Coping with noise in the workplace

I find it really hard to concentrate on tasks that require logical thinking when there is a lot of other things going on in the same room, especially if those other things are causing a lot of noise.

Some people can focus no matter what, but I’m pretty sensitive to unwanted background noise. Unfortunately everybody does not want their workplace to be quiet – some people actually want noise and chaos. Completely absurd to me, but that’s the way it is.

Sources of noise in the office

Many offices today are really bad with regard to background noise. What is worse is that there isn’t a whole lot you can do about much of that noise (provided you don’t want it) unless you have the luxury of having a room of your own. Kind of like the old days when smoking was allowed in offices – there was no getting away from it for the non-smokers.

Common sources of office noise include:

  • Phones ringing, and ringing, and ringing. By the way – whoever invented ringtone melodies for mobile phones, I’d like to have a word with you in private.
  • People yelling to each other from one end of the office to the other instead of moving closer so they can talk.
  • People talking on the phone in a voice loud enough to almost make the phone unnecessary. The same people also have a tendency to walk around the office while shouting into their phone, making sure everybody knows how important they think they are.
  • People running back and forth, stomping on the floor with their hard-heeled shoes. Depending on how your office building is constructed you may also feel the floor vibrate from their steps. I do.
  • TV:s blaring out news, commercials, sports, whatever. Why is it that people cannot turn down the volume when they have finished watching something?
  • Commercial radio playing the latest Britney-pop crap.
  • Children. Don’t ever bring your children to your office during working hours unless you really have no other option.

Some people find that stimulating and energising. For me it makes focusing on tasks that require logical thinking very difficult. Logical thinking happens to be what I spend most of my work day doing. Believe me, I have tried to mentally shut out the noise, but I have not been very successful.

Noise cancelling headphones to the rescue

I find that it’s easier to concentrate if I put my headphones on and turn up the volume. It does get hot and uncomfortable after a while, but listening to good music through a good pair of headphones does help me focus. I’d much rather be able to work without wearing headphones since the headphones do make communicating with my co-workers (some of whom are also wearing headphones) much harder. But currently, headphones on it is.

I currently have a pair of Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones, which are very comfortable and made for high-noise environments. They work pretty well, but I’ve actually started looking for headphones with active noise cancelling, and I was hoping to get some recommendations from people reading this.

I want headphones that shut out the outside world completely. I don’t mind if they are large and look silly, as long as they are comfortable and give me silence. Something like the HD 280:s I currently use but with active as well as passive noise reduction would be great. I don’t want earbuds since I find having something in my ear canal all day too uncomfortable.

The Bose QuietComfort® 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones look interesting, but have been getting very mixed reviews. Some say they are fantastic, others call them overpriced junk.

So which are the best noise cancelling headphones available?

What is your noise situation like?

How do you handle unwanted noise in your workplace? Are you one of those lucky persons who can keep their concentration no matter what is going on around them, or do you need your office to be reasonably quiet? Do the other people in your office respect your need for quiet or do they just find you annoying?

Posted on February 21, 2006 in Ergonomics


  1. February 21, 2006 by steini

    i use in ear headphones. the sony mdr-ex71. if they fit your ears exactly, you won’t hear any noise from outside your head

  2. I use Philips SBC HN060 earbuds. They have soft rubber ridges/flaps which help ensure a snug fit and help block out noise too.

    With the noise cancelling on, and some reasonable classical music (has to be music without lyrics for me to concentrate), I can block out the sound of nearby meetings OK - but not completely.

    One point to note though: noise cancelling seems to work much better for regular sounds - drones, rattles etc than occasional bursts such as conversations or ringing phones.

  3. I use the Ultimate Ears in-ear phones (the $249 ones). They’re the best in-ear headphones I’ve ever used and block out noise completely, without making your ears feel strange afterwards. We have our design studio in our basement here in SF, which includes people upstairs bouncing around (like if they step any harder, the floorboards will literally fall on us), noise from others, etc.

  4. First of all, I’d like to have a word with whoever is responsible for IT staff having telephones on their desks.


    Why the hell?

    I can’t bring my own headphones to work and listen to music, because, well, I wouldn’t hear the phone ring! Obviously, people will send e-mail only when it’s the latest “Send This To 10 Of Your Friends” Powerpoint presentation.

    • (ring)
    • “John Doe, IT department, development section…”
    • “Hey, John, it’s Jack. Did you add that thing to the thing? I can’t be bothered to log in right now.”
    • (boiling point closing in)
    • “Not yet. Call me in two days. (click)”
    • (swearing, hoping that he’ll notice it WAS added and won’t call again)

    A single phone call is enough to screw hours of my work. I might be into a very specific process problem, finally getting insight, being close to the famous “a-ha!”, but no - THE FREAKING PHONE RINGS AND I HAVE TO ANSWER!!! Sometimes, it’s enough to render me useless for the rest of the day. But, I can’t go home, or out for a walk to freshen up. The rest of the day, I’m a zombie.

    E-mail is different; I see something’s there, but I can safely delay reading it for at least half an hour.

    I’m still managing to somewhat block noise, phones, people shouting and keyboards clicking… However, there are times when I just don’t succeed… And I count the days til the weekend, my sweet resting saviour, oh how I cherish thee.

  5. ALSO, I have had those Bose Noise Cancelling ($299) in the past. I bought them to take along with me on an international flight then returned them aftwards LOL. I tried using them at my desk, but they seemed awkward after sitting here a while. I’m not sure I’d recommend them.

  6. I work from home, I have two children, two very nosiy children. I am just like you, I need quiet to really concentrate and needless to say some days my workplace drives me * bonkers.

    I have thought about headphones but can’t stand to wear them and hate being attacked from behind by the kids sneaking up on me.

    My current solution is ambient music: Aphex twin, William Orbit, anything without vocals basically; though it doesn’t kill the noise I find it does help me focus.

  7. I’m working, trying to do development work, in the same room as my company’s sales team. Try that for noise.

    Plus there’s a radio playing.

    Plus a phone on my desk that I need to keep an ear out for.

    The best solution I’ve found is to sit with my headphones in and listen to loud music. If the phonecall’s important, they’ll persist and I might catch it during the short silence between songs.

  8. Well, you could pay a boatload of money for Bose headphones. Or you could pay $70 for Koss Quiet Zone Noise Canceling Stereophones.

    They’re kind of odd…they use AAA batteries to do the noise canceling. I use them when I’m flying and it completely shuts out the noise of flying. If the noise in your office space is less than an airplane, I bet you’d love these.

