The noise isolating performance of earbuds depends largely on the design of housing, nozzle and the most important part, the eartips. All these factors determine the fitting, and the more they provide a comfortable and tight seal the better noise isolation is. Aside from music, good noise isolating earbuds can work well as earplugs when you just want to protect your ears from high workplace noise levels. We’ve rounded up 2 pairs that not only sound good (choosing the one is is up to their sound signature you prefer) but have stellar noise isolation.
The Etymotic Research MC5 comes with a lot of accessories, including triple-flange silicone eartips, foam eartips and Etymotic Glider eartips. A set of filters and tool are also supplied along with nice carrying case.
The MC5 has the great build quality for the price though it is entirely plastic, you won’t feel it’s cheap! it’s also lightweight and the cables are Kevlar-reinforced that resists to tangles and knots. When you wrap the cord around your ear, following the over-the-ear wear, no microphonics is present.
Called earplug headphones, the noise isolation of MC5 in particular works at its best with tri-flange eartips, whether you are on a plane, a train or a noisy street, even at home with a noisy television. It can block 35-42 dB of ambient noise. True, you couldn’t get better than this at this price range.
The MC5 is also very comfortable to wear, note that it’s depending on the type of eartips being used–you can always find the best pair from array of eartips. Slim and lightweight housings plays a roll for the comfort, no matter which tips you use, and even by implementing dynamic drivers–supposedly larger than BA, Etymotic still keeps their headphone size as tiny as possible.
Sound quality is varied a bit when you change eartips from one to another type. Foam and Glider eartips are both comfortable, but they more or less degrade the sound–foam tips make the treble less announced while Gliders enhance the harshness. For best noise isolating and audio performance, the tri-flange should be used. This is a very first earbuds of Etymotic that utilized dynamic drivers. So the bass is crisp but doesn’t make a big impact like bassy earbuds that cost less than $100. Bass response is not well extended, so if you play heavy bass music, they still remain relatively calm, which doesn’t bring you to be involved in heart-beating or rumbling states. The MC5 is one of the top-notch balanced sounding earbuds. However, they seem not to focus heavily on any single part of mid-range, where you hear the sound clearly and they tune the detail well. I found this range they sound quite similar to bass enhanced earbuds, Sony MDRXB50AP. The treble is MC5 is gently, not lusty. This sound wouldn’t be appealing for those who like sparkling and crisp treble.
Lastly, the MC5 offers a wide soundstage considering one dimension, for live and deepness it is still missing somehow.
- Great noise isolation
- Good build quality
- Reasonably clear sound
- Balanced sounding profile and accurate treble.
- Tri-flange eartips may not be comfortable for the first time use.
Another highly isolating set, the Shure SE215, which is bigger in size, offers more quality of bass than MC5. Though they are less comfortable and you can only wear them over-ear–there is a rubber loop which wraps around your ears starting at the end of each curved earpieces.
The bass of SE215 is generally strong and deep, but doesn’t make a huge impact like Sony MDR XB90EX. Mid-range tends to be warm with details, and possibly it is well balanced with the bass so that you feel the sound evenly focused over these 2 ranges. Like almost earbuds with dynamic driver, the SE215’s treble is not too energetic and well isolated, if cranking up the volumes, they still sound pleasant without distortion, but it is expected that the details won’t be improved.
To increase the noise isolation, you can buy aftermarket eartips like triple flange sleeves.
- High noise isolating capacity
- Solid sound performance
- Well-controlled and powerful bass
- Bulky and heavy cable and connectors
How to test the noise isolation
Basically there are 2 methods to measure noise isolation: Real-Ear-Attenuation-at-Threshold (REAT) and Probe Microphone. While the first is commonly used to measure the sound isolation of regular earbuds in ear headphones, the latter is used for testing NC earbuds’ noise cancelling performance.
Note that you should try all sizes of the eartips to make sure you’ll get both comfort and best noise isolation. Too large eartips cause discomfort and too small eartips won’t help achieve good noise isolation except loosen fit.
If the housings are heavy and long, when you shake your head, they also fluctuate and loosing its fitting. And the nozzle is not angled ergonomically, eartips won’t fit well. Tri-flange eartips always provide the best noise isolation, but they are not as comfortable as single-flange eartips.
The term passive noise cancelling is also applied for noise isolation, in contrast to active noise cancelling, in which the earbuds have electric circuitry to actively cancel out the noise.
Noise isolating earbuds naturally block most ambient noises for a clear, detailed listening experience. The soft flexible eartips that earbuds includes provide the secure and snug fit, isolating the outside noise. Etymotic Research and Shure earbuds have noise reduction capacity better than most brands out there. Noise isolation earbuds are effective over the entire frequencies both low and high, which is audible, they the perform better than active noise cancelling earbuds. Other advantage of sound isolation is that they don’t require battery and digital circuitry, so no hiss sound is present.
The isolation is measured by ability of attenuation of outside noise, by dB (loudness level) at a range of frequency normally at a band (100Hz to 10kHz).
To get the best sound isolation, you must take a little bit practice to sort out the eartips that work best and give proper fit.
The custom in ear monitors (IEMs) provide the best noise isolating effect since the eartips are molded to perfectly fit into your ears. However these IEMs are extremely expensive, priced at least $1000.
Updated on 08/02/2016