Verified Commit 6163d3d0 authored by Louis-Philippe Véronneau's avatar Louis-Philippe Véronneau
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New post: ANC is not for me

parent bacc2324
Title: ANC is not for me
Tags: music, hardware
Active noise cancellation (ANC) has been all the rage lately in the headphones
and in-ear monitors market. It seems after Apple got heavily praised for their
AirPods Pro, every somewhat serious electronics manufacturer released their
own design incorporating this technology.
The first headphones with ANC I remember trying on (in the early 2010s) were
the Bose QuietComfort 15. Although the concept did work (they indeed cancelled
_some_ sounds), they weren't amazing and did a great job of convincing me ANC
was some weird fad for people who flew often.
<img src="/media/blog/2021-10-03/sony.jpg" width="70%" style="margin-left:15%" title="The Sony WH-1000X M3 folded in their case" alt="The Sony WH-1000X M3 folded in their case">
As the years passed, chip size decreased, battery capacity improved and machine
learning blossomed — truly a perfect storm for the wireless ANC headphones
market. I had mostly stayed a sceptic of this tech until recently a kind friend
offered to let me try a pair of Sony WH-1000X M3.
Having tested them thoroughly, I have to say I'm really tempted to buy them
from him, as they truly are fantastic headphones[^not-a-review]. They are
_very_ light, comfortable, work without a proprietary app and sound very good
with the ANC on[^powered] — if a little bass-heavy for my taste[^eq].
The ANC itself is truly astounding and is leaps and bounds beyond what was
available five years ago. It still isn't perfect and doesn't cancel ALL sounds,
but transforms the low hum of the subway I find myself sitting in too often
these days into a light \**swoosh*\*. When you turn the ANC on, HVAC simply
disappears. Most impressive to me is the way they completely cancel the dreaded
sound of your footsteps resonating in your headphones when you walk with them.
<img src="/media/blog/2021-10-03/hd280pro.jpg" width="70%" style="margin-left:15%" title="My old pair of Senheiser HD 280 Pro, with aftermarket sheepskin earpads" alt="My old pair of Senheiser HD 280 Pro, with aftermarket sheepskin earpads">
I won't be keeping them though.
Whilst I really like what Sony has achieved here, I've grown to understand ANC
simply isn't for me. Some of the drawbacks of ANC somewhat bother me: the ear
pressure it creates is tolerable, but is an additional energy drain over long
periods of time and eventually gives me headaches. I've also found ANC
accentuates the motion sickness I suffer from, probably because it messes up
with some part of the inner ear balance system.
Most of all, I found that it didn't provide noticeable improvements over good
passive noise cancellation solutions, at least in terms of how high I have to
turn the volume up to hear music or podcasts clearly. The human brain works in
mysterious ways and it seems ANC cancelling a class of noises (low hums,
constant noises, etc.) makes other noises so much more noticeable. People
talking or bursty high pitched noises bothered me much more with ANC on than
So for now, I'll keep using my trusty Senheiser HD 280 Pro[^sheepskin] at work
and good in-ear monitors with Comply foam tips on the go.
[^not-a-review]: This blog post certainly doesn't aim to be a comprehensive
review of these headphones. See [Zeos'][zeos] review if you want something
more in-depth.
[^powered]: As most ANC headphones, they don't sound as good when used
passively through the 3.5mm port, but that's just a testament of how a great
job Sony did of tuning the DSP.
[^eq]: Easily fixed using an EQ.
[^sheepskin]: Retrofitted with aftermarket sheepskin earpads, they provide more
than 32db of passive noise reduction.
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