    I actually wear them most of the day to block out noise too. They’re very comfortable, though if you have a particularly large head, you might not find that (I’ve got a large head). Test them on in the store or something (if possible). By all means, don’t spend $300. Start saving for a new Intel Mac or something. I seriously don’t think it’s ever worth it spend $300 on something like headphones when you can quite honestly do just as well for a tiny fraction of the price.

  9. As a government worker, we are required to answer our phones so I can’t block that out. We also must respond ASAP to email (ASAP will vary depending on the nature of the response) so I can’t block that out. I will bring my MP3 player to work and play it at low volume which is enough for me to hear what is going on but the music will soothe me.

    I also suffer from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which means that virtually anything will disturb me. I have learned behavioural modification so I am no longer on Ritalin except during staff meetings when I must focus on the conversations. With my ADD, both noise and sights (people walking by my open office door) can distract me but sight-cancelling glasses are probably not a good idea.

  10. February 21, 2006 by Christopher

    I use the Sony MDR-EX71 in-ear headphones as well as the Bose Noice Cancelling headphones - both work phenomenally, though I usually use the Sony’s at work since they’re much smaller. Being in-ear does a great job blocking outside sounds, sometimes too well, as I can’t always hear people coming up to my desk.

  11. February 21, 2006 by interstevio

    I use the sure e3 in-ear phones - they are great for actually reducing noise to almost nothing. I find music can be distracting sometimes - so I got some ambient CDs, one of rain falling in a forest works a treat when I need to focus.

    I sometimes keep them in when wandering round the office, to keep my thoughts going when I’m making tea etc, although some people find this unacceptable and try to talk to me, only louder. Ironic really.

    Oh, and has anyone got tips on how to stop the guy who taps, claps, whistles, clicks his tongue and just generally annoys other people when he’s focusing on his stuff? Some people throw balls of paper over the desk partitions at him, but I find this a little too aggressive.

  12. i’m one of those people who needs noise, well music anyways. it’s not horrendously noisy in the office i work in but always people talking, phones ringing etc.

    my phones at work are cheap Sony canal-phones which are quite good at reducing noise, and when listening to music i can’t hear some talking right next to me.

    sorry not really much help on the headphone front :)

  13. Maybe you need some SHHH cards ;)

  14. February 21, 2006 by Martin

    I don’t need to put up with noises because I can turn off my hearing aids, and hear absolutely nothing even if you scream right next to my ear :)

    The alternative is to practice meditation or become a monk who is usually good at concentration in noisy environments.

  15. February 21, 2006 by Marc Luzietti

    You shouldn’t turn your headphones loud enough that you can no longer hear other’s normal conversations. That’s too loud for your ears and over time leads to [i]irreversable[/i] hearing damage. Not can lead, does lead.

    That should be enough, however, to stop most other noises from being distracting.

    “My current solution is ambient music: Aphex twin, William Orbit, anything without vocals basically; though it doesn’t kill the noise I find it does help me focus.”

    I also find that trance music distracts me from the rest of the world.

  16. Surrounded by co-workers, I listen to music and podcasts most of the time to concentrate. I switch between using Koss Portapro headphones (warm, but good sound for the bucks) and iPod earphones for my Nano (less warm, and easier to communicate with co-workers). Works excellent! And yes, ringtones should be prohibited by law.

  17. I have the lovely “fortune” to sit amongst the IT help desk people.. yes, VERY noisy. We also have trainers just a few cubes up from me who use NetMeeting to do remote training.. mic and all and one trainer in particular speaks more loudly and her tone carries more than the others. It’s most annoying when I’m trying to come up a design for a project. Soo.. I put on my headphones and play my music. I can tune out everything else without causing myself to go deaf.

    In college I was one of those people who would study - in the student lounge. Once I tuned it ALL out, nothing bothered me. Trying to study where there is NO noise just made EVERY noise a distraction and that is still pretty much true… hence the music not just noise deadening headphones.

  18. I work in an environment where noise isn’t a huge issue, but when I’m building Flash applications, I need to be able to concentrate more keenly and it seems any noise throws me off my groove. I can’t listen to music and every sound seems to be a distraction. I’ve found that listening to pink or white noise does the trick. It takes a little getting used to, and it’s not exactly entertaining, but it shuts out the noise and creates a steady sound that my brain eventually gets used to and I can concentrate more deeply.

    Check out for a noise-generating app that I can recommend. If you’re like me and need total concentration, noise-cancelling headphones won’t work because you need to be able to play something through them for them to do their thing, right?

    Anyway… my advice is worth what you paid for it.

  19. When I was writing my senior thesis, I found myself working a lot in my dorm room — not exactly a haven of silence. Forced to work on a shoestring budget, I would end up putting in a pair of earplugs, and then wear headphones over the top of those with the volume cranked way up. All I’d hear was soft classical music, no matter what else was going on around me.

    I haven’t needed that solution since then, but it’s a good trick to use in a pinch.

  20. I’m amazed at how decievingly quiet but distacting my workplace is. There isn’t too much background noise, but the next thing I know, my mind is wandering all over the place.

    I have to force myself to wear headphones - it gets that bad.

  21. Personally I have an old pair of Shure E1 in-ears which are great when travelling etc. They’ve worked a treat on a bus full of actors and musicians during the last week where we’ve been touring Denmark. A couple of colleagues have the Bose QC2s and say that they are great in the same situation.

    Watch out, the Rat Pack is coming to Goteborg on Thursday…

  22. February 21, 2006 by Mike Johanson

    IIRC most “noise canceling” headphones are designed to work best on the low fequency, mostly steady state noise. Like an airplane engine, or a fan. I don’t think they do much for conversations in the next cube. At least that’s what I recall. I had a pair of Sonys for flying and they worked well on the plane, but not much difference in the office.

    Of course the “in the ear” systems would work well for just blocking the noise. You can buy custom molded ear plugs as well if you want to block everything out

  23. My current client owns a large number of commercial radio stations, so we get one or other station playing constantly. (The show that’s on as I type is being presented from about 15 feet away from my desk.)

    In addition, the production people who occupy the major part of the open-plan office spend all day calling to each other with ideas for the showbiz quiz, competition questions, juicy bits of showbiz gossip for the DJs’ scripts, and occasional weirdness like rolling the artist liaison officer (in her chair, I hasten to add) rapidly past my desk in an attempt to emulate the curling in the Winter Olympics. Oh, and photocalls with the Sugababes happening 6 feet behind me.

    And you know what? None of it bothers me at all. But if one of my colleagues leans across and quietly asks something like “How do you fix this IE bug?” it completely destroys my concentration, because it actually makes me think.

    I think perhaps I learned to ignore the background noise when I worked as a games programmer in the 80s; when the guy at the next desk spends all day trying out sound effects for a shoot-em-up, you just have to learn to block it out.

