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Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

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Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Jez Corbett » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:26 am

A contradiction in terms?

I'll be doing some work for a while in an open plan office, the joy of game audio contracting, and was wondering if I could give myself some isolation with noise cancelling headphones.

But does anyone make proper work headphones with noise cancellation? Or does the inherent nature of noise cancellation negate the possibility of an accurate audio signal?
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:34 am

Interesting question, not one I have the answer to, but I'd be very interested if they do as I do my video stuff at work in a typical open-plan office.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:43 am

Custom IEMs will give you around 28dB of isolation and sound very good.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Jez Corbett » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:00 am

Sam Spoons wrote:Custom IEMs will give you around 28dB of isolation and sound very good.

Not really designed for mixing though, or are they?
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Wonks » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:32 am

Sonarworks have calibration profiles for these Bose sound cancelling headphones, so Sonarworks + sound cancelling will probably give you the flattest response.

QuietComfort 25
QuietComfort 35
QuietComfort 35 II

Here's all the headphones they currently cover in case there are more sound-cancelling ones (I only went for Bose) : https://www.sonarworks.com/reference/headphones

You could drop Hrodulf (from Sonarworks) a PM on here, or else an email, and ask what he thinks about the combination and how well it works compared to standard closed-back headphones.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Feb 22, 2019 11:34 am

Depends on the quality of the IEMs -- but I'd agree that decent in-ears would be a better option than noise-cancelling headphones! I always find a nasty phasey quality in all noise-cancelling headphones that really puts me off.

Good in-ears, on the other hand, are just close-fitting headphones, but with the right fitting of ear piece they offer massive levels of external noise attenuation.

For example, Sennheiser's IE800s sound extraordinarily good to my ears -- at least as good as the best headphones I have (although you do need to experiment a bit to find the best ear-piece surround fitting.

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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:22 pm

Jez Corbett wrote:
Sam Spoons wrote:Custom IEMs will give you around 28dB of isolation and sound very good.

Not really designed for mixing though, or are they?

They are designed to sound as good as possible within the constraints of the tech. My ACS T3s (their least expensive) IEMs sound excellent and are all day comfortable. They are only single driver and, apparently, two and three driver versions sound better. They should be much better for mixing than noise cancelling cans as they are pretty detailed in the mid range and fairly flat response. The difficulty is you can't demo them easily........
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Mike Stranks » Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:35 pm

I agree with Hugh... I've tried a few sets of noise-cancellers and always thought the sound 'odd'.

... Of course there are some closed-back over-ears that have good external noise attenuation. I used the Sennheiser HD380Pro for that very purpose when mixing/judging balance in noisy environments.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby The Elf » Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:47 pm

...and another here who finds noise cancellers sound simply 'strange'.

A decent set of closed-backs, such as my Sennheiser 215s, that I use when tracking, give a pretty good level of isolation. Admittedly they aren't ideal for mixing, but they're a fair compromise.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Still Vibrations » Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:52 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Good in-ears, on the other hand, are just close-fitting headphones, but with the right fitting of ear piece they offer massive levels of external noise attenuation.

I don't want to contradict someone with your experience Hugh but I thought current thinking was that in-ear headphones were more likely to damage the ears. I read an article that said head phones should always be outside the ear to prevent future hearing problems.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Feb 23, 2019 11:53 am

Still Vibrations wrote:I thought current thinking was that in-ear headphones were more likely to damage the ears. I read an article that said head phones should always be outside the ear to prevent future hearing problems.

There are articles... and there are articles! :lol: As always, the application of common sense is required!

Most 'hearing problems' are caused by extended listening at significantly elevated levels. That's possible with both in-ears and over-ear headphones, of course... but with over-ear headphones anyone nearby is more likely to complain about the sound leakage and bring the offender to their senses than might be the case for someone using in-ears... so there may be a greater risk if the user is 'stoopid' enough to listen at high levels.

A sensible user will, of course, limit both the listening volume -- which can be lower as the mechanical coupling to the ear will exclude more external noise anyway and thus make lower listening levels far more practical than if using over-ear headphones -- and the listening session durations.

The other major risk is from ear infections, which are inherently more likely with in-ears than with over-ears headphones -- especially if they aren't kept clean, or are left in place for very extended periods. But again, if the user isn't 'stoopid' and maintains a decent hygiene regimen the risk is minimal.

So while I accept that the potential risks are a little higher with in-ears, I personally think those risks are easily mitigated and managed, and there are undoubtedly situations where in-ears are the most appropriate and (for me, at least) the preferred solution. I wouldn't want to use in-ears exclusively, but where I need to exclude external noise I find they are an effective and practical solution, and -- again, for me -- far preferable to any noise-cancelling headphone I have auditioned to date.

YMMV

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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Jorge » Sat Feb 23, 2019 4:01 pm

If you ever want to play something you are working on for someone else at work, or you don't like the isolated feeling or cost of high quality IEMs, closed backs that sound as flat as possible seem like the best approach. A few I have tried are the Denon DH2000, Audio Technica ATH-50 and now the ATH-50X, and the Sennheiser HD25-II. All of these would work for your described needs if you find them comfortable. I like the Denons the best, but they are no longer made. Flatness of frequency response in headphones seems to be dependent in part on fit, positioning, and the shape of your ears, at least for mid-high and high frequencies, so it is hard to judge flatness based only on "objective" FR plots. The new Neumann ND-H20 closed back headphones look like they would be great for your needs, but they are expensive and not widely available yet so you probably want to wait until the reviews are in regarding comfort and isolation or you can find a pair to try out.

