What is the best sound isolation headphone/earphone?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by hajime, Oct 1, 2013.

  1. hajime macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Hello, I have been using a Shure SE115 for a few years. It is quit good. Recently, I have to do my work in noisy public areas more often. Ear plug is not effective. I am looking for a headphone/earphone that can block all the noise in a noisy environment. Any suggestion? Ideally, the device can block all these noise even without me playing the music. Is there such a device?

    Somebody in Apple store suggested the Bose QC20i. He said that even without turning on the music, the device has sound cancellation to remove all the noise in a noisy environment. He said that I do need to charge the device. As there is no demo in the store, I cannot verify its effectiveness.

  2. helveta macrumors regular

    Mar 31, 2012
    I've used the bose on ear noise cancelling headphones for years and have always been very happy with them. I recently got the in ear QC20i and like them too. I haven't done a side by side comparison but I don't think they block quite as much sound as the on ear version, but they're much more easy to carry and less noticeable. They do a very good job of blocking background noise. I even use them when I'm cutting the grass and can hear the music very well without turning the volume way up.
  3. ToomeyND macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    My wife has the QC15, and I just got the redesigned beats studios. The Bose are much better at noise canceling. The beats have more base and feel much sturdier. I also like that they are charged via usb, so no more buying batteries. On the flip side, I'm at the mercy of the internal battery.

    The noise canceling is decent, but the Bose are definitely better in that aspect. All other aspects, I am pleased with the beats.
  4. 960design macrumors 68030

    Apr 17, 2012
    Destin, FL
    Sennheiser IE 800 best sounding to me. But my daily wear set is Denon AHC400.
  5. martinm0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2010

    I recently picked up a set of HF3 Etymotic earbuds and they do a pretty good job keeping sound out (they're just basic earbuds, no active NC). Sadly, they are a little bright in the highs and lack a lot of bass, but they are very clear and do a great job keeping sound out while I mow the lawn.
  6. ToomeyND macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    I've had a few pairs of Ety's in the past. Wonderfully clear headphones. Unfortunately they kept breaking on me. So it was time to move on. Also, my ears would get pretty tired from the fit after a few hours of use. But the noise isolation (not cancellation) was top notch. Couldn't hear anything. The best piece of advice for the Ety's is to not wear them while crossing streets, you won't hear the cars.

    I believe I had 3 or 4 pairs of Ety's before moving on. Each time they broke, I couldn't move away from them. I really enjoy those headphones.
  7. Dizzler macrumors regular

    Apr 28, 2009
    I always thought noise cancelling technology was for airplane noise. It never seemed to work on conversation noise. Are there new ones out there that do this also?
  8. crowley213 macrumors newbie

    Sep 28, 2012
    I owe as well the Bose QC15 as the Bose QC20i. Maybe it is just my impression, but regarding noise cancelling the QC20i are even a little better than the QC15. But finally it maybe will come down to your preferences regarding an "over-the-ear" solution (QC15) or "in-ear" solution (QC20i).

    Do you have a Bose store, or another store that sells Bose products, close to where you live, so that you can try out?

    Yes, both models will allow you that you just switch them on and you have the noise cancelling effect even without listening to music.
  9. X-Ravin macrumors regular

    Nov 30, 2008
    Custom IEMs are the way to go, but I don't know if you are willing to pay that much. I have a pair of JH-16s that block practically everything out and sound beyond amazing. I stay away from active noise cancellers, I don't want a cheap mic and DSP mucking up my sound. Most CIEMs will give you up to 26db in reduction.
  10. lonefrontranger macrumors newbie

    Oct 9, 2008
    Boulder, CO
    define "isolating"

    Are you looking for noise ISOLATING (closed back over-the-ear being the most common style) or noise CANCELLING headphones? The difference being the noise cancelling style run an active "cancellation" loop of white noise that cuts out background noise and requires a separate, powered (battery, usually) source.

    Everyone's got an opinion and there are a lot of good headphones out there, so I will simply share my experiences. I find that for me (I have sensitive ears) noise CANCELLING headphones flat-out suck. Unless I'm actually on an airplane or in a car (both are rare enough circumstances) listening to music, they clip the sound and muffle/deaden it to a degree I find intrusive. And, the hiss gives me a headache after about an hour or so.

    I got my husband a set of Bose QuietComfort 15s on his request for a long flight a few months ago. He based his choice on a quick five minute listen in a crowded Apple store. He used them on a flight, then took them to work, discovered that he doesn't actually like them that much (for many of the same reasons I listed; they kinda suck in a mostly-quiet environment like an office) and I re-sold them to a friend a month or so later.

    I got myself a set of V-Moda Crossfade M-100s for the same flight and loved them. They are not 100% closed, but they isolate well enough that background noise on the plane (including crying children, etc.) was reduced to such a degree that I barely had to turn the volume up beyond half on my iPhone to listen to podcasts and music. The sound quality, build quality, style and comfort is impressive on all regards. They don't leak sound despite being semi-open. They don't require batteries (that go dead in 4-5 hours' listening) just to work, as the Bose do. They don't pinch my ears. You can customize them. They aren't muddy at the expense of all other ranges, like the Beats.

