise-canceling. They’re open-backed headphones, so they let all the sound in and out, but that typre has the best sound because the wave from the back of the diaphragm doesn’t interfere with the one from the front.
Yeah and I have such sensitive ear cartilage that just about anything is uncomfortable I’d love to find something I can wear with a bike helmet, but I’m sure only the in-ear kind would work for that… I wonder if there is one in existence that wouldn’t kill me…
I fly a reasonable amount for my job, so I was looking for noise-cancelling headphones for travel.
The Bose are awesome - no doubt. But they’re also pricey - and bulky. (It may be showing off, but you can’t miss the experienced travellers lugging their Bose headphone case).
I looked around a bit, and decided on this reasonably priced set from Sharper Image ($80). They enclose the ear, and work great. But not as good as the Bose. They had a couple options at Sharper Image: complete over ear (Bose-like for around $200), the ones I got (also over ear, but not as big a cup), and in-ear types. What I also liked about the ones I got is that they fold up into a compact size that fits nicely in this side pocket on my backpack.
For pure noise reduction, the ones I got work pretty well with upper and mid-range frequencies, and okay with low frequency. So they cancel out about half (rough guess) of the average engine noise. If you’re listening to something, you really don’t notice any ambient noise at all. You only really notice the background if you are just using them for noise cancellation and are not listening to anything.
One downside to noise cancellation on the plane - once the engine noise is dampened, you can hear neighboring conversations all that much clearer ! So if there is a conversation going on in the next row, you might actually get more peace by not having the noise cancellation turned on !
I have used earplugs (while flying), and they’re a little too much sensory deprivation. That is, they block out pretty much everything, and after wearing them for a time, the transition back to “full volume” is kind of drastic. I prefer the noise cancelling because it selectively removes background noise, but still allows you to hear things (like being able to hear the flight attendant when she offers nuts, pretzels, or crackers).
Just my choice. Of course when you do need/want to block out all sound, earplugs are the way to go.