Noise-cancelling headphones get a lot of good reviews, and I thought that while I was home on break I might stop by Crutchfield and pick up a pair. I tried them out in the store, and they weren't as good as I expected.
Noise-cancelling headphones work by producing sounds that cancel out external noise, detected by small external microphones. As such, they require a power source, such as a battery pack, which some models incorporate within the earpiece and others relegate to a small box or tube along the wire. The noise-cancelling circuitry is usually packaged next to the batteries. My understanding was that they could cut out most of the ambient noise. Bose claims the headphones provide a "sanctuary", allowing you to hear the music and ony the music. I think their claims are a bit over-the-top.
I did a little customer-review research on the epinions, Crutchfield, and Amazon websites before heading out to the store. I gathered that people were very happy with their headphones, claiming that even the $300 Bose was worth every penny. (However, people who bought the $150 Sennheiser said it was just as good, if not better.) Users felt didn't feel as flattened after air travel, but I've heard the same claim from folks who use earplugs. (Use foam earplugs, not wax earplugs. Remember that the air pressure changes rapidly, and a sealing earplug could cause eardrum damage.) In every case, though, people were explicit about one fact: the 'phones didn't cut all the noise, just most of it. A Bose user said that the low-frequency roar that an airplane makes gets almost completely removed, but the higher-pitched white noise does not. (I thought that was the targeted sound for removal, but apparantly it isn't.)
At the store, I found a rack of headphones, all plugged into what I presume was a satellite radio receiver. Is it a bad thing when you can't tell the noise-cancelling headphones from the regular ones? I wasn't sure that the noise reduction I did experience wasn't due to the thick padding around my ear, effectively an earplug. All the chatter and store noises came right through, loud and clear. I didn't see any of the highly-praised Bose Quiet Comfort 2 'phones, but I can't imagine they would be magnitudes better than the others. I want something that will cut both loud and soft sound, high and low pitch. I want a pair I can use to filter out babies crying, jet engines, and the TV in the next room. And not as expensive as a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2. I guess I'll just have to wait, sitting here with my earplugs.