    But I absolutely agree with Matt above that only the truly evil would expect developers to answer the phone. Mine currently says “5 new missed calls” and will remain like that.

  24. In the current issue of Make Magazine ( they have a guide for modifying jackhammer headphones and inserting some cheap walkman headphones. The nice thing about the ear muffs is that they reduce surrounding noise by 30 decibles, rather than relying on additional noise to cloak the offending noises.

    At my office we have a door to insulate us, but the super tends to keep it open because he’s in and out a lot. And then there’s the music choices by some of the collegues that becomes irksome. Currently, I have a pair of battered QuietComforts that work well, but I am going to try the afformentioned jackhammer headphones soon.

  25. Personaly I need just a little bit of music to drown out the clicks and whirz from the office equipment.

    Musical wallpaper doesn’t bother me, but clicks and beeps drive me nuts.

  26. It’s strange, but I find I work better in an office with people walking around making moderate noise.

    Now that I work from home and there’s just me at home during the day, it can get quite distracting because my mind just wanders off trying to find some entertainment. The weird thing is though, that when I put on some music, I start singing along and get even more distracted.

    I think I just need some background noise that I’m not really going to pay any attention to, which is exactly what you get in a moderately noisy office.

  27. I have the exact same problem. We have a big, open-plan office - a whole floor including two call centres, with more people being crammed in all the time. I am particularly noise sensitive and discovered after a recent desk move that I could hear up to six or seven meetings and phone calls at times. Concentration was utterly destroyed.

    We’re looking into noise cancellation headphones and so far I’ve figured out:

    1) Bose are great, just really expensive. Some people call them “overpriced crap” when they mean “out of my budget and/or not worth that much money to me”.

    2) Cheaper ones have a higher incidence of reviews/reports of breakage; or the sound quality is poor (as in, what they pipe in after noise cancellation).

    3) No matter what the product, you’ll find both glowing and hate-spitting reviews. Similarly, perception of sound quality varies massively - audiophiles vs. average punters… realistically, some people just can’t distinguish between the best studio grade monitors and the cheapest, crappiest headphones. Meanwhile other people will basically never be happy.

    4) Some people find active noise cancellation uncomfortable - a sort of pressing sensation on their ears.

    5) Office noise is unlikely to be entirely removed since noise cancellation works best on continuous, steady noises - which is why they are so good for long flights.

    6) Most require batteries, I haven’t noticed any with power adaptors so far.

    7) If you just want quiet, it may be worth going to your local hardware store and getting a pair of industrial earmuffs. No batteries required, good noise attenuation despite being passive reduction.

    8) There are quite a few “on ear” models which aren’t a good option if you wear glasses (presses in the wrong places).

    Sadly I haven’t yet found a solution, since work is unlikely to cough up AUD$600 for a pair of Bose headphones, although Sony seem to have some cheaper options - just have to find a pair to try them on (I wear glasses, so lots of headphones are uncomfortable to me).

    I found this article was a reasonable starting point: cnet - the sound of silence

    @interstevio: Sometimes the really annoying person simply isn’t aware of the noises they’re making. I work with someone who unconsciously taps his foot a lot - he really doesn’t notice he’s doing it. I eventually broached it as politely as possible and after that it was just a case of “hey man, you’re tapping again” ‘oops, sorry’. Not all situations can be resolved so nicely; but it’s worth checking whether the person is even aware that they’re doing it - we all have funny little habits :)

  28. Well I use the iPod headphones, sometimes when im not too lazy I use my ol’ sony headphones from my dj days.

    As a freelance working at home, i dont get many, of the disturbances you mention, until, because of problems with my connection, I started working at a friends office, too many distractions, speacially when they start playing a FPS, (the ‘fragging’ sound could make you a)Start to think who was kill b)Wondering if you could delay a little your work and join the lanparty)

    If you find a good headphones with noise cancellation, im sure i will buy those, as I dont know how many time i will stick working at my friends office :S

  29. February 22, 2006 by Maarten Leewis

    Same here, just headphones, it looks ridiculous but it works great. I use the Philips SBC HPB 840. They don’t cancel out all the noise, but at least i get my focus.

  30. I use noise insulating in-ear head phones from Etymotic, They come with several different types of tips so you can experiment with what best fits your ears. The ones I have now came with foam tips and flanged silicon tips.

    These are my second pair. They’re pricey but definitely worth the peace of mind. I use mine on a daily basis.

    My first pair I literally wore out. As prolonged loud noise (like traveling on the underground for half an hour) makes me very stressed, when the old ones broke I replaced them the next day.

    If the insides of your ears are sensitive, you can get a hearing aid specialist to create custom tips for your Etymotic ear phones. It looks like the Swedish company that does this (Bellman & Symfon) is in Gothenburg, area code 031.

  31. Hi, I’m very like you, when I’m at office there are some days where it is impossible to focus on my work.

    And when I work at home, my never-stop-speaking-son can make me forget everything in 5 seconds.

    However, even if noise is a real problem, I have to do my work…

  32. Leaving a mobile phone ringing on your desk is now a bunnable offence in my workplace - that is, you have to buy buns for the entire team if you let it happen - that’s 20 people to buy buns for, and growing.

  33. Yep, same here: Walkman + decent earphones. I often leave them in without music playing as it discourages people from distracting me from the task in hand ;-)

  34. I just focus all the more harder and it usually works.

  35. Excellent writing!

    I myself can handle some noise, as long as it’s background noise and doesn’t become the main sound throughout the room.

    Right now, my collegue is shakin’ on some fine tunes. All well, but it kinda is disturbing when one is in the middle of programming “the next big thing” which requires lots of thinking. it sometimes even gets so worse that I can hear the music through my headphones (Sennheiser HD 490), when i’m playing some chilly tunes at a normal sound level.

    Other than that, I also prefer non-vocal music, especially when I’m reading stuff. Reason behind it: the vocals interfere with the stuff I’m reading (both English), so a good Jazzy tune is even better than the latest radio-sing-along hit. Don’t get me wrong, vocals are appreciated, but not always.

    Anywho, back to work now ;)


  36. Try Sennheiser PXC 250 NoiseGard, check out this test (in Norwegian) with audio samples on noise cancelling

  37. My wife and I run a business out of our house and at the same time look after our two year old nephew. We love having him around as he is quite funny but he does have his “starved for attention” moments as all children do but hey we may have a future employee on our hands! ;) In addition my wife also teaches piano and voice lessons as part of our business so as you can imagine I put up with a lot of noise when I doing web programming or graphic design work. I didn’t have the money to purchase true noise canceling headphones but I did by a good pair that have the foam on the earbuds and I plug them either in my iPod or desktop computer speakers and I’m able to drown out most bothersome noise as I listen to music or podcasts related to my line of work. (I especially like the PhotoshopTV podcast and various tech news podcasts. Another advantage of working from home is I can go to the gym or visit clients when my wife is teaching her music students in the next room. I hope however business will pick up enough to the point we can get our own studio that can have noise canceling walls or I can work from the house and my wife can teach from the studio for her music work.

