The noise isolating performance of earbuds depends largely on the design of the housing, nozzle and most importantly – 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 and have the sound signature you prefer, but also have stellar noise isolation. Here are out pucks for the best noise isolating earbuds of 2018.
Etymotic Research MC5
The Etymotic Research MC5 earbuds come with a lot of accessories including triple-flange silicone eartips, foam eartips and Etymotic Glider eartips. A set of filters and tools are also supplied along with nice carrying case.
The MC5 has a great build quality for the price. Though they are entirely plastic, they don’t feel cheap! They are lightweight and the cables are Kevlar reinforced which makes them resistant to tangles and knots. When you wrap the cord around your ear, following the over-the-ear style, no microphonics are present.
This style of earbuds are sometimes called earplug headphones and the noise isolation of this set in particular works at its best when using the included tri-flange eartips. Whether you are on a plane, a train, a busy street, or just at home with a noisy television, these headphones can block 35-42 dB of ambient noise. You really couldn’t get a better set of headphones than this for the price.
The MC5 headphones are also very comfortable to wear. Note that this comfort depends on the type of eartips being used. You can always find the best pair for you from an array of eartips both included and on the market. The slim and lightweight housings help add to the comfort, and even though these headphones have large dynamic drivers, Etymotic still keeps their headphone size as tiny as possible.
Sound quality is varied a bit when you change eartips from one type to another. Foam and glider eartips are both comfortable, but they can degrade the sound in different ways. Foam tips make the treble less announced while gliders enhance the harshness. For the best noise isolation and audio performance, the tri-flange eartips should be used. These are the first earbuds from Etymotic that utilize dynamic drivers. The bass is crisp but doesn’t make a big impact like typical bassy earbuds that generally retail for less than $100.
Bass response is not well extended, so if you play heavy bass music they remain relatively calm. The MC5 headphones are very well balanced sounding earbuds. However, they seem not to focus heavily on any single part of the mid-range where you hear the sound clearly and they tune the detail well. I found at this range they sound quite similar to another set of bass enhanced earbuds, the Sony MDRXB50AP. The treble in the MC5 is gently, not lusty. This sound wouldn’t be appealing for those who like sparkling and crisp treble.
Lastly, the MC5 offer a wide soundstage but a quality of deepth 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, but they provide excellent noise isolation
Shure SE215 Noise Isolating Earbuds
Another set great at isolating sound are the Shure SE215 which are bigger in size and offer more quality of bass than MC5. Some users say are less comfortable because you can only wear them over-the-ear. There is a rubber loop which wraps around your ears starting at the end of each curved earpiece.
The bass of the SE215 is generally strong and deep, but doesn’t make a huge impact like the Sony MDR XB90EX. The mid-range tends to be warm and detailed. This is well balanced with the bass so that you feel the sound is evenly focused over these 2 ranges.
Like almost all earbuds with dynamic driver, the SE215’s treble is not too energetic or well isolated. If you crank up the volume they still sound pleasant without distortion, but the sound details won’t be improved at a higher volume.
To increase the noise isolation, you can buy aftermarket eartips like the 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
There are 2 methods to measuring noise isolation: Real-Ear-Attenuation-at-Threshold (REAT) and a probe microphone. While the first is commonly used to measure the sound isolation of regular headphones, the latter is used for testing noise cancelling performance.
Note that you should try all sizes of eartips to make sure you’ll get both comfort and proper noise isolation. Too large eartips cause discomfort and too small eartips won’t help achieve good noise isolation because of a loose fit.
If the housings are heavy and long when you shake your head, they will move and loosen up which will give a poor fitting. If the nozzle is not angled ergonomically then the 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 refers to this blockage of outside noise because of a secure fit. In contrast, active noise cancelling 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 are included with earbuds provide a secure and snug fit, isolating the outside noise. Etymotic Research and Shure earbuds have a better noise reduction capacity than most brands out there. Noise isolation earbuds are effective over both low and high frequencies, and they perform better than active noise cancelling earbuds. Another advantage of passive sound isolating earbuds is that they don’t require a battery or digital circuitry, so no hiss sound is present.
The level of noise isolation is measured by the amount of outside noise heard in by decibels (dB), also known as loudness level, at a range of frequency normally from 100Hz to 10kHz.
To get the best sound isolation for your ears you must experiment with different eartips and sort out which ones work best for you and give the proper fit.
Custom in-ear monitors (IEMs) provide the best noise isolation since the eartips are molded to perfectly fit into your ears. However these IEMs are extremely expensive, priced at least $1000, and typically used at the profession level by singers or speech presenters.