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Canceling

Good Noise Canceling For Less Money – Review Geek

Rating:
8/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $89.99

A woman sitting on a plane wearing a pair of Taotronics ANC headphones.
TaoTronics

Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones are often expensive, costing in the hundreds of dollars. TaoTronics claims it can deliver good noise-canceling headphones with excellent sound for less than $100. Does it succeed? Surprisingly, yes!

Here’s What We Like

  • Does a good job of noise canceling
  • Music sounds good
  • Very inexpensive
  • Great battery life

And What We Don’t

  • Mildly uncomfortable
  • Easy to leave ANC on and kill the battery
  • Headphones don’t fold

If you aren’t familiar with Active Noise Canceling, the basic premise is simple. ANC headphones use microphones to listen for noise around you. When that nose is detected, the headphones emit an “opposite noise” to cancel it out. If you imagine the sound as being +1, the opposite noise is -1.

The most expensive and accurate way of achieving the effect is to use Hybrid ANC, which employs microphones inside and outside the headphones. Usually, you’ll find Hybrid ANC on expensive headphones, like Sony’s ANC headphones that often go for $300.

Taotronics is offering the same technology for less than $90, and overall it delivers.

A Boring if Serviceable Look

A pair of Taotronics ANC headphones with volume up, down, and power button showing.
They don’t look like much. But hey, they’re headphones. Josh Hendrickson

Let’s be honest; if you’re buying your headphones as a status symbol, you’ll never consider TaoTronics. Beyond the fact that it’s not a well-known high-end brand, the look of these ANC headphones is, at best, boring.

The headphones are black, with some silver and chrome accents, and a smattering of buttons. You won’t find fancy LEDs, tap controls, or anything else that screams expensive headphones. Frankly, that’s okay. Not everything needs bling.

On the right ear cup, you’ll find all the controls you need. At first, the placement of the buttons annoyed me. The switch to turn off noise-canceling is pretty far away from the power and volume buttons.

A closeup of the Headphones showing Power, volume up and down, and headphone jack.
The ANC switch is so far away, you can’t even see it in this shot. Josh Hendrickson

But after wearing the headphones for a while, the placement clicked. When I lift my hand to my right ear, my thumb naturally rests on the power and volume buttons. And my ring finger hits the noise-canceling switch. Now I have no issues.

My main complaint with the physical aspect of the headphones is the fit. The earcups are nice and have plenty of cushions, but the band was a problem at first. It doesn’t hug my head like most my headphones do, and instead the very top of the band pushes against the top of my head.

At first, that pressure caused discomfort, but eventually, I grew used to it. It doesn’t bother me anymore while I’m wearing the headphones, but when I take them off, I’m suddenly aware of the pain I’ve been ignoring. I have a smallish head; you might find them more comfortable than I do.

Noise Canceling That Works, and You Get Good Sound Quality, Too

The headphones standing up from the front.
Unfortunately, these headphones do not fold. Josh Hendrickson

By now you’re probably wondering if the noise canceling actually works. I’m happy to say, yes it does. I don’t have a pair of $200 to $400 ANC headphones to compare to, but I’m happy with what these headphones accomplish.

When on the road, or even sitting alongside the road, simply turning the ANC switch on cuts out about 90% of the noise I heard from cars. In my office, the headphones nearly completely silenced my running fan. And though I haven’t been on any planes recently, when I loaded up a YouTube video on my surround system and blasted jet engine noises, I was surprised at how little I could hear. I turned the ANC switch off just to double-check that my speakers weren’t the problem and immediately regretted it.

Those successful results were improved when I turned on music. These headphones are Bluetooth (4.2) capable and compatible with a standard headphone jack, so you can listen to music any way you want on nearly any device.

I liked that I didn’t need to blast music to drown out the world around me. Just keep in mind that ANC blocks only certain kinds of sound. I could still understand people talking, and you’ll always hear a crying baby on a plane.

So how do the Taotronics headphones sound? Like a decent set of $90 headphones. I was happy with the bass and the mix; it’s a pretty neutral sound. Unfortunately, they don’t have equalizer options to adjust yourself, so what you hear is what you get. Still, for spending $90 on a set of cans that include ANC, there’s nothing to be disappointed in here.

The Battery Life and Extras Round It Out

The Taotronics Case, in black with a logo.
It’s frankly a boring case. But it does the job. Josh Hendrickson

The real stars of these headphones are its battery life and charging times. The company claims that a full charge will give you 30 hours of run time, and that seems about right in my testing—provided ANC is off. When I turned ANC on, I got something closer to 15 hours of use out of them.

If you need more time, you can get it quickly. Just five minutes of charging gives you 2 hours of playtime. You’ll fully recharge in 45 minutes. Just don’t forget to turn the ANC switch off, or it will drain the battery.

The headphones inside the case, along with microUSB cord, headphone jack cord, and airplane adapter.
Taotronics included a microUSB cord, headphone jack cord, and an airplane adapter. Josh Hendrickson

Taotronics included a case, and just like the headphones, it’s boring, yet serviceable. It’s a plain black plastic with hints of texture, and a thin black cloth lines the inside. Since the headphones don’t fold the case is relatively large: my kindle fits inside the case with plenty of room to spare .

The Taotronics headphones in the case, and a kindle fits with room to spare.
I guess it doubles as a kindle carrying case, too! Josh Hendrickson

In addition to the Bluetooth capability, you also get a headphone cord and an airplane adapter. The cord is short for my tastes and never fully straightened out. But if you have a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable (that’s a headphone jack on both ends), you can always use your own.

If you’re in the market for a set of ANC headphones, and the offerings of Sony and Bose are too rich for your blood, you should check out TaoTronics’ ANC headphones. You get a lot for a lot less, and that sounds good to me.

