Noisy Neighbours Now Negated

The bane of my peaceful, library-like existence has been my upstairs neighbours’ tendency to acquire ever larger and more powerful audio equipment. Four-footed woofers I can handle, but the electronic kind, thumping through walls and ceilings, I can live without.

Why all the thumping? Well, [caution: physics ahead] when sound waves pass through porous materials (like those that make up stud walls), they are only absorbed if the material is thicker or wider than the wavelengths of the sounds in question. Short wavelength high-pitched sounds (at normal volumes) are easily absorbed and deadened by ordinary walls, but longer wavelength bass notes pass through with little impedance.

As I result I have become very familiar with the baselines of popular tunes from the 50’s and 60’s (as well as more Phil Collins than I care to say). Don’t get me wrong, these people’s use of stereo equipment is by no means unreasonable, it is simply an unfortunate fact of physics that my walls transmit those “good vibrations” without the accompanying falsettos. In fact it may be my desire for quiet that is unreasonable in this dinful age. However, I have recently learned that what technology gives, technology can take away.

Enter the noise-cancelling headphones. I don’t know how they do it, but these headphones can tell the difference between ambient and musical noise and then filter out the former to enhance one’s enjoyment of the latter. They are designed and marketed for the business traveller who wishes to escape the noise of public transportation, but obviously they are perfect for the serious reader who doesn’t want her literary world to be intruded upon by the raucous real one.

The headphones I bought (Sennheiser PXC250) specialize in cutting out precisely those tones that I find most annoying, namely the thumping ones. (Higher tones are significantly muted, but not entirely eliminated.) As an added bonus, they also cut out the hum of the various appliances that form the only slightly less annoying background noise of the modern household. And they work whether music is playing or not, so if I’m not in the mood for music, I can still cut out the thump and hum, and revel in the smooth, quiet hiss of the ‘phones. All I can say is, Hallelujah!

There is a slight catch: The headphones require batteries, which are sometimes located in an external pack, sometimes located in the earpieces. Both designs add some bulk and weight, which is unwelcome if you’re already carrying around an arsenal of battery-operated electronic gizmos, but for the aurally sensitive it is worth the hassle. Also, some users report a sense of pressure on the ears that they find unpleasant, but so far I haven’t had a problem with it. Finally, the higher-end brands can get pretty pricey; silence is golden indeed. My Sennheisers are reasonably priced, however, and the brand in general has a crisp, balanced sound that is perfect for classical (and not bad for the The Cure either).

So no more moldy oldies, no more six o’clock news, no more computer noise for that matter. Now, with the flick of a switch I can escape to the world between my ears and between the pages of a book. Aaaaahhhhhh…..


4 comments on “Noisy Neighbours Now Negated

  1. tony says:

    Delighted that you've found a solution. But it's too bad that it's necessary to resort to this kind of thing *in your own home* to avoid the unwanted sharings of neighbours.
    What a world!

  2. Sylvia says:

    Thanks. It's unfortunate that we don't build soundproof buildings here. It should be part of the building code, if only to avoid imposing private moments on unwilling audiences. I wish these headphones had been available when I was living in a university dorm!

  3. Cipriano says:

    I am impressed that you can listen to music at all while reading. I honestly think that this is a gift, and I wish that I could do it. When I am in the coffee shops (which is nearly 3/4's of my life) I am forced to, and somehow I “zone” it out, but when I am at home I simply cannot listen to music and read at the same time. In my years of experimentation I have found that there is only one CD that I do not mind doing this with. (It is really weird). For me, the best ambient-music-while-reading CD is the soundtrack for the movie “The Cider House Rules.” For some reason, the music does not distract my normally racing brain.

  4. Sylvia says:

    I don't read well with music either, but the headphones work even without music playing. Sweeeet.
    Being able to read in a moving vehicle, now that is a gift! Maps and air photos I can manage (with plenty of fresh air) but books… forget it.

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