Sound-Proof Earphones

I have to take the New York-to-Philadelphia train quite often, and no matter what car I get on, it is completely occupied by the Ethel Merman Impersonators’ Society, each of them shrieking into their cell phones at decible levels sufficient to stun birds out of the skies.

Yes, I do get up and ask them in a polite, ladylike way to, if they can’t be quiet, “fer chrissakes at least try and be interesting.” Rarely works, and I don’t want to spend my 90-minute trips flitting from Ethel Merman to Ethel Merman. I just want to read or nap or stare out the window at poor peoples’ backyards.

So: can anyone recommend a good set of sound-blocking earphones? I don’t want a Walkman; I don’t want to listen to music. I want silence.


You can try one of those active noise cancellation earphones out there that block out sound by actively inverting outside sound sources recorded by an internal mic (bleh, this is probably clearer). I think Bose has one and also maybe Sennheiser, among others.

If you don’t want to spend that much money or deal with batteries, you can also go for the traditional “passive” noise cancellation earphones – they block out out sound by making sure none of it gets into your ear in the first place. On the low end, the Sony Fontopia series of earbuds should work well, but they might take a bit of getting used to. They’re not shaped like regular earbuds. Etymotic also offers a line of supposedly really good earbuds, but they are outrageously expensive (at least for the casual music listener like me).

Oops sorry, I didn’t read your post carefully enough. If all you want is SILENCE, then the active ones might be better.

If you go to a hardware store, you can buy either ear plugs or a set of big “headphone” looking ear protectors fairly cheaply. The ear plugs are disposable, and fit snuggly inside your ear, but some people find them uncomfortable. The ear protectors are large, bright orange, and thus difficult to coordinate with most wardrobes, however, they are comfortable to wear. Given that both of them are used (either seperately or together) in noisy industrial operations (like where I work) they should silence the annoying twits on their cellphones quite nicely. Plus, if they don’t work, you’re not out the serious bank that the active sound cancelling headphones can be.

Here’s another vote for earplugs. Get a soft variety that flares at one end and comes with a hard case. I got a disposable brand that came with one hard case and 10 plugs. Every time I travel I use one set; roll 'em tight, plug 'em in yer ears, and in a few seconds, they expand… ah, blissful silence!

By the way, they block out the majority of high-end noise like aircraft white noise, but they’re not great for blocking voices. You might also want to get a set of “cans” from a shooting supplier or hardware store. People will assume you’re insane, so you might be better off getting big-ass DJ headphones and running the cord into your purse.

  1. IME, noise reduction headsets work better on regular, low frequency sounds, not so well on voices.

B) As Tuckerfan says, the big indudstrial headphone-style hearing protectors will make you look like a freak. (Well, he put it more politely.)

iii.) Ear plugs are cheap and unobtrusive.
4.) Doesn’t the train have a quiet car? The Amtrak trains between Balto and NYC have at least one car in which you’re not allowed to use cell phones or have loud conversations.

[sub]Where was I supposed to say Hi, Opal!?[/sub]

commasense nailed it. Bose (and other noise cancelling headphones) do not kill conversatons, just all of the background noises. I have a set of the Bose headphones and they will not kill the Ethyl Merman in the row behind me on the airplane, but they work great for the engine and flow noise.
Ear plugs can be had either as disposable or reuseable.

And yet you never drop by.

The active noise cancellation won’t work on voices very well because it’s not a regular frequency that can be easily matched and cancelled. If anything, it could possibly make the voices more clearly heard since you don’t have the train noises to block it out.
Ear plugs work well, but they always make my ears hurt like the dickens after an hour or so of them. It’s a compromise, then - look like a DJ or have your ears ache.

I hate to be discouraging, but I failed in a similar attempt to find something that would eliminate the god-awful noise they tried to pass off as “music” in a health club. There are things that come close, especially if they also permit you to attach your own preferred music, but you have to have fairly intense music, too. I was unable to get anything that would have let me listen to something I liked at a volume that did not distort it, and still block out the shrieking and the pounding bass. Voices, especially conversation, might be possible to mask.

