DennisBeaverNovember 19, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Last week, we told you about the disappointing experience readers had with active noise cancellation headphones – similar to widely advertised Bose products – purchased a day prior to their three-month trip to many of the places they had been in the Pacific during their naval careers.

The headphones were described by a salesperson as “taking you from a noisy airplane into a quiet living room” and cost around $300 a pair.

While some airplane noise was reduced, their performance was far from what the couple had been led to believe. Returning home and paying a visit to the electronics store, they were refused a refund due to a 30-day policy.

You and the Law was asked if we could help get them a refund and to look into the world of noise cancelling headphones. “Do they really work, or is it just hype?”

Noise cancellation or isolation?

Active noise cancellation was a term made popular in the consumer market by Bose Corporation with its range of Quiet Comfort headphones launched more than 10 years ago. Since then, a number of other manufacturers have released their own versions of this technology at prices which range from less than $30 to well over $500.

Originally developed for the military, active noise cancellation employs electronic circuitry which creates an opposite sound wave to low-frequency noise, such as the roar of jet engines, helicopters, general aviation, jack hammers, subways, busses, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and other steady, low-pitched, machinery sounds.

Buying recommendations

Dr. Brian Fligor is director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital in Boston and describes active noise cancellation “as bringing airplane noise down to the level of noise in a coffee shop, which is still noisy. But there are other, effective ways of acquiring significant isolation from all kinds of noise, using passive, nonelectronic earmuffs, isolation headphones and well-designed, in-the-canal earphones,” he points out.

You and the Law has recently tested a number of both active and passive (not electronic) noise-reducing headphones and earmuffs.

While you can spend close to $300 for a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headphones, Kensington Noise Cancelling Headphones (sold by B & H Photo) go for $29, and many active headphones, from other manufacturers, can be found at prices in between. The real question boils down to: Are they best for your needs?

“For music, active technology distorts the music you are listening to,” maintains John Gresko of Direct Sound Headphones. His company sells the Extreme Isolation brand of passive headphones “used by musicians and the public who want flat-response, non-hyped fidelity and which are close to industrial noise reduction standards, entirely without using electronics.”

We have tested them, and are impressed with their clean sound and soothing quiet. Their website is www.extremehead phones.com.

When you move into industrial hearing protection – the headsets we see worn by airport tarmac personnel – these earmuffs aren’t pretty, but are unbelievably effective in shutting out the world, protecting your hearing.

We recently tried the Noise Buster Model PA 4000, combining active and passive protection in an earmuff. We turned them on, stepped outside next to our noisy street and heard nothing as traffic zoomed by. Standing inches from a loud vacuum cleaner and then a leaf blower, all I could hear was a slight hum. Their website is www.noisebuster.net.

Two incredible bargains in passive hearing protection are the Peltor H10A or the Howard Leight Thunder T3 earmuffs. From Amazon, they sell for around $20. On an airplane, it’s “Bye, bye, world,” with 30dB of quieting, which is enormous.

Benefits for autistic children

“If the child with autism can tolerate wearing noise cancelling or isolating headphones, there can be significant benefit,” Dr. Fligor told us, “because their brains have difficulty in putting background noise in the background, and in knowing what to turn their attention to.

When that noise is reduced to a level where they can still hear normal speech and interact, the results can be absolutely touching,” he added. A logical choice would be the Extreme Isolation HP-25 Headphone – no speakers, just noise reduction – for $39.95 from Amazon. They are lightweight, reduce noise, and we have confirmed with special education teachers just how well they work with autistic kids.

And that refund?

The salesperson and store manager admitted to us that they had never tried the headphones and had no idea how they would perform on a plane, or anywhere for that matter. “A refund is in your interest,” we suggested, “or the couple will use their American Express Buyer Protection Plan, be credited and then Amex could sue your employer.”

“Have the nice couple drop by later today and we’ll have a cash refund for them,” came the response in less than five seconds.

And who said that being a lawyer isn’t fun?


Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.



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