Rating: 8/10

Price: $89.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Does a good job of noise canceling
  • Music sounds good
  • Very inexpensive
  • Great battery life

And What We Don’t

  • Mildly uncomfortable
  • Easy to leave ANC on and kill the battery
  • Headphones don’t fold





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Why Do Noise Canceling Headphones Hurt My Ears?

A lady peels off her noise canceling headphones and grimaces from the pain.
Gang Liu/Shutterstock

Does your new pair of noise-canceling headphones put a painful feeling of “pressure” on your ears? It turns out that your mind is playing tricks on you.

Over the last decade, noise-canceling headphones have become more common, more affordable, and more effective. But as headphones become better at filtering out external sounds, more and more people complain that they cause ear pain, headaches, and a feeling of inner-ear “pressure.” These complaints date back further than 2009, so why hasn’t this issue been resolved yet? Well, first, we have to understand how noise-canceling headphones work.

ANC Headphones Listen to External Noises and Cancel Them Out

Contrary to popular belief, active noise canceling (or ANC) headphones don’t block out noise by physically shielding your ear from external sound waves. They aren’t like fluffy shooter’s earmuffs; they’re just small pieces of plastic. So how do ANC headphones cancel out sound?

Like light, sound travels through the air in “waves.” And just as different frequencies of light are recognized as different colors, different frequencies of sound are perceived as different pitches.

The thing is, sound is a “pressure wave.” Unlike light, sound is capable of moving through solid objects, like walls, water, and a plastic pair of headphones. Low-frequency sound waves are especially good at moving through solid objects (think of a bass drum), but high-frequency sounds (like the nasty sound of a CRT TV) aren’t that great at moving through objects.

A diagram showing how noise cancellation works
Wikipedia

So, ANC headphones aim to eliminate low-frequency sounds. They do this by monitoring your noise environment with a built-in microphone, identifying the frequencies of said noises, and blasting your ears with an anti-noise wave that cancels out the unwanted external sounds.

This sounds complicated, but it’s easy to understand. An anti-noise wave is basically a mirror version of the sound that your headphones are trying to eliminate. It’s the same frequency (pitch) of the unwanted noise, but with a reversed polarity (again, a mirror version). When two sounds with opposite polarities meet one another, they’re both canceled out. It’s weird, but that’s science.

Why Do My Ears Feel “Pressure” On an Airplane?

Okay, so ANC headphones cancel noise by pumping an anti-noise wave into your ears. But why do they hurt people’s ears and cause headaches?

Most people describe the feeling of ANC headphones as a sort of “pressure” on the ears, like the changes in atmospheric pressure from ascending in an airplane or diving deep into the ocean. So, it’s important to understand how air pressure works (and its relationship with sound perception) before we try to figure out why ANC headphones put “pressure” on your ears.

Atmospheric pressure (also called air pressure and barometric pressure) is the force extended on a surface by its atmosphere. Gravity from our Earth is constantly pulling atmosphere down, so the air in low altitude climates (the bottom of the ocean) is denser than high altitude climates (a mountaintop or an airplane in flight).

Now, atmospheric density isn’t what causes painful pressure in your ears. That feeling of “pressure” is caused the difference between the air pressure of your inner ears and the air pressure of your environment. If you’re at a high altitude, then the air in your ears wants to escape. If you’re at a low altitude and under a ton of pressure, your inner ears need more air so that they won’t collapse. When you “pop” your ears, you’re just equalizing your in-ear air pressure with the air pressure of your environment, and the feeling of “pressure” goes away.

ANC Headphones Don’t Put “Pressure” On Your Ears

But your brain doesn’t just rely on ear pain and headaches to determine when there’s a change in atmospheric pressure. It also looks at how much your middle ear vibrates.

When you first go up in an airplane, your ear has more air density than your environment. As a result, your inner ear is a bit like a balloon, it’s under a lot of pressure, and it doesn’t vibrate much. This lack of vibration results in decreased low-frequency hearing, so your brain tends to operate under the assumption that a loss in low-frequency hearing indicates a change in atmospheric pressure. (This is also the reason why you can hear better in a plane after popping your ears.)

A man enjoying the sweet sound of his noise canceling headphones
Kite_rin/Shutterstock

Remember how ANC headphones aim to cancel out low-frequency ambient noises, like the sound of an engine? Sometimes, this can trick your brain into perceiving a change in air pressure.

Of course, your brain isn’t actually receiving any feelings of pain or discomfort. So, it starts to emulate those feelings to encourage you to pop your ears. Since popping your ears doesn’t resolve the lack of low-frequency ambient sound, the sense of pain and pressure can increase until you take off your ANC headphones.

Some People Aren’t Built for ANC Headphones

Some people don’t experience any discomfort while using ANC headphones. Others get used to the feeling over time, but some people can’t get past the sense of “pressure” that ANC headphones can cause.

So, if your brand new pair of ANC headphones are causing a feeling of “pressure,” ear pain, jaw pain, and headaches, then your options for dealing with the situation are minimal. You could use the headphones for about 15 minutes and hope that your brain adjusts, or you could return the headphones and reinvest your money into sound isolating earbuds or some shooting earmuffs to put over put over a regular pair of earbuds.

Just keep in mind that, even if a feeling of pain is “made up” by your brain, that doesn’t make the pain any less real. If your brain refuses to adjust to a pair of ANC headphones, then you should leave it at that. There’s no reason to torture yourself (or potentially hurt yourself) just for the sake of blocking out ambient noise while you listen to podcasts.

Sources: The Friedel Chronicles/Medium, Wikipedia, Starkey





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