Noise Cancelling –
Being a simple product with the sole intention of blocking noise, the effectiveness of the QuietOn’s over a more conventional foam plug hinges upon the effectiveness of their active noise cancellation (ANC). To describe that in a little more detail, the earbuds sample noise in the environment using inbuilt microphones and produce an opposing noise to reduce the volume of external noise or cancel it out entirely. Generally speaking, active noise cancelling headphones work best with repetitive low-frequency noises making them perfect for activities such as air travel, sleeping and lawn work. However, a lot of ANC devices really struggle with higher frequency noise, failing to effectively cancel out voices and higher tones. Some see this as a positive, allowing users to hear important announcements during travel, though in many circumstances, fully sealed passively isolating in-ears can create a more noise free listening experience than an active noise cancelling headphone. The QuietOn’s are quite interesting in that they combine the traits of both, cancelling out low frequency droning while blocking higher frequency noise with their sealed design.
Of course, in real world usage, the effectiveness of an ANC system is heavily reliant on the manufacturers particular implementation of the technology; Bose and Sony’s exceptional noise cancelling systems both do a terrific job at cancelling all noise, but a lot of noise cancelling headphones, especially cheaper ones, are barely functional at all. So I was nervous about the QuietOn’s given that they are a relatively new company and that a lot of products on Kickstarter simply don’t deliver. Interestingly, my unit actually came with no charge, allowing me to test the earplugs with active noise cancellation disabled (since there are no buttons or controls to manually disable it) and assess the effectiveness of the actual ANC.
As basic earplugs, the QuietOn’s have a fully sealed design that partially fills the outer ear. With comply foam ear tips, they isolate just a little less than 3M earplugs despite their more ear filling design. And charging the earplugs up using the included case revealed pretty decent active noise cancelling too; I’ve found the QuietOn’s to provide a pleasing silence and their implementation of noise cancelling technology is effective and well-judged for the device’s intended uses. In particular, the QuietOn’s ambient noise detecting microphones are placed within the sound tubes rather than externally like most ANC headsets. This is similar to the approach used on Bose headphones though those supplement this with an additional external microphone. Though this design, the QuietOn’s manage to effectively sample and cancel noise and as a result of their internal microphone design, they don’t pick up wind noise or noise when sleeping on the side. By comparison, both my Bose QC20’s and QC25’s struggled with wind noise and produced a loud fizz when the external microphones rubbed against a surface. I’ve found the earplugs to pair really well with the foam stuffed Sony Hybrid isolation tips which provide a really nice seal and isolate noticeably more than regular silicone tips. I took the earplugs on a long train ride and a run along the highway with these tips installed and the earplugs did a fine job attenuating horns and the squealing of train wheels while cancelling the constant drone of distant traffic and air conditioners. Compared to the Campfire Audio Jupiter, which is probably the most isolating earphone I’ve used, the QuietOn’s provided similar overall isolation. They do struggle to block midrange frequencies, voices are attenuated but remain audible while high and low-frequency noise is practically silenced. I’m not sure whether this was intentional on QuietOn’s behalf, but if you’re looking to block out voices, a regular earplug may actually do a better job. On the contrary, the QuietOn’s hold a notable advantage lowering the intensity of low-frequency noise while retaining the strong high-frequency attenuation of a high-quality traditional earplug.
As for the downsides, when their internal cells do run dry, they are reduced to basic earplugs; in fact, they’re actually less isolating and less comfortable than regular dollar store 3M plugs. The QuietOn’s also produce a noticeable noise when active though it’s a soft, low-frequency whoosh rather than hiss. I doesn’t draw too much attention, I actually found it quite soothing when studying, reading and writing and the noise is easily drowned out when in a louder environment.
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