  38. I researched several options for mostly the same reason - blocking office noise, and also to help with the enjoyment of music on the train without blasting my eardrums out. The one I wound up with was the Sennheiser PCX 250, basically because it was fairly compact, comfortable, and I can’t stand using canalphones. Here’s my old post on the issue. The only thing that bugs me about them really is the bulky external battery pack which tends to make them a bit difficult to manage during travel, and completely useless for strenuous exercise. But for stationary desk use, they’re great. They are particularly effective for improving the sound of classical music, where frequent crecendos and decrecendos can be maddening when there is lots of ambient noise.

  39. Whatever you do, avoid the Bose junk. They are seriously overpriced what what they are, and you can get much better quality and value for money somewhere else.

    When you buy Bose, you’re paying for perceived quality and brand name recognition. Have a look at this review of one of their systems.

    If you’re after ear buds, then the Sony ones are hard to beat for the price. I’ve seen them for under £80 in the UK, and they’re suppose to be very good.

  40. I have my own room :) But I still uses KOSS, the plug, people always have to shout at me, I hear nearly nothing outside them

  41. etymotic ER-6 with the foam tips. Can’t. Hear. Anything. 35dB reduction of all outside sound. Just rig your phone so you can see the blinky light if somebody calls.

    Once you get past the weirdness of sticking them way up your ears, it’s heavenly, and the sound quality is darn close to perfect. The only problem is you might get annoyed at anything that causes you to remove them. ;) oh, and having to get a pack of replacement foams every few months is annoying, but worth it.

    The problem with the “active” noise cancelling types is that they cancel out the droney sounds of fans and other hummy/buzzy sounds, but sounds like talking come through, only slightly reduced by the ear cups.

  42. I second the recommendation for the Sennheiser PXC 250 ‘phones. I have had a pair for three years now and they just work. They do indeed reduce the level of speech frequencies; I have to remove and/or turn them off when somebody comes to the door of my office to talk to me, or I can’t make out what they are saying.

    I also listen to instrumental music (“ambient” and jazz), over the PXC 250’s and that pretty much solves the entire distraction problem. I do a lot of designing/researching and distractions simply reduce my productivity to zero.

    BTW: you didn’t include speakerphones in open areas or offices with open doors. Gah! I can’t stand that racket.

  43. My office is pretty noisy, too, with people exclaiming on the phone, people hammering keyboards as if they were the wrought iron typewriters of yore, and people shouting across the room to bolster their own self-importance. Alas, I wear a pair of rather comfy JVC wireless headphones and listen to some natty dance music to get me through it all. The only problem is when someone’s mobile goes off or starts transmitting, because the headphone’s being wireless pickup the interference. Needless to say this is irritable at least, but also quite painful sometimes at most, particularly since many of the mobiles have high strength 3G signals. ouch

  44. Well, first up the absolutely most important thing is to not play music too loud into your ears. We are of a generation now who are going to have some seriously f**ked up levels of hearing damage. I did a sound engineering course and they hammered into us how easy it is to damage your hearing.

    Really it’s too important to ignore. We’ve all felt it, we’ve all had some minor amount happen to us and long term it’s really not worth it.

    I’ll keep on harping on about this too, until people start paying attention.,1282,68844,00.html?tw=rss.TEK

    Things like the in-ear headphones are the worst. You’re better off using some sort of over-ear headphones for a start (there is all the difference in just not having the music piped directly into the aural canal).

    Take for example street level noise. Cars and buses driving by - general city noise - this comes out averaging 80-85dbA, which you can listen to continuously for about 8 hours without incurring any hearing damage. The louder it gets, the shorter you can spend before incurring damage.

    So in the case of street sellers who are out on the streets constantly - their hearing, if tested, will clearly show damage at certain frequencies.

    So from there theorise that you are walking down the street listening to your headphones. This needs to be at a level higher than the surrounding street noise. Hence forth louder (and what should be shorter) listening times.

    The thing that really scared me was finding out that club music levels frequently reach 105-120dbA. You can listen to 120dbA for a maximum of about 15 mins before you start to incur hearing damage. Repeated exposure is a problem too. The hairs in your ears that vibrate back and forth in sympathy with the sound waves actually get knocked over with loud level exposure. The ringing that you hear in your ear after a gig is all the hairs in your ear slowly standing upright again - the reason the ringing is always high pitched is that the hairs nearest the entrance to your aural canal are the ones responsible for high frequencies - the lower frequency spectrum is dealt with by hairs at the end of your aural canal - so the damage is lessened by the time the sound waves reach those hairs.

    The more often those hairs get knocked flat by loud levels the weaker they get. Eventually they can snap and say goodbye to ever hearing that frequency again. Ever. There is an excellent article at:

    I always carry my earplugs with me. It’s not f**king worth being unable to hear the thing i hold so dear.

    So other than that rant, if it is really a problem for you I would second the suggestion of modifying a pair of heavy duty industrial ear protectors. These will cut out all the higher frequencies and the inane chatter of co-workers and the stupid ringing of mobile ring-tones (I feel your pain). Inside these you can place a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that will help cancel any low frequencies. It might take a bit of work and you might have to butcher some headphones, but f**k it.. someone could probably go postal in your office and stalk from room to room blowing away your co-workers and you wouldn’t notice - monsiuer postal would probably leave you alive for sheer hilarity.

    If you do it right you would be able to listen to music at a nice relaxed level and not hear a single thing.

  45. Oh and p.s.

    I use Sennheiser PXC250 noise cancelling headphones. They’re great for general walking round town and cutting out cars driving by etc. These use 2 AAA batteries to charge the condenser microphone that records the ‘noise’ - this is then inverted and piped into your headphones, cancelling out said noise. I’ve been using it fairly frequently since december and have not needed to change battery yet.

    For quality listening I still sit at home and use my Sennheiser HD580’s which are open-backed and sound lovely. Of course, if you’re worried about headphone sound quality yet are listening to 128kb mp3’s……. I’m not going to finish that sentence.

  46. Yellow foam plugs are the best.

  47. February 23, 2006 by Ian Fenn

    I suffer from something called ‘Auditory Processing Disorder’ which means it’s very difficult indeed to work when there is background noise. It’s also the reason why I don’t socialise much after events such as @media, etc. (I’d love to but in a noisy environment I can’t hear what anybody says.) Anyway, this was one of the reasons I went freelance - a previous employer complained about my use of headphones to screen things out.

