If you’ve read Playback Editor Chris Martens’ recent coverage of custom-molded in-ear headphones (from Westone, JH Audio and Sensaphonics), you’ll know that the level of noise reduction from in-ear headphones is not a given. To put it numerically, if the noise in the environment is at, say, 80 db (a reasonable number for the interior or an airplane or train, with peaks rising well above that average level) and ideally you’d like the environment to have a background noise level of 30 db., then you need 50 db of noise reduction from your headphones. You probably won’t get that much, but with well-known brands quoting 30-40 db of noise reduction, you can see that there is room for even more silent backgrounds.
The objective here isn’t silence for the sake of silence. The spatial cues in music and harmonic signatures of instruments consist of very small signals. Mask those with noise and you lose some of the magic. With that thought in mind, we’ve recently tested the Phiaton PS 20 NC in-ear headphones with active noise-cancelling features.