I am lucky to be working in a quiet environment: my ideal headphones do not need to block external noises. Rather, I occasionally need to understand someone talking to me, without taking my headphones off my head. Open headphones are the best choice in this case. "Open" means the ear cups will offer almost no attenuation of external sounds; they'll just pass through. With open headphones, you will hear the surrounding sounds just as if you weren't wearing anything. They are more comfortable than closed headphones. They offer a flatter frequency response, and they are less fatiguing over long listening sessions. Naturally, you can't ask them to block external sounds efficiently. Still, you can use the masking effect of myNoise to achieve noise blocking, but you will need to set your headphone level higher than with closed headphones.
I've been trying different headphones for 30 years. For the last decade, I have set my mind – and ears – on the HD-600. If you are interested in listening to myNoise the way it has been designed, these are the ones to opt for.
Sennheiser HD 600 • They offer indisputable sound and build quality but cost around USD 400. That's a lot of money, but it is a wise investment. Quality headphones will become your best friends over the years – or decades when used with care – unlike the portable electronic equipment they are often connected to. They will also offer you a listening experience that no loudspeaker will ever be able to achieve for the same price. Treat yourself; your ears are worth it! With the HD 600 you listen to myNoise exactly as I intended it to sound.
Recently, I've been introduced to variants of the HD 600, made by Sennheiser for wholesaler Drop. Drop is an internet business that buys large shipments directly from suppliers, and offers them at reduced prices. The Drop variants of the HD 600 are called the HD 58X and HD 6XX, and priced $170 and $220 respectively. So, how do they compare to my original HD 600? They sound as good, and look even better than the HD 600, if you want my true opinion. I've extensively tested the Drops variants before recommending these to you. You can read my full review .
The HD 599 is the consumer version of the HD 600, priced around $150. The HD 599 comes with the same premium sound quality as the HD 600, is lighter and more comfortable to wear. However, its overall construction feels cheaper, and the model is prone to cable noise: when the cable is touched, mechanical vibrations will reach the ear-cups and produce audible noise. This won't happen with the HD 600. For most users, the HD 599 will be a more reasonable choice. I highly recommend it.
The next ones are among my favorites too. They are cheaper, but do not feature a serviceable cord - an important feature for me.
Beyerdynamic DT-990 • They used to sell for around USD 400 originally, and are now available for less than USD 200. That's a deal! They are extremely comfortable and offer a very natural sound. Unfortunately, I break cables easily when moving around my desk, forgetting that I'm wearing headphones. That is the only reason I opted for the HD 600 in the end. If you are a careful person, a fixed cable shouldn't be a problem. The DT-990s are incredible performers, offering an unrivaled level of comfort. At USD 200, it's an easy decision. Select the 32 Ohm version if you intend to use them with your mobile phone or tablet.
If you work in a loud environment, you will need headphones that block the surrounding noises. They can be passive, not active. "Passive" means there are no electronics inside the headphones, and the noise blocking is achieved only by the ear cup physically blocking the external sound waves.
Active noise reduction works by generating an "anti-noise." It works well for quieting constant noises, such as when you are in a plane, but is less effective with transient sounds, like the ones you can hear in an open office. Active headphones are more expensive than passive ones. They require power, and they often fatigue your ear after prolonged use. Though you are not supposed to hear the anti-sound they generate, you still feel some faint acoustic pressure.
My advice is simple: passive, closed headphones. They will block a certain amount of noise, and what is left will be masked by listening to myNoise, even at a low level. Closed headphones seal your ears, which is less comfortable compared to an open design (see previous section). Opt for closed headphones only if you are in a noisy office. If your office is moderately loud, a semi-closed design represents the best compromise.
Superlux HD668B • They used to be my "cheapest headphones" recommendation when they first appeared on the market. They are surprisingly good for their price - around USD 40! These headphones are semi-closed, so they will provide a bit of isolation, and they come with a replaceable cord, which is ideal for me as you already found out. They're an excellent choice if you want to hear how good headphones sound without spending money. Compared to more expensive headphones, they feel cheap, but they don't sound that way. I recommended them as entry-level headphones, with an incredible performance-to-price ratio.
Samson SR850 • For $10 more than the Superlux, you get semi-open headphones that sound similar - if not better - but definitely feel more solid and is more comfortable to wear thanks to its velour pads and improved headband. The Samson also accommodates a larger head, such as mine (I feel slightly cramped when wearing the Superlux). Opting for the Samson over the Superlux makes sense to me, unless you are looking for the cheapest alternative.