  48. February 23, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Thanks for your tips everybody. It’s good to know that I’m far from the only one who finds it hard to concentrate in a noisy office.

    After reading your comments and some reviews maybe noise cancelling headphones wouldn’t help me a lot. The noise I want to screen out is nothing like the droning of a jet engine, so I suppose I’ll have to try in-ear phones. The Etymotics seem to provide the best noise reduction available, so maybe I’ll see if I can justify their price. I’ll try to find a local store that has active noise cancelling phones in stock so I can try them out first though. I’ll make sure to listen to the Sennheiser PXC 250 phones since several of you have recommended them.

    John: I like ambient music too but it doesn’t mask noise very well, so I tend to go for music that occupies a larger part of the sound spectrum.

    Paul: Yeah I don’t want complete silence - I need music to keep my brain going.

    Thomas: Hehe, now those cards could prove useful ;-).

    Martin: I suppose that is one of the few benefits of being deaf.

    Marc: Oh I’m very careful about turning up the volume. My ears are very sensitive so I generally listen to music at a much lower volume than most other people.

    Timothy: White noise is interesting, and I have tried leaving the stereo on at night with natural white noise (rain) to sleep better. It’s been a few years since I did that though.

    Kyle: Tried that too ;-).

    Ben: Thanks, I’ll check that article out!

    Gustavo: If I find anything that helps I’ll update this post.

    Apel: Custom made tips for the Etymotics could be an option if I end up buying them I’ll look into custom tips if the included tips don’t fit well enough.

    Jonathan: “Bunnable offence”, that’s a nice concept. I doubt I’d be able to get everybody here to accept that though. Some people would have to spend a considerable amount of money on buns ;-).

    Alex: See my response to Marc above: I’m very, very careful, and like you I always carry earplugs with me. Going to the movies without earplugs is impossible these days.

  49. Wow. I’m shocked no one has mentioned the Philips HN050 Noise Canceling Lightweight Headphones with Neckband . I have had these since April of last year and I am amazed at their durability and I even use them when mowing the lawn (since I like to listen to podcasts while doing so). They don’t cancel all the noise, but in an office environment, they are perfect. Once I put these on and “get in the zone” very little interupts me. Also, if I were you, I’d try them. The link above is to Amazon and they currently have them for 48% off!! I paid full price for them $59 (and would do it again).

  50. I prefer to have small speakers hooked up to either the computer or iPod. Working in a cube farm I can hear it playing low and nobody else can. It just gives me something to zone in on in the background to take the attention away from the rest of the noise.

    Though I don’t mind using headphones I prefer not to and actually find it a bit rude when I actually have to jostle someone to get their attention. There are ways to be aware of the world around you as you’re wearing headphones (desk positioning, small “rear view” mirrors) but too few people use them.

    Then again, I’m never the norm.

  51. I use the iPod to keep me going at work, but it’s the darn work-instant-messenger (which is required) that is the most distracting to me. I could ignore people, but that’s frowned upon…

  52. I usually just listen to music all day long with a pair of headphones, currently using Phillips HP-250’s (not as good as Sennheiser quality, but still reasonably good for the price).

    And as for custom ringtones, can’t stand the damn things. I also can’t stand it when people leave their mobile on the desk, and know that it rings a lot but don’t take it with them.

  53. I work in a new media lab, so everyone pretty much does as you do - wear headphones with their own music selection. I get too distracted by the fax machine going off, or people chatting about unrelated projects. But, since everyone has headphones on, they’re all used to being waved at for attention, and are generally very responsive. We even have a shared music folder on the server :)

    I personally tend to have on my iRiver, with my Sony MDVR-V300’s.

  54. I’m the same as you, I’m hyper-sensitive to noise in the workplace when I’m trying to work. On the other hand, I like the social aspect of our workplace when I’m not concentrating, and that means noise. I don’t have TVs, radios or children in our workplace, I can’t imagine trying to concentrate with that stuff going on!

    I do find that my satisfaction with my work environment & tasks has a big impact on my tolerance to noise. A couple of years ago I was really depressed about work and I almost went postal because of a guy coughing and another guy typing.

  55. The only thing about the Sennheiser PXC250’s is that they don’t completely cover you ear (unless you have very small ears indeed) - they kind of sit on top of them.. this makes them not so good at cancelling the higher end freq’s (or blocking out wind noise when you’re walking)(though I think I’d be a dead man by now if they completely blocked out the sound of that bus coming at me).

    I assume there is a version one step up that surround the ear..

    I really would push to recommend the over ear rather than in-ear option :) More comfort, better for your ears.. and the noise reduction (whether you’re on a jet plane or not!) is very nice.

    Hope you find the right thing! Ear plugs in a cinema.. really? I think it’s been a while since I’ve been to a movie.

  56. I’m with you on all counts barring noise from TV’s and children. Working as a Web editor in a daily local newspaper office, there’s always chatting, running about, phones, phones!

    Just had a new VOIP system put in, and the default ringtone is way too piercing. As for cutting out the distractions, my iPod is getting some serious hammering. I only have the regular headphones as I, a) Can’t afford to get fancy ones and, b) Other members of staff do try need to get my attention throughout the day, so it’s probably for the best.

    I think the rear-view mirror idea, although insane-looking, could be advantageous.

    I’m easily distracted as it is, but in an open-plan office most people are bound to get certain characteristics/noises that just get right on their nerves.

    Sometimes in deep-thought on a development/editorial/commercial issue I want to be transported to a small plain office on the top floor with plenty of natural light and not a soul in sight.

  57. What about the silence love people? Are there any “whitenoise” like “music”, which give them silence?

  58. I can certainly relate to the noise in the workplace especially being a member of the cube farm. I sit near the entrance, so I am always hear the door open and close, people having loud conversations/meetings in the hallway, and people walking up and down the hallway. After reading your post I decided to do a little searching and I have come across a set of actual earplugs that I believe I will purchase. I looked at the reviews for all those noise canceling headphones and I am not ready to invest that kind of money in headphones, but I can definitely invest in a $10 pair of earplugs that will do a much better job and ensure I can get some much need work done. I can usually focus and concentrate through the noise, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to work in silence. Thanks for sharing that insight cause I think I will get those earplugs for sure. Hope you have a workplace filled with silence from now on.

