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Customer Review

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiny Noise Cancelling earphones., October 19, 2011
This review is from: Creative EP-3NC In-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer) (Electronics)
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I have owned about 5 sets of noise cancelling headphones over the years. I owned a folding Sony, another folding set, Phillips, I think, and another noise cancelling headset. It might have been another creative. I paid $90 for the Sony (the tech was new) but since then I have not paid more than about $35/pair, I buy them on sale or clearance. There are plenty of noise cancelling headphones in that price range on Amazon. Honestly, all the headsets I've seen work about the same. I have borrowed a friend's Bose, and thought it was a waste - they would be worth the $35 I paid for the Phillips but the Sony had much better sound than the $300 Bose.

Let me explain briefly how noise cancelling headphones work. The headphones are powered, they have a AAA battery. On this headphone, the battery is attached to the wire and it could clip to your collar or pocket - but it needs 4 more inches of wire on that line.

They have a microphone, somewhere, and it is best if the microphone is co-located with the earphones. The circuitry listens to ambient noise and then generates "countersound" - the ambient noise is reproduced in frequency and amplitude, but the phase is backwards - so the sound is "erased" in the area just above your ears. You can listen to your stereo or whatever in a noisy environment, but you don't have to turn it up as much because you are not having to drown out the noise. The noise works best on the sounds a jet makes, or a car makes, the wind noise is most attenuated.

They call this "active noise cancellation", countersound, or something else that implies the same thing. This is as opposed to noise isolation headphones. The fact that there is a circuit and a microphone that measures the sound, and that extra sound is added to what is coming from the stereo to actively cancel the ambient sound, well, that is what you want. It makes a world of difference.

Now, I used to put my headphones on as soon as I got on the airplane. When the flight attendant would signal me to take it off, I would show her that it was not plugged into anything - as if I was just parking it on my head. But they would be turned on, just generating the countersound and making the ride quieter. I stopped getting headaches from the noise, I loved these things. I recall once my little triple A battery went dead and I walked around begging for one from another passenger - a kid sold me a half dead one out of his gameboy for $10 and I thought I got the best of the bargain. One bad point is that if I wanted to nap, any conversation, even two rows away, a conversation that would normally be drowned out by the airplane noise, would be clear. The countersound worked in the white noise and pink noise frequency of the rumble and woosh, but sound of conversation would come through, sometimes too loud. It was great when you wanted to have a conversation, though, and sometimes someone two rows away who was sure that their conversation was covered by ambient noise was surprised to have me answer them.

Finally, (with the old equipment) when the noise suppression was switched on, there was a heavy HUSH - like a loud quiet, a heavy feeling that was, in its own way, bothersome - it let you know that the QUIET circuit was ON, damn it! It is hard to explain, if you have never heard it, but I remember letting people put my Sony's on, then reaching out and switching them on and they would sort of be amazed. It was heavy handed and obvious, even when there was not a lot of ambient noise.

That was then, this is now: They are tiny compared to any other noise killing headset I've ever used. Lightweight. The box on the wire is needed, there has to be someplace for the AAA battery.

They are comfortable, very comfortable. I've slept in them several times, and they are very comfy. You need to try the different sized plugs and use the largest that are comfy so that you get a good tight fit.

There is a tiny bit of the heavy soundkilling effect, but they don't have the overwhelming HUSH!, it is actually very light, not heavyhanded at all. If you know what you are listening for, you get it, but I'll bet if you get these as your first pair of sound cancelling phones, you won't notice it.

You just get a minor subdued feeling that the noise is being suppressed. In a car, I was able to nap briefly. They actually block the ambient sound in two ways. One is that they make a good mechanical seal in the ears. The rubber plugs come in three sizes, (I take the largest, they are fairly easy to switch). The mechanical seal of the earphones stop much, if not most of the ambient noise.

This is completely different from the usual sound killing headset, so let me repeat: Much of the ambient noise is stopped by the mechanical seal. There is a button you can push on the case that allows you to hear outside noise - none of the others I've used needed this button. Unlike the typical headset, you CAN'T hear those conversations two rows away. You actually get mechanical quiet as well as electronic quiet, and that combination makes these work better for killing ambient sound than any of the others I've owned, (and, as I mentioned, I've owned several). I believe that this is partially due to the in-the-ear design. I do not believe that these would work as well without the in-the-ear design.

Now underneath the level of mechanical sound blocking, there is a level of electronic blocking. You can hear it - but it is not OBTRUSIVE like it is with open headsets, there is just less noise. Turn it off, the rumble and woosh comes through, turn it on, and the rumble and woosh is attenuated. But the feeling is light. My guess is that some of that is physical - the microphones are closer to where the countersound is released, and so the countersound is more accurate in amplitude and phasing. Some of it is tuning - the people who built these used the least countersound that was effective rather than the most, and it works really well. But there is an argument that the people at Creative understand sound. I have no idea if this is an off-the-shelf design that Creative repackages or if it is Creative's design, but I do know that it works.

And some of that is clearly because the seal is better, so you are not almost solely dependent on the countersound to kill the ambient noise.

They come with a little leatherette bag with a drawstring, and an 1/8" stereo jack. There is an airplane adapter. There are three different sized rubber ear plugs. The leatherette bag does not seal well, I used one of the twist ties that was used to pack it to tie the airplane adapter to the extra ear plugs and the end of the drawstring. I expect this not to last. They claim 120 hours on a AAA battery and I have no way to tell, I am still on my first one after using it for days.

One thing that they have that I've never seen before is that there is a "listen" button on the side of the battery case. If you push it, well, I am not 100% sure, but I think it uses the microphones that usually are used to generate the countersound, then it suppresses the path from the device it is plugged in to, and it turns off the countersound, and you can hear whoever is talking locally. Because of the device's effectiveness at isolating you from the surrounding world, this button is a good idea.

If you are a traveler who can stand earphones, and who wants a small, light device, I think this is a winner. You won't be disappointed - unless you find earphones uncomfortable. But I can't imagine being a traveler without some kind of sound cancelling headphones.
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