Regarding IEMs, I have the ACS T1s and they block ambient sound very well and sound great and pretty flat when the custom mold is well sealed in my ears. They do, however, produce a sense of isolation that I do not find very comfortable, even using the ambient mics that are available optionally. I haven't tried and don't think I would want to mix a recording using them exclusively, not sure how the mixes would translate to hi fi speakers, ear buds, laptop speakers, computer speakers or other common transducers.

Regarding hearing damage, Hugh's response is right on target. I would add that the outer ear canal infections that may be caused by IEMs generally do not affect hearing long-term. Middle ear infections that can affect hearing long-term, are generally not caused by IEMs but rather by bacterial or viral organisms in combination with fluid in the middle ear. This fluid accumulation is often initiated by upper respiratory infections or sometimes by allergies, but not typically by outer ear canal infections. It still makes sense to keep your IEMs clean, but I would not worry about them damaging your hearing if you control the loudness intelligently.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Feb 23, 2019 4:33 pm

I've just conducted a 'quick and dirty' comparison between my ACS T3 IEMs, My Sennheiser HD25s and my newest acquisition, AKG K702s. The most sensitive are the T3s followed by the HD25s and The K702s so no surprises there (IEM, closed back and open back respectively).

The 702's, as I expected, are noticeably better than either of the others but the difference between the T3s and the HD25 is much less significant, both have tight bass, are pretty detailed in the mids and (as well as my 65 year old ears can tell) decent at the top end. The K702s are smoother and more detailed in the high mids (the others sound a little harsh in comparison) and 'nicer' to listen to but I was happy with both the HD25s and the T3s before I got the K702s. Comparing them to cheap Sennheisers (HD205s) is chalk and cheese but a £25 pair of 'Tesco special' Sony MDR-XD200s surprised me by performing way better than I expected. I'm pleased to report that my day to day earbuds, Apple AirPods, also sound very good indeed in this company.

So, of these, the only two that provide decent isolation are the Sennheiser HD25s and the ACS T3 IEMs and they both sound pretty good. I can only assume that triple driver IEMs will sound better still. Be aware that fit is crucial on IEMs or the bass completely disappears and triple driver custom fits are not cheap (the T3s cost £250 and triple driver T1s are £650).
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Jez Corbett » Sun Feb 24, 2019 4:12 pm

I must admit I've never heard a pair of in-ear phones that actually have decent low end performance at all. I've had friends say "oh you need to try these, they have serious bass" and they still sound tinny as hell compared to big cans.

Can drivers that small really deliver deep bass?
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Feb 24, 2019 4:19 pm

Yes unquestionably but you need a perfect seal, if you have been listening without a good seal they will sound tinny. With a good seal the driver is almost directly coupled to your eardrum so doesn't need to move much air to get the job done. Custom IEMs are the best/most comfortable but triple flange buds or Comply foam buds can do a good job on standard earphones.

https://www.complyfoam.com
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Feb 24, 2019 4:53 pm

Jez Corbett wrote:Can drivers that small really deliver deep bass?

[edit -- Sam got there first!] Yes, but only if the earpieces fit with a good seal in the ear canal, so on generic in-ears / earbuds selecting and fitting the right size of removable grommet to suit your own ears is absolutely critical to the performance -- as is fitting them into the ear correctly. Moulded in-ears should fit perfectly by definition, of course...

Although some in-ears manage to use a 'traditional' moving-coil driver like a miniature headphone system (like the Sennheiser IE800s, for example) the vast majority of ear-buds/in-ears use 'balanced-armature' drivers.

However, it's difficult to make these with a very wide and uniform operating bandwidth, so for high performance applications most manufacturer combine two, three, or even four, balanced-armatures of different sizes in each earpiece optimised to cover different parts of the spectrum -- much like a multi-way speaker system.

But yes, the performance of a good in-ear system well-fitted is just as good as a decent external headphone.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby The Elf » Mon Feb 25, 2019 8:24 am

Jez Corbett wrote:I must admit I've never heard a pair of in-ear phones that actually have decent low end performance at all. I've had friends say "oh you need to try these, they have serious bass" and they still sound tinny as hell compared to big cans.
I used to think that until I got them *properly* in my ears - they need to seal fully. I imagine custom moulds would do similar. Until you've heard them this way you haven't truly heard what IEMs can do.

I wouldn't go back now for anything!
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Zukan » Mon Feb 25, 2019 9:26 am

Which ones do you have P baby?
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby The Elf » Mon Feb 25, 2019 9:41 am

I have the Sennheiser ew 300 IEM G3. Not top spec, but since I'm only a lowly keysman they do fine.

https://en-uk.sennheiser.com/wireless-microphone-live-monitoring-system-ew-300-iem-g3

I use the supplied buds and I find them OK as long as I jam them *fully* into my ears. I think they're about as far as they can go, then I wiggle them forward a touch and they go in further and nearly disappear into my ear! At that point the bass opens up and they sound absolutely fine. I have to admit I'm a bit concerned that one day I'll lose the rubber seal in there - ugh!

I did consider getting moulds done, and even investing in better buds, but these are actually adequate for my purposes.
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Re: Noise Cancelling Studio Headphones?

Postby Pete Kaine » Mon Feb 25, 2019 10:51 am

Second one for Comply tips here, the difference that getting a proper inner seal makes is key when it comes to isolating in-ears. Running with E80's here and it's a perfectly capable combination for when it comes to blocking out the guys sat around me.
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