  59. February 27, 2006 by AdrienneA

    I, too, hate earbuds or in-ear phones—they just hurt after a while. Years ago I bought a pair of MB Quart headphones ( to use while listening to my stereo, and I find that they work very well with my computer in creating a quieter environment. They aren’t cheap, but consider them as a piece of fine audio equipment. These headphones are light and so comfortable I can wear them for hours on end. If you have a good sound card on your workstation, you will hear your music as it was meant to be heard. (Forget your ipod—put in a CD instead!)

  60. I like my Creative Labs HN-700. They were affordable, sound fine and do a great job in filtering out my colleagues when I want to concentrate on a certain subject. I just have them for some days now but I´m really happy now :)

  61. March 1, 2006 by Holgilein

    I too tried headphones, but had to figure out that I need SILENCE (not music) when I really try to concentrate.

    The solution: Class 5 Industrial Ear Muffs! I got some 3M Model 1440 ear muffs (NZD$90), they are light-weight, really comfy (8h no problem) and I don’t hear anything when I wear them.

    If you need silence, that’s the way to go. :-)

  62. If the noise is overwelming, I try to drown it out with soothing classics. Beethoven can outrival the angry sputterings of a surely unstable co-worker anyday.

  63. March 2, 2006 by Andrew

    Props to the Sennheisers. I use the HD 212 Pro. The great thing about them is, when I put them on, people tend to leave me alone. Aside from the fact that when I do wear them and people walk up behind me and start talking then tap me on the shoulder cause I don’t hear them I get startled then irrated for being interupted. Plus, now and then the receptionist likes to come over and pull on my headphones, which really gets me fired up (talk about space invasion!) I purchased a pair of JVC Noise-Cancelling headphones for my pappy one Xmas, he likes them but they don’t seem to offer a huge difference from their battery-less counterparts. That’s my 2 cents. Good luck with your noise reduction attempts…

  64. March 4, 2006 by Paul

    +1 for the HD212 Pros. I got them for Christmas and they are absolutely fantastic. I got them primarily for gaming (I’m an avid CSer) and they have fantastic sound reproduction and quality. They also block out sound reasonably well (I have a PC that sounds like a jet engine, as well as a mother who natters away at the family, and two other family members on PCS right next to me), and once I stick headphones on and boot up Winamp, it’s heaven :D They also have detachable wires, so you can wear the headphones without risk of being strangled :D

  65. March 5, 2006 by some guy

    i work at home, and live alone, so it’s not that bad. still, living in a residential neighborhood with lots of dogs, small children, and the occassional drive-by ghetto blaster can really cause me to lose my concentration. i use music or white noise (a radio tuned to a dead station) to block things out if it gets to be too much. it also helps that i do much of my work after 6 pm, when things start to get quiet. i guess most of these options are for the self-employed only. i don’t think i could ever work in a “real” office because i’m way too sensitive to noise and the presence of other people (who usually want to ask me technical questions that are unrelated to what i’m currently working on).

  66. March 5, 2006 by Jaime

    Senheiser PC 165 USB

    Am using PC155 and it is great although headset felt a lil tight on ears after a while. But I have sensitive ears. Others find it comfy.

    Great sound and audio quality and U will be oblivious of what’s going on around u unless someone taps on your headset.

  67. Check out my scenario: Typical cube-farm, with the breakroom and bathroom on my right, the office gossip queen on my left, the helpdesk behind me, and several people around who leave cellphones on with very annoying ringtones.

    I use Sony MDR-A35 headphones, which are the in-ear type. I find I can nestle them in my ears comfortably for quite a while, crank up the music, and rely on the “rear-view” mirror on my monitor for a proximity warning, if I need to. Or I can set them slightly outside my ear when I need to be more aware of conversation around me. I lose the bass frequencies, but I can still hear the music AND I can hear someone who’s walking up behind me.

    A positive side-effect of the headphones, as someone mentioned above, is that most people don’t interrupt me unless they truly need to, then I quickly pull them off and give them my attention so as not to be (too) rude.

    Good luck!

  68. I have in fact no problem at all with noise in school. (art school, means you have to sit there for 8 hours and act artsy on a pc or mac).

    I do find it hard to concentrate however when there’s constantly people asking questions they do know the answer to. Or just asking for coffee breaks, input and other stuff ALL THE TIME.

    So i put on headphones, without music generally, and disturbance is at least cut in half, and I still get to hear everything that’s going on around me. Works perfectly, with a 6.55 euro’s headphone (;

  69. Believe it or not, I have three sets of headphones - one for the home office which are larger and not as transportable (Sennheiser PX-200), my mini-phones for taking back and forth (Sony MDR-220P) , and my smaller home headphones which are half-way in between (Sony MDR-EX71SL).

    Each have their plusses and minuses: The Sennheisers have a notoriously short and annoying cord and are only useful when I am absolutely not moving - but provide the best noise cancellation. The Sony MDR-220P have moderate sound but are emminently transportable. The MDR-EX71SL are better at sound canceling, have a longer cord but sound is suspect at times.

    But no headphones can overcome some people - like the girl who was so loud and obnoxious that I heard her ordering courderoy panties OVER my own conversation. Now that I no longer work with her, I can only say thank goodness for iPods and iTunes to help me keep my concentration.

  70. March 17, 2006 by drted

    Koss Earplugs - “THE PLUG” - I don’t work for Koss or anything like that, but these $14 wonders are amazing in the office. They are also great on airplanes for drowning out the engine noise so you can hear the music.

  71. March 17, 2006 by Justin

    I’ve had to deal with the noise issue in the office as well, and I picked up Shure E3 headphones. They work great, as I can set the music level so that I either barely hear people or I don’t hear ‘em at all — without hurting my ears.

    However, I have the phone-answering issue — and I’ve solved it!

    Since I currently work on a Mac, I hook a phone cord to the modem (from the “data” port on the side of the office phone) and have a tiny Perl script that monitors for “RING”. When it gets that, it pops up a growl notification. Same concept would work on Windows or Linux. It works wonderfully.

    If anyone wants more info on what I’ve done, ask, and I’ll go make a page with instructions or something.

  72. March 17, 2006 by Tracy

    I sit smack dab in the middle of a clinical call center, so tuning out the constant chatter of medical symptoms and treatments is critical to getting any work done. The office building I’m in gets terrible radio reception and my cds and mp3s will only fill up so many hours of the day, so my savior has been XM Radio.

    The satellite reception is perfect,there are very few ads and I keep it tuned to the classical station to avoid singing along. Another nice feature about the classical music is that it creates long blocks of continuous music, which I find better for focusing. (And I’m learning a lot about the music too - bonus!) Even for just the one station, the price for the XM reciever and subscription is worth every penny. I’m actually considering claiming it as a work expense on my taxes! :)

    As far as headphones go, I’m no audiophile and I don’t like earbuds, so I just use cheap headphones - I think they’re the ones that actually came with the computer! - which still allows me to hear my own phone or a person asking me a question directly, but drowns out everything else.

