Noise-cancelling headphones were designed to accomplish one thing and one thing only– cancel noise, or at the very least, muffle it so much so that it becomes harmless. Every other thing they do is dependent on how well they can rid us of the noise.
But apart from the promise of relief and quiet that noise-cancelling headphones promise, what other benefits are there to it? What are the disadvantages that come with being able to “cancel’ noise and how much harm do these disadvantages cause us?
In light of all these, it might be helpful to break down the pros and cons of owning and using a noise-cancelling headphone; that way current users can become more aware and more cautious while future users can become less naive and more prepared.
1. It helps to boost your concentration
Noise does more harm to your concentration, output and by extension, your productivity and satisfaction much more than you realize. For quite some time now, researchers have opined that noise, especially loud intermittent noise, reduces our cognitive performance.
Psychologist Nick Perham, who does research on how sound affects the way we think, has reported that something as seemingly harmless as office noise can impair workers’ ability to recall information, or even do basic math.
Who would have thought office noise could be that pernicious? But here’s where your noise cancelling headphones come in, not only does it help you block out noise, it also sends a message to your co-workers that you’re trying to concentrate and would appreciate it if you were left alone.
2. It gives you better audio entertainment
Ever tried listening to audio entertainment in a noisy environment? You’d hate yourself, I was on a flight recently, a pretty long one (7 hours) and I didn’t go with a noise-cancelling headphone, so as you can imagine, I was at the mercy of the loud continuous drone from the aircraft engines. I tried to sleep but couldn’t.
So I decided to see a movie on the in-flight entertainment using one of the normal headphones the airline provides. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t hear the dialogue, it was so bad I literally had to read the lips of the characters to catch a faint glimpse of what was going on. It was definitely a struggle and before long I gave up and settled for another movie that had subtitles displaying on the screen.
Now imagine trying to enjoy audio or audiovisual entertainment using normal headphones close to a construction site where a jackhammer is running, that would be nothing short of torture.
With a noise-cancelling headphone, however, whether you’re in a plane or on a construction site, the noise vanishes leaving you with just the awesome audio experience.
3. Enjoy your conversations better
And just like my ugly experience with in-flight audiovisual entertainment, making or answering calls in a noisy environment can be a nightmare, you can hardly get anything in edgewise because the place is a buffet of noises and you can tell that your caller is struggling to make sense of what you’re saying because there’s usually lots of “excuse me”, or “I’m sorry I didn’t quite get that,” or “sorry can you please repeat that?”
So much so that you have to leave that environment briefly (if you can) answer your call and then come back in.
Noise-cancelling headphones helps you remove almost all the background chatter, so you no longer have to get out of noisy coffee shops just because you want to answer a call.
4. Protects your health
Exposure to noise for an extended period of time has been found to pose serious threats to human health, threats ranging from cardiovascular diseases, to sleep disruption and deprivation, to brain damage, to noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus etc.
If you must remain in a noisy environment that puts you at risk for these diseases then you should consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones.
1. They are expensive
As the adage goes: you get what you pay for, this particularly holds true for noise-cancelling headphones because they definitely do not come cheap, some of them like the new Bose 700 would set you back by as much as $400.
If you’re looking for something much more affordable, I’d say you can something decent for about a $100. You can get some for cheaper but I really can’t vouch for their ability to deliver the kind of noise cancellation you would want.
2. They make you unaware of your surroundings
For safety reasons, it’s not advisable to wear noise-cancelling headphones when you’re on the road, because it blocks out noises such as car horns, train horns, and sirens and makes you unaware of your surroundings.
And if you’re also jamming to music in addition to the noise cancellation, you won’t even hear when people are shouting for you to get out of the way. If you’re lucky, you might get cursed out by angry drivers but if not, you run the risk getting in an accident or getting run over by some careless driver.
3. It can spread ear infections
Ear infections are certainly not contagious, however, the microorganisms (bacteria and viruses) that cause ear infection can spread from person to person via a number of ways and one them is through sharing headphones. So it’s important that you’re careful about who gets to borrow or use your headphones. And if you absolutely have to lend it out to someone make sure you wipe it with disinfecting wipes before using it again.
4. Short battery life
Because of the work they do, noise-cancelling headphones tend to consume a lot of power, for most of them (provided your device is in tip-top condition) you only get about 20 hours of up time before your battery goes flat and that’s a hassle, if for whatever reason you happen to find yourself in some remote parts of the world where power goes out for many hours at a time.
And when your battery empties, you’re left with just a normal everyday headphone without noise cancelling abilities.
If you choose to buy noise cancelling headphones, you can upgrade their noise cancellation by getting a noise cancelling app along with it. There’s such noise cancelling app called Krisp which removes background noise during calls in real time. With its help you’ll be able to have a noiseless productive call from both sides, since it cancels noise bidirectionally.
That’s technology for you, it always comes to solve a problem. But mind you it’s not without its merits and demerits so your job as a current or potential end user is to acquaint yourself with as much information as you can about the product and then on the basis of that hopefully make an informed decision.