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I tried earbuds with the best ANC and almost got hit by a bus
I am not much of a consumer of high-end earbuds with fancy features like ultra-advanced Active Noise Cancellation. My daily drivers are the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, which don’t feature ANC at all. And while I’ve used ANC headphones before, nothing I’ve ever tested comes even close to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which I tried during and after the launch event in NYC.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one surprised by the noise cancellation in these true wireless earbuds. We were all in awe during the official demo. Bose claims these feature the “world’s best noise cancellation.” These things are insanely good at blocking external noise, and I can tell the technology has come a long way. But what happens once you take something like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 out of a controlled environment and into the real world? Is there such a thing as “too good” Active Noise Cancellation? I believe so.
Bose claims the QuietComfort Earbuds 2 feature the world's best noise cancellation.
We can assume most users haven’t experienced expensive premium wireless earbuds with class-leading ANC. As with anything else, though, such technologies will begin to become more ubiquitous and affordable with time. Your next headphones might have amazing ANC, too. You’ll want to hear the experiences of another excellent ANC rookie before you go out there with your shiny new set; it can straight up get dangerous!
First thoughts on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2
Let’s start with my first thoughts on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. These wireless buds are something else. They actually adapt to every person by sending sound waves into your ear and picking them back up using the integrated mic. Each earbud will then take a measurement of your ear canal shape and fine-tune the sound for you. This all happens when you put each earbud on, and is locally processed by the unit’s integrated chip.
Aside from fine-tuning the sound to your specific ears, Bose also takes advantage of four microphones to accomplish what it claims to be the world’s best ANC. By the way, this technology also isolates your voice when on a call, helping you communicate better on the go.
Regardless of where I tested them, I felt like I was in a silent chamber.
With all that in mind, does the technology work? Sure. These things are amazing. I used them on the loud streets of NYC and San Diego, on an airplane, on the bus, and more. Regardless of where I tested them, I felt like I was in a silent chamber. This made anything I was playing sound more isolated and clear, with no external noise-creating distractions. Because I couldn’t hear anything around me, this meant I could also enjoy music without pumping the volume all the way up, even in loud environments.
Nothing is perfect, and some noise will filter through, but in my experience, it has been minimal. Construction machinery will sound like it’s far away, even if it’s being used within half a block. And my wife yelling at me with frustration because I can’t hear her will sound like some far-off hum.
In a way, the Active Noise Cancellation on these earbuds was so good that it almost felt alienating. Using them will take some getting used to.
Can Active Noise Cancellation be too good?
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and all the amazing features are exciting, but the awe wears off after using them for a short while. At least, that’s the case for an ANC rookie like me (and likely the many new users who will start experiencing significantly good noise cancellation soon).
For starters, the experience is a bit odd. It’s a rather unnatural feeling. I feel like I’m in a soundproof room when I’m wearing them. We’re simply not used to hearing so little. Not to mention some outside noise is always good to have.
It's a rather unnatural feeling, we're simply not used to hearing so little.
Suddenly, I have a hard time hearing anyone trying to talk to me. My wife is starting to hate these headphones, too. She’ll often have to tap my shoulder or jump in front of me to catch my attention. Then I’ll have to take a few seconds to turn off Quiet Mode, or pull the earbud out. This can get a bit annoying. An air hostess also had to grab me by the shoulder and shake me to wake me up so I could store some of my belongings before landing. By the way, I also missed most of the announcements during the flight, as I couldn’t hear a thing going on. Even the engine noises were silenced.
Awkward moments with other people are the least of my worries, though. I actually found myself in possibly dangerous situations a few times. The most concerning moment happened right after walking out of the building with a set of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. You know how wild the streets of NYC can get. While it was nice to tune out all the noise pollution, at one point, I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, when suddenly a bus zoomed by right in front of me. It was a scary situation, as I never heard it coming. Thankfully, I always wait for my turn, and I was in a safe spot.
I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, when suddenly a bus zoomed by right in front of me. I never heard it coming.
Of course, not hearing other sources of noise like cyclists, people walking, animals, etc., will also be an issue.
With great sound comes great responsibility: Using ANC safely
I can already see some of you yelling at me in the comments for being irresponsible and leaving ANC on in such dangerous environments. The truth is, this is a rookie mistake. I’m not conscious of when and where to turn ANC on or off. There’s also the fact I was excited to experience such advanced Active Noise Cancellation. I was simply leaving it on at all times. It took no time to figure out this is not the way to go.
You should definitely not block out all sound at all times. In fact, it would be smarter to rarely do so. This level of ANC should be reserved for the times you really want to relax and zone out. Probably while working at the office, or for media consumption in a safe place like your room. Using it on planes is fine as long as you can see the announcements and seatbelt lights. Turning off ANC actually doesn’t take long, as you can tap and hold on the earbuds to do so. Removing them works just as well.
You should definitely not block out all sound at all times. In fact, it would be smarter to rarely do so.
A common place where people like using Active Noise Cancellation is on the bus or train. I like being aware of my surroundings when around strangers, though, so I’ve switched to using transparency mode while riding public transportation.
The good news is that the technology that makes good ANC can also make transparency mode more efficient. In the case of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, it’s “Aware Mode.” As long as the music volume isn’t too loud, you can pretty much hear anything when this setting is on. Of course, another solution is to only use one earbud at a time.
If you’re interested in knowing more about these buds, keep an eye out for our sister site, SoundGuys.com. They will take care of all the complex testing and give you a full in-depth and objective review of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2.