    On a side note, I recently worked in a different, much quieter office for a few weeks and actually found it even more distracting, as individual noises stood out much more loudly against the relative silence. I guess nothing’s perfect!

  73. Oh Jesus. I’m so happy it’s not just me. I am the only technical person in an office of three people. The other two are sales and the receptionist (who never seems to sit at her desk.) They sit and gab endlessly about what to eat, what to wear, what they’re doing for the weekend, what TV program they watched last night.

    Just today I’ve started listening to my classical list on my mp3 player. Even though I can hear the dull roar that is them, it’s improved my mood by leaps and bounds and I’m actually getting some work done!

  74. Check out Aire Freshener by Peter Hirschberg. It worked for me in a war zone, Goosfraba!

  75. March 17, 2006 by S. Kelly

    From the research that I’ve done, I think the best combination would be sound isolating headphones versus sound cancelling headphones and the following software to generate white noise:

    White noise is a well accepted noise cancelation technique especially in noisy manufacturing environments.

    I’ve used the software and it does help a lot. I just don’t have the headphones yet.

    These two companies seem to be leaders in the noise isolating earphone department. But you will pay for the privilege.

  76. March 17, 2006 by Rick

    I’ve used etymotic earphones to isolate myself. Unfortunately, I can’t even hear my own phone ringing or people sneaking up on me. The best approach is an office with a door, though the space planners won’t have it and you probably don’t rate. (Use DeMarco & Lister’s Peopleware to buttress your arguments if you want to ask for one.) You could try reserving a conference room for yourself. People generally don’t barge into meetings that they don’t have to attend. You could even have several people—sworn to silence—in the room at once to make it look like a real meeting. Even if they’re heads down into their laptops.

  77. March 17, 2006 by Walker

    I also use earplugs with regular headphones together.

    I suggest “high fidelity earplugs” from Etymotic Research (

    Unlike industrial earplugs, they do not disproportionately block higher pitched sounds. Hence, music sounds normal instead of muddy.

    Even better than headphones? I take my laptop to an empty conference room. Nothing beats real silence.

  78. March 17, 2006 by Jane

    When I really need to focus, I use the “white noise” at and it makes a huge difference.

  79. March 18, 2006 by Steve

    I used to use some expensive Sony noise-cancelling in-ear headphones, but about a year ago I switched to the cheaper Sony mdr-ex71 in-ear headphones and they work just as well. The physical blocking of the ear canal makes the biggest difference. At the office, with music playing, I can totally block-out even the loudest converations. As a programmer, sometimes it’s the only way I can ‘get in the zone’ and get some real work done.

  80. March 19, 2006 by Michalita

    Wow, this is awesome. It’s like a support group for the audibly distracted.

    Because I have clinically diagnosed ADHD and am entitled by law to “reasonable accomodations,” the company I work for purchased the Sonet Speech Privacy System ( for my cubicle.

    I had originally asked to be moved from my location but apparently that wasn’t possible (at least not at this time). I sit near the door, which requires a code and the keypad goes beep beep beep BEEEP CLICK all day long and then SLAM, the printer (basically our watercooler so EVERYONE TALKS THERE) and the NOISIEST 3 people in the office. One guy I actually like has the office directly behind my cubicle (er, my back faces the “hallway”) and he has the loudest booming voice ever. Used to talk on speakerphone, now uses a headset but still has a really loud voice. He’s actually not all that distracting, though. Then there’s a girl who dials up her voicemail on speakerphone and when she’s speaking, I swear it’s like she’s right next to me. She also curses loudly every now and then but it’s almost funny.

    But the worst offender is the “freelancer” who charges our company money to blab from 10am to 4pm daily. Lucky for me, she spends about 50% of that time in another department, driving a friend of mine insane with stupid conversation. Otherwise she’s on her cell phone and literally talking right into my left ear, or yapping away with the person who’s supposed to keep track of her hours (not her actual supervisor, who could give a shit about how much she’s distracting company employees and lowering productivity).

    I’m planning to get the extra speakers for the Sonet system — I tested it out last week and it’s pretty darn cool, for all you white noise fans — so I can put one exactly where her voice comes through the cube wall.

    Also, I’m basically on a “peninsula” (I’m the Florida of the cubicles) and everyone has to walk around me to either go to the a) printer, b) door, or c) up two different hallways. I think the noise level has increased significantly since I started because I used to remark how quiet it was and now it’s quite noisy. We also added quite a few more people to the floor. (There’s one poor guy who has to sit in an open area we call the “greenhouse” — and it’s really echo-y. Lucky for him he’s absolutely adorable and really professional and friendly so he’s almost always talking about work). I also can feel the ground shake when people walk around (especially one heavier-set woman…)

    In addition to the white noise, I also put on my headphones (Triport headphones from Bose — got ‘em discounted through connections) and listen to my iPod on a moderate volume because my fiancee worked in acoustics and tells me I’m already suffering from tinitis so it’s no good to make that any worse.

    The other thing that helps is if I get into “flow” — 15 minutes uninterupted time focusing on work — and am on the right amount of stimulant medication. Helps my ability to tune out and makes me less irritable and frustrated by the noise level.

    Then again, working in a cubicle environment might make anyone think they have ADHD :-P Something to consider…

    I also sometimes leave the headphones on when I’m not listening to music (people less likely to talk to me/muffle sound in general anyway) and I’ve also done the whole earplugs + industrial headphones thing (go to Home Depot - they have a stylish bright red pair for less than $20).

    Thanks for sharing your suggestions/tricks/frustrations. Amazing how much misery loves company :-)

  81. I guess that in-ear phones would work, but I’ve also found that playing smooth low-volume music (classical piano, or easy jazz, etc) through big obvious headphones works well. 2 reasons - with the constant low volume music you stop listening to it as music per se, and you just ignore it - and subsequently you tend to ignore other sounds that are non-directional, and secondly, the big-ass headphones send the message “I’m busy, try me later.”

  82. March 20, 2006 by Peter Morgan

    Obscure, but these headphones are “extreme isolation” closed ear type, designed for drummers to hear click tracks etc. whilst playing. good reviews in the recording magazines, cuts ambient noise by 29db.

    They do look rather “industrial” however.

  83. March 20, 2006 by erik

    foam earplugs. cheap and they do the job.

  84. I’m an Executive Coach for creative people (mostly film and television people) and I work out of a very loud loft in Soho here in New York.

    The solution that worked best for me was a noise cancelling system that produces HIPAA compliant “white noise”. I no longer hear other people’s phones ring, or their conversations. Equally as important, no one can hear me speaking with clients.