    My husband stole my V-Modas after we got rid of the QC-15s and I don't use headphones enough at my office to justify getting another set, yet. I'll likely make him buy me another pair before we fly to Europe in a few months.
  11. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Hello, let me be more specific. I am very sensitive to noise. Due to a recent change in environment, I have to study/concentrate on reading in noisy places such as Starbucks for hours.

    I tried the QC20i and the QC15 in the Bose showroom. Both QC15 and QC20i could not block out the voice of people. The QC20i seemed to be better at removing the noise. However, when I tried the QC15 (no QC20i for testing) in an Apple store, it seemed to be quite good at reducing the general noise level.

    I don't care too much about sound quality. Over the ear is ok if it does an excellent job in making a noisy place full of people talking loudly (such as Starbucks) completely or almost completely silent.

    Some people hammer their keyboard when they type. Some listen to music so loudly that even they use a headphone, people in the library can hear them. I want to block those noise as well.

  12. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Based on my testing in a Bose showroom, it seems that without listening to music, the device could block out some noise (air conditioner, those test noise in the demo) but not the human voice. When I listened to music with noise cancelling, the device could block out the voice when I increased the volumn by pressing the vol up button 3 times.
  13. SilverOath macrumors member

    Apr 25, 2013
    I recommend the Bose QuietComfort 15 series noise cancelling headphones. I've also had a pair of the QC3's, but I found them uncomfortable for long stretches of use. However, Over Ear, On Ear, and In Ear are all going to be personal preference -- so you should definitely figure out what you like the most.

    Similar to other people comment the QC15 (and QC3) when run without music will reduce the ambient noise from machinery significantly; however, they aren't quite as effective at chatter. I find the noise cancelling effect alone to be discomforting and disorienting - and wouldn't recommend them if you had no intention of not running music simultaneously. However, when combined with light easy listening music they're absolutely wonderful and I can completely forget that I'm in a bustling and noisy coffee shop (my main use of them).
  14. melchior macrumors 65816


    Nov 17, 2002
    the free marketing for Bose never ceases to amaze. any objective test will find that they are a waste of money, the same ballpark as beats.

    take the above advice and sort yourself out with a pair of custom IEMs. even the cheapest will outdo bose for both isolation and quality.
  15. flynz4 macrumors 68040

    Aug 9, 2009
    Portland, OR
    I have had Bose QC 15's for a quite a while. They are moderately good for blocking out continuous frequency noise like an airplane... and they offer fairly good mid-fi listening experience. Probably their best feature is they are comfortable to wear for very long trips. I generally take them with me on long international flight.

    However... there are MUCH better solutions than Bose for both noise isolation and sound fidelity.

    The best that I have personally used is Etymotic ER4P in-ear headphones. They become especially good when you pair it with some Comply Foam Tips. Essentially... the rest of the world completely goes away. They can be dangerous to use outside... you will not hear traffic or other sounds. It is also pretty much impossible to hold any conversation, even with no music playing. They are not particularly cheap... I think they retail for about $300 or so, but you can probably find them discounted.

    On airplane flights... when the flight attendant comes by to ask for drinks... you pretty much wait for him/her to look at you... watch their lips move, and then just blurt out what you want to drink. You cannot hear a damn thing. If it is time for a meal... you better take at least one out of your ears... if you want to have a discussion about which meal choice you want.

    With the comply foam tips... they are made out of some type of memory foam. You compress them, warming them up in your fingers for 20 seconds or so... then you quickly insert and twist it into your ear and hold it there for about a minute while it expands giving a very tight seal in your ear canal. Then you repeat with the second ear, and the world just goes silent. The audio quality is unbelievable. Every time I listen to music with the ER4P... I hear instruments and passages I have never heard before. On a recent trip, I alternated listening to the same song with my Etymotics, and then the Bose... and it sounded like half the music went missing. Not bad for mid-fi... but once you get used to hearing all the music... it is hard to go back to the Bose and still be satisfied.

    I almost never take my Bose QC15's with me anymore... but as I said... sometimes I'll take them with me on a very long international flights... just in case I get tired of having the Etymotics in my ears. I never use them anymore for domestic flights (even coast-to-coast)... or even moderate length flights to Hawaii or other similar destinations. My wife also has a pair of QC15's, (but not Etymotics)... so sometimes when I am flying with her, I'll bring my Bose along since it is easier to just lift an earcup and have a discussion.

    Hope this helps.