AKG K240 Studio • Both SuperLux and Samson sound nice for music. If you are used to listen to musical soundscapes on myNoise - such as Tundra's Lament for example - they will really surprise you in a good way. Both offer a crisp and airy sound, with plenty of low end, with a slight advantage to the Samson to my ears. However, on pure broadband noises - such as the Irish Coast - they both will reveal their weakness: their frequency response is prone to dips around certain frequencies in the mid and high ranges. These dips become audible when the signal you are listening to is covering the entire frequency range as a continuum - unlike music which is full of frequency dips and peaks, by nature. If true noise is what you like to listen too, you will need to find a better alternative such as the AKG K240 Studio, my next recommendation priced around USD 80. They are built by a manufacturer with a solid reputation, sound better than the semi-closed headphones recommended above, and are comfortable though I like the velour ear-pads on the Samson the best. Now, compared to my reference headphones - the HD 600 - the AKG will still exhibit some dips in the frequency spectrum. This is inherent to the (semi) closed enclosure design. There is no miracle: if you are aiming at the best sound experience, open-headphones are a must.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 • If you are considering closed headphones - I can recommend these, around USD 150. I don't like closed headphones, but when I have to deal with a very noisy environment, I have no other option. Different versions of the DT 770 are available: select the 32 Ohm version if you intend to use them with your mobile phone or tablet.
If you are looking for optimal isolation, trying to block external sounds as much as possible, there is a cheaper alternative than active noise-cancelling headphones: earbuds! Just like earplugs, they will seal your ear canal and isolate you from your surroundings extremely effectively.
MEE audio M6 PRO • The MEE M6 PROs were among the first entry-level earbuds with a sound quality that enters the territory of studio-grade in-ear monitors in terms of audio quality. They are comfortable - knowing that they will block your ear canal, which always results in a strange feeling - and their sound quality is very nice. They are not expensive - around USD 50 - and they come with a lot of accessories standard, such as different cables (one with a remote), a protective carrying case and ear tips of many sizes and attenuation levels.
KZ ZST • It's amazing what you can get at a price that defies belief - here USD 20. I ordered these, confident I would not like them, but wanted to check if the glowing reviews where genuine. At worst, I would loose USD 20, which was worth feeding my curiosity. WOW! These earbuds offer an unmatched sound quality at that price point. They are truly impressive. Maybe even more neutral than the MEE M6 PROs, though it may depend on your ear canal shapes. They worked very well for mines. The ZST are available in different colors, with or without a build-in microphone.
Jabra Move Wireless • I am not in favor of wireless headphones. I prefer them to be passive and cabled, so they need no power to run and are always ready when I need them. Plus, the absence of electronics and a built-in battery helps to eliminate planned obsolescence. Now, planned obsolescence is part of many companies' business models, and some smartphones do not even provide a headphone output anymore, forcing you to listen over bluetooth. So if you have no choice, my favorite bluetooth headphones are the Jabra Move. They offer an enjoyable sound, they're lightweight, and because they are closed, they will help you block noise around you. They are the perfect myNoise companion if you don't want to hang on a cable. Don't pay attention to the bad reviews about ear cups falling apart after a couple of months. Jabra has updated the manufacturing on these headphones for a long time (and now uses stitches instead of glue for the ear cushions). You can buy with confidence. They can be found very cheap now.
AfterShokz Aeropex • These are unusual headphones, and I love them though not for their sound quality. These are open headphones, but then, really open: they are worn around your ears, and leave your ear canal totally open. They transmit sound through bone conductions, not air pressure waves. I like them so much during my dog walks. I can hear all the surrounding sounds - a safe practise when you are walking in an urban environment - and, on top of these - coming from nowhere - the sounds I want to listen to. The experience is satisfying, but the sound quality very much depends on how the Aeropex is positioned around your ears. They can sound very thin, with no low end, and even no mid range, if they are badly positioned. Or they can sound good, if you take the time to investigate how to set them up around your ears. Now, they won't play any bass content. But other than that, the sound in the remaining spectrum is actually quite neutral, especially for voice tracks. I don't use these headphones for their quality, but for offering the ultimate open experience with a sound quality that is acceptable to me.
