Another dot in the blogosphere?

Shutting out noise

Posted on: October 26, 2019

I am frugal, but I will not hesitate to buy a good pair of noise-reducing headphones. I invest in peace of mind by countering a noise-polluted world. (Disclosure: I have not been paid in any way to promote the brands or models of the headphones and earphones below.)

I have worn out several pairs. My favourite and second most recent pair are the Bose QC35 wireless headphones. They are comfortable, sound excellent, and have convenient physical buttons.

Bose QC35

Comfortable headphone pads are important if you wear them practically all work day like I do. I have pairs of Sennheiser cans which are tight and oddly-shaped. The Bose pads envelop my ears without pinching them.

The larger drivers on the headphones means that the sound quality is good (about as good as a wired QC25 pair that I also own). But since the Bose are wireless, they suffer from interference. I experience this whenever I walk past some stores at a local mall. Sometimes the interference is so bad that my signal drops and I have to restart the headphones.

That said, the Bose are good at remembering different devices it has paired with — my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro — and switches between them when I do.

The physical buttons might seem like a throwback to the past given the trend for touch-sensitive surfaces. But the buttons are more reliable and provide physical feedback for switching the device on or off, activating Bluetooth pairing mode, playing or pausing sound, increasing or decreasing volume, and changing the noise-cancelling mode (high, low, and off).

Despite how positive I feel about the Bose, they worried me when I first got them. I had to return twice to the service centre in Singapore (an industrial estate in Changi) because of faulty parts. But they have not let me down since.

However, the ear pads are covered with a faux leather that wears out. I buy replacement pads every few months because they slough their skin and start to smell.

Yes, my headphone pads smell because I sweat into them just walking in Singapore’s humid heat. They stink up even though I wipe them down every day after use. This is the main reason why I moved on to earphones.

Sony WF-1000XM3

Enter the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones. I have only had them for a week and I am not missing my moist Bose ear muffs.

I did not expect the earphones to match the sound quality of the headphones, so I was not too disappointed. But I was pleasantly surprised by how well the earphones seem to counter the interference from other wireless signals in public spaces.

As the earphones are small, there is only enough touch-sensitive space for play/pause and changing the noise-cancelling mode. I am already disappointed with the latter.

Sony touts modes that are equivalent to a) shut out as much noise as possible, b) allow voices and warnings to get through, and c) let the earphones monitor ambient sound and decide what mode to set. These choice are brilliant in theory, but terrible in practice.

Mode B lets a tunnel of ambient sound pass through whatever I am listening to. It is hollow and unnatural. Mode C ping-pongs between modes and is the aural equivalent of strobe lights. I buy and use noise-reducing devices to do just that. If I need to speak to someone or listen to a public announcement, I take them off. So I stick to Mode A.

Like Bose, the Sony earphones remain registered on the three devices I use them with. However, I need to manually select the Sony earphones in the settings app when I switch between devices.

The Sony app that sets up the earphones also seems to forget that it has already been paired with a set of earphones when I move between devices. For example, I set up my preferences on the app on my iPhone. I switch the sound source to my laptop and return to my iPhone. When I check the Sony app again, it has asks to register a device.

Bose noise-cancelling earbuds.

According to this CNET article, Bose might release the Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700 (concept above) in 2020. If Sony does not improve its app and update the firmware of its wireless headphones, I might switch back to Bose.

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