It was a fairly uneventful flight over to LA last night – except for the wildfires which
made it feel like we were flying into an active volcano as we came down to land.
Bumped into Jon Honeyball whilst waiting
for baggage and got chatting about noise-cancelling headphones. (Incidentally, Jon’s
one of the contributing editors to PC Pro and is one of my favourite columnists –
he’s usually got something incisive to say about what we’re doing well or badly: even
about blogging.) He’s
got a pair from Sony that he reckoned made all the difference to trying to get
some sleep on the plane.
Several of my colleagues have also recently bought noise-cancelling headphones as
well and I had a chance to try the latest
Bose cans on the plane (thanks Nick). I was initially a little sceptical, but
they work very well. After fitting them snugly, you flick a switch on the side of
the phones. Initially nothing happens, but then you feel a rather strange sucking
sensation – a little as if someone has put a vacuum cleaner nozzle to both of your
ears at once. The sound fades out, and you’re left in almost complete silence. It’s
a most unusual feeling, particularly when you start to speak to someone else, only
to find yourself unable to hear your own voice! They sound great for music too – you
could hear a very full dynamic range in the orchestral piece I listened to. I’m somewhat
tempted to splash out, but at £275, the price is rather steep (although they’re
substantially cheaper in the US at $299).
There’s a short article on the physics of noise-cancelling technology at this
site (also see this
FAQ). Devices such as these headphones work by generating “anti-noise” – a copy
of the original noise but with inverted phase – which cancels out the original noise
to the hearer, rather than masking it. It’ll be interesting to see other applications
appear for this technology over time - for instance, I’ve heard mention of its
use by car manufacturers but couldn’t find a link.