  16. MacUser09 macrumors regular

    Sep 26, 2009
    You don't say where you are from, but here in the UK, I buy the soft, orange, tapered ear plugs from SuperDrug. They are the best for me that I have found so far. They won't stop everything.
    In fact, I have a noisy neighbour, who continues to play loud music and talk loudly into the early hours.
    The best result? Ear plugs with Bose QC3's over the top helped me get a good nights sleep. :-(

    Some people swear by those soft wax ones. I think you can even buy custom made earplugs to fit your own ear shape. Might be cheaper than splashing out on phones.
  17. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    We know that the Bose QC20i cannot remove human speech. Today, while I was in a Bose store, I tried it on. It removed another music being played in the store. However, I could hear people talking. How come the music could be removed?
  18. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Do users feel pain in their ears after wearing the Etymotic ER4P or ER4PT for awhile? Whenever I use the Shure 115 for awhile, I feel a bit pain in my ears. Somebody at the Bose showroom mentioned that in-ear isolation devices such as the Etymotic and Shure products could damage the ears. Is this really true? He might be biased.
  19. lonefrontranger macrumors newbie

    Oct 9, 2008
    Boulder, CO
    yes. in-ear headphones are no good for extended periods for me as they lead to ear pain and if I wear them a lot, I have gotten ear infections (fluid buildup).

    keep in mind that not everyone experiences this; I have had a chronic "swimmer's ear" problem all my life and in-ear headphones merely increase the chance of them.

    The noise cancelling feedback (hiss) in an NC set is not really designed to cut out "peaky" noise like you are describing (voices, laughter, keyboard clicks). It is designed to cut out the more constant droning white noise like you'd find on an airplane flight from the jet engines.

    Any good pair of headphones will isolate / eliminate background noise enough such that it will allow you to play music, ambient noise, or any other sounds that you prefer at a volume that will isolate / eliminate the rest of the noise without having to turn up the volume to a point that risks your hearing. A truly good pair of headphones will allow you to listen at moderate or higher volumes without "leaking" sound such that it aggravates others nearby as well.

    No headphones of any configuration that I've ever worn or tested (and this includes Etymotics) have ever completely eliminated outside ambient noise before I switched my music on - that is because their main goal is generally focused towards better sound quality and "good enough" isolation.

    So if you really just want to block out noise, then as others are saying here, don't waste your money on headphones. Just get a proper pair of earplugs and go on with your day.
  20. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Sorry to hear that you have a chronic "swimmer's ear" problem.

    For the ear pain that I experience, will it be bad for the ears in the long run?
  21. flynz4 macrumors 68040

    Aug 9, 2009
    Portland, OR
    When I first started using the ER4P, I could only use them for 4-5 hours before being a bit uncomfortable... then getting worse over longer times. Now that I am using comply-foam-tips... I could wear them indefinitely.


  22. hajime thread starter macrumors 603

    Jul 23, 2007
    Could anybody please test the ER4P/PT and Bose QC20i in a noisy Starbucks and Office/library environment? I want to know if you hear the following when:

    a. Only sound cancellation is on
    b. Sound cancellation with music from your player

    1. Do you hear the background music in Starbucks under conditions a and b?
    2. Do you hear people talking loudly in Starbucks under conditions a and b?
    3. Do you hear people typing in an office/library?
    4. Do you hear people's cell phone vibrating on the desk? Whenever I concentrate on reading and somebody else's cell phone vibrates on desk, I feel like getting a heart attack.
    5. Some people play the music so loud that others in the same room could hear it. Do you hear those music under conditions a and b?

  23. Isidore, Oct 4, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013

    Isidore macrumors member

    Feb 13, 2004
    My experience is with various models of etymotics. For everyday use I use the MC3 which also have a microphone for use with an iphone etc. These, like their more expensive hi fi headsets come with an assortment of different earbuds allowing you to find the ones that give the highest level of noise isolation with individual fit- if you really want the best isolation they can also make ear moulds like for a hearing aid. The really neat thing is that they have produced an app that allows you to control how much sound comes in through the microphone, so you can set it so that if someone speaks directly to you, or you need to hear loud traffic sounds for safety, you can do so, while still eliminating all random irritating sounds of lower volume. My experience with noise cancelling headsets is not great, though the last pair I owned was a long time ago. At the end of the day, you will still hear some noise through bone conduction from behind your ear, even if you filled your ears with epoxy- don't even think about it! You could always try a pair of industrial ear defenders, like you would use in a ship's engine room but they are very hot and sweaty and you would get some very strange looks wearing them in Starbucks. There are also sophisticated in ear ear plugs, as well as the foam ones but most of the high tech ones are designed to allow you to hear normally while protecting you from loud noise, and that is not what you are looking for.
  24. Gator1pk macrumors member


    Sep 28, 2013
    Fort Lauderdale
    Highly recommend the Shure SE315 in ear noise isolating headphones. The sound is incredible, the noise isolating is great and they are very comfortable, light and can be worn for hours.

    I used to have the Bose QC3 on ear headphones, but you have to recharge the battery, they are bulky and become very uncomfortable after one hour of wear. The Bose in ear headphones are pathetic, no sound blocking and can't stay in your ear. Total waste of money. I do like other Bose products, as the speaker systems for my two surround systems are Bose and I love the Wave Radio as well.

    But for headphones, SHURE all the way.

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