    After a great deal of research, the system I purchased is called “Sonet” and you can read more about it at Cambridge Sound Management. (Please note I have no relationship with this vendor other than being a satisfied customer.)

    Mark Hollander Coaching Blog

  85. I took your advice on the Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones. At first I didn’t like them, but they have really grown on me now. Thanks for the suggestion.

  86. June 14, 2006 by shawn lavigne

    this is what i use at work: shure e2 sound isolating in ear headphones. i listen to my own mp3 recorded white noise which i loop to play continously. in addition i then wear protective ear muffs which are rated for 29 db. all told, i can no longer hear the sports talk radio in my work place.

  87. September 11, 2006 by BrettFromTibet

    Great thread!

    I am extremely sensitive to sound. It is an advantage to me as an ambient chillout DJ, but as disadvantage as a lowly office worker or apartment dweller.

    At my last office, I had to deal with a redneck lady who couldn’t work without having a loud radio on to my right, and a gossip queen who liked to hum and sing RnB to her radioto my left.

    My new office is worse, I call it the “The Hornet’s Nest.” I am constantly interrupted at a walk-up window, have to answer the phone, I am saddled with trivial tasks by 15 different professors AND I am expected to get design and copywrtiting work done or else take it home on the weekends!

    I am a big fan of Etmyotic Research “Musician’s Plugs” .

    They are custom moulded, very comfortable earplugs that attenuate sound levels by either 15 or 25 decibels. An audiologist or hearing aid center can make them for you, for about $150. You can still hear if someone is speaking to your directly, but it drowns out the din.

    These may be enough. In very noisy environments, like mine, if you put in the Musicians Plugs AND you put on good noise-isolating headphones (I recommend Sennheiser HD-25 or HD-280 Pro) and play White or Pink Noise… it will reduce ambient noise distractions considerably.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY, these Musicians Plugs are designed to protect your hearing! Using them in combination with headphones both dampens noise and protects your eardrum from being bashed. If you are listening to an IPod with stock headbuds all day, cranked up loud enough to drown out the din - you are really risking tinnitus or hearing loss.

    Please take great care with the volumes of any headphones or especially earbuds. Always be conscious and go for as low as you can possibly get by on.

    And Shawn, the poor guy who has to endure Sports Talk Radio in the workplace …. brother, I FEEL your pain.

  88. This is a very nice article you have presented.

    I feel exactly the same way in noisy surroundings at work.

    It’s easy to think in a noisy place except when I’m trying to come up with a new solution to a problem that needs to get fixed in the next two hours.

    I like listening to ambient noise with headphones - I think that’s the best solution especially for those in the tech industry.

    In my URL i’ve written about solutions to office noise in a different way, I think noise cancellation phones are really for extreamly noisy environments like air plane propeller noise, they do very little or nothing to actually block external noise when one is looking for plain silence.

    But, they are good for blocking external noise to a good degree when listening to one’s own music or ambient sound.

    Cheers Rashmi

  89. Well… I think I have the best solution since I have my own private office. Yet whenever I have to go and do some work for a client on-site I am facing the same problem, and there you really can’t do much about it since you have to be able to communicate with people all the time.

  90. February 17, 2007 by Patrick Power

    I am incredibly noise phobic: the thought of going to my office actually makes me ill sometimes. Best solution I have found - wax earplugs with earmuffs on top. 100% noise isolation. If I have to answer the phone or talk to others then it is noise cancelling headphones with white noise. Pretty good.

  91. March 3, 2007 by Kat

    I also have trouble blocking out noise. It can be very annoying—it would be impossible for me to work or live in a noisy enviroment. It makes sleeping hard, too. You could try white noise. It doesn’t block things out completely, but it is better than nothing.

    You should see an audiologist about your problems with blocking out noise. I have a condition, which most people are unaware even exists, called an auditory processing disorder. Amongst a sleu of other symptoms, one of the major problems of this disorder is hearing or concentrating over background noise.(Auditory figure ground). However, I suggest if you do see an audiologist, make sure to find one who specializes in auditory processing disorders. This will be hard to find, but well worth it in the long run, as most audiologists are far from knowledgeable about this invisible disability. If you do have this problem you could be able to get accomodations on the job—perhaps telecommuting would be a better option.

  92. May 17, 2007 by Kristen

    Sennheiser HD 280 Professional Closed Headphones. (about $108 incl shipping). Get them from “Closed” is the key. That means no sound comes in or out. Pretty good music quality. Will however amplify any imperfections in your music source tho. But they work. Completely block out sound. They are huge though. If you don’t mind looking like a pilot at work, they are the best solution.

    The only other option is foam earplugs with cheap earbuds (with ear hooks so they don’t fall out) playing music over that. This is the cheapest solution. But can be uncomfortable and people will think you are weird every time they come over to talk to you and you have to remove all that stuff from your ears. Also people will be able to hear your music leaking through the earphones.

    Do NOT bother with: Any “active noise cancellation” headphones. The battery pack is annoying, and most of us in this forum don’t mind ambient noise (like airplane engines), but rather people talking/laughing/etc.

    Any wireless headphones. Too much interference, static, and you might even get to hear people’s cell phone conversations!

    The best headphone website in the world is They have great customer service and very helpful articles. They were very helpful during my quest to find the perfect headphones for work. Long story short, I bought and returned 5 pairs of expensive headphones from OTHER websites before finding (aka The Listening Station), and they helped me decide on the Sennheiser HD 280s. I had some problems with the Senns at first, which turned out to be with my music source, and their customer service folks helped me through the process.

    Good luck everyone! There is hope!

  93. I bought Leightning L3 over the ear industrial earmuffs and silicon plugs for the ears.

    They don’t work. Simply don’t work.

    The earmuffs are designed probably to let the voice go through, since the covers act like a resonance box and the voice goes through freely.

    The silicon plugs do not go in the ear, but just cover the ear, so the voice goes through.. it even seems amplified since some background noise is cut. I tried to push the silicon in the ear, it doesn’t make too much difference and it looks silly.

    I’m out of options at the moment.

  94. ps. I looked at this Bose Aviation X headphones, but the chips were a little bit too low for me at the moment to go for it ;-)

    However, I ordered the Etymotic ER-4P Earphones and I’ll let you know if they worked for me..


  95. Dang. I got them, but no good. Still hear people talking.

    With music seems like I don’t hear them as much, but this defeats the purpose for me. Can’t have music while trying to build any logic past “Hello World”!

    And I paid 250 for them, brought to Canada.. and non refundable, beeing in the ear and all. (btw, in the ear is uncomfortable)


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