Holiday 2012: Earphones versus Noise, from Isolation to Cancellation

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Earphones, not to be confused with earbuds, have one major advantage over headphones when it comes to blocking out ambient noise, they go directly in your ears!  Because of this simple fact, every model of earphone will isolate the ear canal to some degree. In this roundup, we’ll look at a series of earphones designed to maximize that isolation effect, including models that offer noise cancellation.

A Basic Example

The Sennheiser MM30i earphones will guide us through the basics of what to expect from a pair of high-grade earphones. They are lightweight and feature dynamic speakers, providing comfort and quality audio reproduction. These phones include 3 sizes of ear tips; the right size will enable the most effective noise isolation. Additionally, an inline mic/remote can provide extra functionality with your MP3 player or smartphone.

Westone Series: 1 through 4

These Westone Series earphones are named according to the number of drivers built in to each earpiece; 1, 2, 3 or 4. They all feature a lightweight and comfortable design, a professional-grade braided cable and multiple sets of ear tips. With a proper fit, the Westone Series can provide up to 25 dB of ambient noise reduction. Each set also includes a crush-resistant travel case and a wax loop for cleaning.

The Westone 1 earphones feature a single balanced armature driver in each earpiece. They include 5 types of ear tips, allowing you to pick the most comfortable size and design. They can also accept custom-made ear tips, for a perfect fit. The Westone 2 earphones share all of these features, while adding an extra driver, for a 2-way audio system.

The second tier of the Westone Series begins with the Westone 3 earphones. Their 3 balanced armature drivers are divided with a 3-way crossover system to provide separately reproduced bass, mids and treble. This design provides additional clarity to your listening experience. The Westone 3 earphones include an inline volume attenuator, a 1/4" adapter and an impressive 10 sets of ear tips. The flagship Westone 4 earphones include all the same accessories, adding a fourth driver for extra low-end reinforcement.

Shure SE Series

The Shure SE Series earphones are derived from the design of the in-ear monitors used by touring musicians. The series begins with the SE215s, which feature Shure’s dynamic MicroDrivers. As we ascend through this series, notice how the driver functionality improves. The SE315 earphones have high-definition MicroDrivers and tuned BassPorts integrated into their design. Each side of the SE425 earphones divides the signal between two high-definition MicroDrivers, essentially putting a separate woofer and tweeter in either ear. The SE535 earphones feature three high-definition MicroDrivers per side, creating the feel of a tweeter and dual woofers. Consequently, they offer deep bass response. The SE535s also include an airline adapter.

Each of Shure’s SE Series earphone sets includes an Ear Tip Fit Kit, with ear tips made of two materials, in three sizes each. Once you’ve selected the ear tips that best fit, the SE Series design can provide up to 37 dB of ambient noise reduction. Each earpiece connects by MMCX connector to the Kevlar-reinforced cable, which terminates in a gold-plated 1/8” connector.

Etymotic Research mc Series

The Etymotic Research mc Series takes the average earphone design and vastly improves its ability to reproduce accurate sound. Additionally, the mc Series earphones provide 35 to 42 dB of ambient noise reduction and 3 sets of ear tips. Each set also includes a clothing clip, storage pouch and cleaning tool.

The mc Series earphones are all essentially the same in terms of audio performance. The mc2 has an inline mic/remote that offers wide smartphone compatibility, whereas the mc3’s is specifically made for iPhone and other iOS devices. The mc5 earphones omit the mic/remote, for those who don’t want to be bothered with phone calls while they’re listening to music.

Etymotic Research hf Series

The next step in the Etymotic Research product line is the hf Series earphones. These earphones feature ACCU•Driver precision-matched balanced armature drivers and 35 to 42 dB of ambient noise reduction. They each include 3 sets of ear tips, a clothing clip, storage pouch and cleaning tool.

The hf Series model numbers mirror the ones above. The hf2s have an inline mic/remote that works with most smartphones, while the hf3’s is made for iOS devices. The hf5 earphones do not include a mic/remote. Each set of hf Series headphones has identical audio performance features.

Noise-Canceling Earphones

The final five products mentioned in this article employ a two-fold isolation system. The first part, which we’ve already discussed, is isolation by sealing off the ear canal. The second part is noise-cancellation technology, which generally utilizes battery power. Noise cancellation can be accomplished in several ways. The most common way is for the product to analyze the ambient noise around you and create a signal 180° out of phase with it. These signals combine and cancel each other out, leaving only your music behind.

Entry Level Noise-Canceling Earphones

Despite not having a catchy name, the Pioneer SE-NC31C-K Earphones can provide up to 90% rejection of ambient noise. They include 4 sizes of ear tips to maximize their naturally isolating design. The earphones also include a carrying pouch, an airline adapter and an AAA battery.

JVC adds a close competitor to the ring with their HA-NCX78 earphones. These feature 3 sets of silicon ear tips as well as a pair made of memory foam. The JVC earphones have neodymium drivers and afford ambient noise reduction up to 88%, powered by a single AAA battery.

Sony gets into the game with their MDR-NC13 earphones, providing up to 87.4% ambient noise rejection. These earphones feature 13.5mm neodymium drivers, 3 ear tip sizes and an airline adapter. They include an AAA battery and carrying pouch as well.

Sony MDR-NC100D Earphones

Sony offers a high-end option with their MDR-NC100D earphones. Featuring 13.5mm dynamic drivers and 3 sizes of isolating ear tips, these earphones have fully digital amplification with a built-in digital equalizer and Artificial Intelligence (AI) noise canceling. Sony’s technology is so effective that it can eliminate up to 98.2% of ambient noise. These earphones include a carry pouch, airline adapter and a AAA battery.

Sennheiser CXC 700 Earphones

The design of Sennheiser’s CXC 700 Noise-Canceling Earphones begins with 10mm dynamic drivers and 3 sizes of silicon ear tips for isolation. This, combined with the proprietary NoiseGard Digital noise-cancellation, makes for a very isolated listening experience. Powered by a single AAA battery, NoiseGard Digital features 3 modes of active noise cancellation. The first targets low frequencies, such as you’d experience on a bus, train or plane. The second targets mid frequencies, to eliminate speech and air-conditioning systems. The third has wide coverage, from 100 to 3,000 Hz, for especially noisy environments.

In Conclusion

No matter what your listening environment is, there is a pair of earphones that can help you make the most of it. Whether you just need to remove 20 decibels from an adjacent conversation, or you need to be alone with your thoughts and some Vivaldi, B&H has the product you’re looking for. If you have questions or concerns, please contact a B&H Sales Associate via live chat, over the phone or in our SuperStore.