I like to travel, but there is one major downside to traveling: noise. It is worst in airplanes. Even if the flight is just an hour long, I feel totally knocked out during the flight and probably for the following hours too. The noise inside the plane is just too much for me. In trains the noise is more subdued, depending on where one sits, depending on the train, and on the quality of the tracks. Nonetheless, after more than four hours the noise starts to nag at me, producing a certain feeeling of unrest – a feeling between being tired and being over-sensible.
More than a year ago, I read about a new generation of consumer headphones that have built-in active noise cancellation technology, which was said to reduce noise by neutralizing it with anti-noise (you should know a bit about the nature of waves to guess how this works). Since then, such a noise-canceling headphone has taken one of the highest priorities on my gadget wish-list.
A few weeks ago, after finishing some tiresome work optimizing the HTML code for a friend’s website I decided I’m in for a reward, checked the current offerings for noise canceling headphones, and decided that the Sennheiser’s PXC series is what I am looking for. After doing some price comparisons I decided to place a bid for the 250 model on eBay. I got lucky and bought the thing for 78 € including shipping.
The PXC 250 is a foldable headphone that is designed to be easily transportable. The one thing that differentiates it from other portable headphones is a stick about as thick as my thumb and about twice as long. This stick is home to two AAA batteries and (at least I would guess so) the noise-cancellation electronics. The cable from the headphone jack goes into it and another cable leads from the stick to the headphones. The stick is probably the biggest drawback to the whole thing, because one has to decide where to put it. At least it has a clip that allows attaching the stick to your belt or, as I usually do, to one of the pockets of my pants. The length of both cables is a bit less than a meter. If you’re not taller than 2.10 meters this should work for you. The headphone itself is light and comfortable to wear. It is, however, not as comfortable as my Koss Porta Pro, because the earpads exert a bit more pressure on your outer ear. This is necessary though – the pads will passively filter out the higher frequencies thus they have to fit tightly enough to not let sound pass by unobstructed. Still, after several hours of wear it is a relief to take them off for a while and massage your ears a bit.
On the stick there is a well-designed sliding button that turns on the noise cancellation. Before turning it on in a train you will hear rumbling and other lower frequency noises. After turning it on you will hear … less. The rumbling fades away to a gentler, smoother lower frequency noise. This general reduction of volume along with the smoothing has a soothing effect. The noise is definitely not gone, but it surely is less bothersome. You can use this feature without having the headphone plugged in to another device. This noise reduction is also great if you want to listen to music: you don’t need to turn the volume as high as you would have to without the noise cancellation. This makes listening to music less stressful too. Great stuff. Excellent investment.
If you turn the thing on in a silent environment you will notice a subtle hiss in the speakers. This hissing noise is, at least to me, practically inaudible in a train or a similarly noisy environment. If you want to use the headphones without the noise cancellation turned on you will be disappointed. The bass will be much to low – there seems to be some kind of loudness function associated with the noise filter. Other than that the sound quality of the PXC 250 is very good; I would say it is in the same league as the excellent Porta Pro. All in all I can definitely recommend this device. I am looking forward to test it in an airplane, but I am quite confident that it will make flying a less bothersome experience.
The only real drawback that I am feeling is that this thing will make the envelope that I build around me while traveling even less permeable. Of course I can work better and listen to music in a more relaxed manner when wearing these headphones. Nonetheless, it also lessens my contact to my surroundings. I am less approachable, won’t hear people having a conflict, won’t hear the chatter of others around me, won’t hear nice stories people might tell each other. Some chances will just pass by without being noticed. *sigh* Such is the nature of envelopment.