To enjoy the myNoise audio quality to its full extent, good-sounding headphones are recommended, particularly when you are trying to block audible nuisances around you. Sometimes, wearing headphones is not convenient. Lying in your bed, trying to fall asleep with the help of your favorite sound, is one of these situations. Even if you managed to fall asleep, it is likely that either the cord of your earbuds or the pressure of your head against your headphones' earcups will wake you up as soon as you are moving in your sleep. People listening to myNoise in bed often rely on external speakers, diffusing the sound in the whole bedroom. This situation is not ideal when you are in a relationship and your partner doesn't agree with your sound selection.
To cope with this situation, you can try special headphones, those that are supposedly comfortable to sleep with. Or a pillow that internally hides a speaker. From time to time, people ask me if I could start manufacturing one of these, since the quality of those found online is often disappointing. No, I can't do that, but I've been looking for devices I would have been proud to develop in order to answer with a recommendation. Nice sleep headphones I haven't found yet, but a pillow, I just did. It's bluetooth, it has the comfort and quality that does justice to the myNoise sounds, and it is something I can endorse, though the price is relatively high. We are talking about USD 300 here.
The HUMU is a cushion that connects to an external audio device either by bluetooth, or with an audio cable. As written above, it is comfortable, feels great and sounds nice. It doesn't sound as good as great headphones – it does not even sound like headphones – but offers an extremely nice listening experience: like a speaker but with the proximity of headphones. It offers a strange, unique but satisfying experience I can definitely recommend to people who are into relaxation and stress management. It's like being in a cozy bubble, yet without being disconnected from the external world like headphones. The HUMU integrates two speakers and offers a fully stereophonic experience. Try binaural recordings (or beats) to relax: they sound amazing on the HUMU. Last but not least, this cushion produces quality vibrations too. Yes, the HUMU vibrates. Vibrations allow you to feel the sound. Any low frequency sound will produce these vibrations naturally when played at loud levels. But this requires fairly large speakers - subwoofers best - and loud levels to experience. By vibrating, the HUMU recreates that same experience but at much quieter levels. These vibrations create an interesting illusion: lower frequencies are perceived lower and louder than they actually are, as the human brain associates these vibrations with low and loud sounds. What may be considered a gadget, actually helps extend the perceived frequency range towards the low end. When you know that the sensitivity of the human hearing drastically drops in the extremes frequencies as the sound becomes quieter, a speaker that produces physical vibrations makes sense.
If I had to build that device myself, I would have offered a vibration sensitivity control. I like to listen to the sounds on my HUMU at the quietest levels, and found that when the level is too low, vibrations simply disappear. Furthermore, though the HUMU offers the clearest highs for a cushion, the top frequencies - the last octave of our hearing range - could have been boosted, this again, to compensate for the drop of sensitivity of our ears at quieter levels. Fortunately, this is not much of a concern for myNoise users, since you can always tweak the myNoise sliders to either boost the low end (vibrations) or the higher frequencies. At regular levels, the HUMU sounds fine.
myNoise and the HUMU are a fantastic match. I enjoy the HUMU paired with my mobile phone, in bluetooth, while running myNoise for iOS. On the app, I can program a timer, e.g. 30 minutes, and fall asleep knowing that the sound will stop after a while, causing the HUMU to enter its sleep mode too (we both sleep then, yeah). This saves a lot of battery life, and allows me to use the HUMU over a whole week without a charge. The HUMU is rated for 8 hours of continuous use.
The HUMU is available to purchase on Humu website.
Did you ever think how cool it would be to listen to myNoise sounds from a tabletop audio player, one that's small enough to rest on your beside table and soothe you to sleep every night? Well, now you can build your own! It is surprisingly cheap and simple, and the audio quality is excellent, given the size and cost of the hardware. Give it a try!
You will need a bluetooth speaker and a cheap microSD memory card. The speaker I tested is the Anker SoundCore Mini (not the Mini 3) which not only serves as a bluetooth speaker, but offers a build-in audio player that can read mp3 files off a microSD card (absent from the Mini 3)! And there you go: as a myNoise patron, your donation allows you to download a couple of free mp3 audio tracks from your preferred sound generators. The option is located under the 'Current Slider Settings' section of each noise generator. Once you have received your file, transfer it to the microSD card. Power the Anker SoundCore on, insert the card, et voilà, you're listening to the audio file you've just ordered, continuously playing as a loop!
Even more enjoyable, if you have the budget... build several of these setups, and assign different sound files to each of them: a water stream, birds, cicadas, for example. Hide the speakers around your living room, and wait for your guests to arrive. A true surround-sound experience that will give your living room a relaxed atmosphere and amaze your friends! Plus, it's a good opportunity to introduce myNoise to them and help me spread the good vibes.