Quiet on Demand

These speakers take the edge off noisy travel

2 min read

Portable music and video players such as the iPod allow us to while away otherwise interminable journeys on planes and trains. Unfortunately, planes and trains are pretty noisy places and can drown out quieter music entirely. You’re either left to listen to your rock collection for 4 hours or you have to jack up the volume way past the level that Mozart would have tolerated.

Ballerup, Denmark�based GN Mobile’s Jabra brand has another solution. Its set of lightweight noise-canceling headphones, the Jabra C820s, uses built-in microphones to pick up external sounds. Its little brain then analyzes the incoming waves and generates counterwaves that are exactly out of phase; the waves and counterwaves then cancel each other out. The technology works best on sounds with slowly varying frequencies—unlike, say, voices—but this is exactly what is required to neutralize the drone of an airplane engine or the rumble of a train, while still allowing you to hear the flight attendant ask if you want chicken or beef.


JaBra c820s


US $200

Noise-canceling headphones have been around for a while, notably from Bose Corp., in Framingham, Mass. However, at US $200, the Jabra headset sells for around $100 less than Bose’s cheapest noise-canceling model.

Jabra’s lightweight headphones are powered by a single AAA battery, which provides about 50 hours of operation. When the battery runs out, the headphones can still be used to listen to music, albeit without the noise-cancellation feature.

The adjustable headphones accommodate heads of different sizes, but they can be packed flat with a twist of the earphones for easy portability inside a briefcase or carry-on bag. A minor design feature I liked is that the headset cord is not hardwired into the headset; instead there is a standard minijack socket and a separate cord. This setup eliminates one of my greatest annoyances about headsets that have to suffer the wear and tear of travel: sooner or later, the cord gets frayed internally—usually at the point of greatest stress, where it enters the headset housing—and you have to replace the entire headset. With the C820s, however, you can just replace the cord and continue on. Jabra’s intent is also to let you use this feature to hook up the headset to the brand’s line of wireless adapters.

I tried the C820s on a 5â''hour plane flight, on the New York City subway, and on the streets of Brooklyn. It did an excellent job of eliminating background noise in all three environments; in fact, once I gained the ability to turn it on and off at will, I was surprised by just how noisy the constant hum of traffic was in the city.

The headset is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and it was first-rate in actually letting me listen to music, too! The dynamic range of the headphones is very good, and I was able to enjoy the subtlest strains of Mozart and the energetic rushes of the Pixies with equal fidelity. If you’re doing a lot of traveling—or just happen to work in an office with noisy air-conditioning—the Jabra C820s headset is worth checking out.

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