Be sure you try out the 'phones in the store before buying them. My experience was that they did virtually nothing to screen out the normal noise of a store in the mall.

I’ve tried earplugs and earbuds here in the office, to “bwock out the Pwincess Pwecious,” and they really didn’t work (maybe I have irregularly shaped earholes?).

So, “sound-blocking headphones” don’t really work, either, then? Crap. I was hoping there was a good set on the market. I take the train often enough (hi, Doc! I actually go through Phila., like shot through a goose; I don’t actually alight there) that I’d be willing to spend some serious cash on them.

Is there a device that when I press a button it makes all the cell phones within 200 yards explode with sufficient force to neatly blow the heads off the users? That would be cool, too.

Yeah, like I can afford the Metroliner. Nope, the nonreserved trains like the Keystone and the Clocker have no “quiet cars.”

No, your ears are likely perfectly normal. Like the active noise cancellation headphones, simple earplugs are also designed to deaden sound most effectively in the low frequency industrial noise end of things and let conversation such as “watch out for that oilspill/forklift” through. Obviously they also deaden the sound of conversation somewhat but to nowhere near the same extent as the low end stuff. I’ve heard that earplugs designed for musicians can work for these applications, anybody have any experience with these?

I have a pair of Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones I fly with and they actually block out the PA announcements fairly well but I still hear crying babies.

You might consider a pair of custom molded earplugs. They cost a lot if you have an audiologist do them but I had mine made at a gun show for $35. It still stakes getting used to wearing them but they don’t hurt after an extended time as do generic shaped plugs.

You sure you’re not willing to go with the obtrusive but aurally superior headsets?? :smiley:

A good Home Depot set will cost you about $ 18.00. You will look like you work on the airplane tarmac- a fun job most days- and the sounds will all be reduced to a very workable volume. Excellent for napping !!

AO Safety
Stowaway Ear Muff
Model 90560-80000

This is sold by Home Depot.


If you have difficulty acquiring earphones try the Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum instead.

But a gun that size is loud, especially indoors, so Eve’ll still need the shooting muffs to protect her hearing.

      • Really, shooting ear protection usually is rated in decibels, and is priced pretty cheap–where you can find it. I don’t know how many gun shops there are in your area. You could look around for them online. Nothing passive and practical to wear is going to block out everything though.
  • Construction contractor suppliers also sell good rated hearing protection but in my experience what they sell is priced higher than what gun shops carry and while many contractor suppliers are technically open to the public, they seem to loathe regular retail customers even if you pay cash and never return or special-order anything. …They tend to keep a lot of expen$ive pro-grade merchandise in their stores though, and usually it is non-secured–it ain’t tied to the wall with a cable-lock, like the tools are at regular retail stores, you can pick most items up and look at them. So maybe they are just trying to avoid attracting shoplifters.

  • I’m thinking here: cellphone jammer? Cell-phone jammers and schematics are available on the grey market, but operating them is illegal in the US. Maybe just a general static-generating RF jammer might help. Fer about $5 you could make an oscillator feeding a HV transformer off a 9V battery, with a spark-gap “antenna”. >:D …Heh, disguise it as a cell-hone and then after you have turned it on and everyone else has given up and turned theirs off, pretend to have a conversation: “I CAN BARELY HEAR YOU!! TALK LOUDER, WILL YA? SPEAK UP, I CAN JUST BARELY HEAR WHAT YOU SAID! WHAT’S THAT? YEA! I SAID, I CAN BARELY HEAR YOU! LOOK, I’LL CALL YOU BACK IN A WHILE. WHAT? I SAID, I’LL CALL BACK, I CAN’T HARDLY HEAR YOU. I KNOW. SO WHEN SHOULD I CALL BACK? I SAID, WHEN DO YOU WANT ME TO…”.

I thought ownership was illegal as well.

. . . Bumping this in the desperate hope that someone new has some earphone suggestions. Last night on the commuter train, I was the only person in the car not shrieking into a cell phone. I re-read the same paragraph in my book 28 times.

Believe me, the Smith and Wesson suggestion ran through my mind a number of times.

So, anyone know of any good sound-blocking earphones?