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NoiseBusters – Headphones for our Cacophonous Times

By Jim Bray

Noise, noise, noise. It's everywhere, from the fan on the computer let lets you read this digital scribbling of mine to the general hubbub of life that surrounds us every day. This cacophony can even extend to our most private spaces, from the noise of the dishwasher in the kitchen to the snoring of a spouse in bed at night.

This doesn't happen in my home, obviously; there's no way I could possibly snore and I know better than to accuse my lovely wife. But it's a way to try for a cheap laugh while I segue into a piece about noise canceling headphones, a modern marvel of technology for our tumultuous times.

Noise canceling headphones have been around for a few years now, but though I'd heard of them I had never actually tried a pair until Pro Tech Communications sent me their NoiseBusters. Now I can see their value.

According to Pro Tech, prolonged exposure to noise, including the type of low frequency noise the NoiseBusters are meant to clean up, can cause psychological and physiological effects such as fatigue, anxiety and depression, loss of concentration and productivity, and headaches. And that's just the beginning of the laundry list of noise-caused ills they outline on their website.


What such noise canceling beasties do is use a kind of "reverse sound waves" to cancel out the frequencies that are annoying. They mount microphones both inside and outside of the ear cup to monitor the noise around the wearer, then electronically generate a noise wave that's identical to – but directly opposite to – the offending clatter. This "anti-noise" is played through a speaker inside the ear cup.

I imagine it's something like how matter and anti-matter are supposed to relate to each other, but without the earth shattering explosion.

The NoiseBusters are designed chiefly to work with portable audio devices such as iPods and MP3 players like that, but you can also use them to help make noisy environments more tolerable. For example, you can take them onto an airplane with you and use them to get rid of that low frequency thrumming from the jet engines – either on their own or while patched into the airline's in flight entertainment.

I haven't had a chance to fly since I got the NoiseBusters, but if they work as well there as they did during my ground-based tests they should do a very good job.

One of my NoiseBuster experimental sessions was in a bar – only because it offered a place where I could do some scientific testing of the device, of course – and I was amazed at how well they worked. Throw the little activating switch and that background roar from the big machine on the ceiling that supposedly extracts smoke from the air  disappeared completely. And I could still hear my companion – though he sounded far away.

NoiseBustersSometimes the NoiseBusters would cancel out the background music the place was playing, and sometimes they let the tunes come through. I don't know how they chose what to let through, though it undoubtedly has something to do with the music's frequencies. Or maybe there's a little music critic built in: they seemed to let all the lousy  tunes through and cancel out the stuff I liked – and doesn't that just figure.

The phones themselves are of the "over the ear" variety, so they're quite substantial even though they're also quite light. They fold up very compactly, though, and come with a little bag in which you can keep them. Pro Tech says they also come with a little airplane seat dual prong adapter, though I must have lost mine 'cause I can't find it in my immaculately kempt home office.

Heck, they even include the battery!

The NoiseBusters can be used with or without the noise canceling activated, via a little switch.

After I did a radio commentary on the NoiseBusters I got an email from someone who owns them. She said that using them with her MP3 player made her hair stand on end compared with the headphones that came with the player. I assume that's a good thing, though it must also have made wearing the phones quite interesting….

Pro Tech proclaims their NoiseBusters are different from models such as Bose's because, if nothing else, they're cheaper: 70 greenbacks compared with Bose's $300 list price.

Naturally, the NoiseBusters aren't perfect. For example, when I wear them around the house I can still hear my kids, and they don't cut out the cats' whining when they think it's supper time.

Maybe Pro Tech will come up with a higher end version with a "family control" button.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

We welcome your comments!