Is it a GIMMICK?

The history of mankind has also been a history of gimmickry. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to the incredible spectrum of gimmicks from Orgone Box Therapy through Halogenated Coffee.

Audiophilia (that sounds dirty) is hardly exempt. Coming from a generation that thinks of “cables and interconnects” as “wires” or “patch cords”, I can get the materials science aspect, but my hard-boiled egghead brain balks at cryogenic treatments and bias currents supplied by batteries connected to nothing.

Loudspeakers in funny shapes, oddly placed horns, the Bose 901 direct-reflecting speaker sound. And so on. I’ve got a friend, @bret who recently joined here, and he was the one who first let me hear a pair of Bose Noise Canceling headphones.

Later, when prices came down, I grabbed a cheap imitation, Sony MDR-NC5 headphones.
image I still use these on occasion. If I’m near a noisy computer fan, or in a room with background noise they do make an improvement. The idea is they have a microphone by each ear and they create an inverse soundwave to ambient noise in addition to playing, for example music. You an also just put them on your head, flip the switch and quieten things down a bit.

But there is something decidedly odd about this technology.

IS IT A GIMMICK? Choose up to 3

  • It’s a GIMMICK!
  • It’s a FEATURE
  • I don’t care
  • I would definitely try this
  • :poop:

0 voters

Hey guys. It’s encouraged to put other headphone related gimmick stuff here too. Or comments to go with your votes!

Replying to my own post once again. I put a new battery in these phones last night. When you turn them on, there is a very slight white noise in addition to the active noise cancellation. I’m sure this helps to mask faint background also. With the phones not plugged into anything, the sound of my 44 gallon aquarium in the other room became almost inaudible.

Plugging the phones into an iPad and listening to some music I should note that turning on the active noise cancellation also amplifies the sound, probably 6 to 12 dB. It also tightens up the bass, so what Sony is doing here is also coupling a very modest headphone amplifier into the system. I think these phones cost me something like $59. They fold, are comfortable, and have adequate but unremarkable sound. With the added electronics, a lot is going on here for $59, and certainly no device will have trouble driving them.

Are you asking if active noise cancellation is a gimmick?

If so, I think it’s hard to say anything but “no” … it’s an extremely effective capability in it’s better incarnations and forms an entire sub-category of headphones.

Even the Bose QC20i, which are a non-sealing in-ear noise cancelling design, reduce background noise to a sufficient degree that I’ll wear them, switched on, when flying even if not actually listening to anything.

They’re the difference between arriving at my destination feeling fatigued and feeling normal.

The QC35ii or Sony MDR-1000X are even better at this, though both are much larger than what I prefer to carry for most flights.

The pilot-headphones that are sold with this technology are quite the boon for small-plane pilots too. Much more comfortable, more practical and a lot more intelligible than the classic, passive, designs.

Now, all of these devices are (currently) more effective at lower frequencies, but they can provide enough noise reduction to allow you to listen at significantly lower volume levels in noisy environments - which has obvious benefits for the longevity of one’s hearing as well as the onset of listening fatigue.

Sure, you could use a sealing-IEM for mechanical noise-isolation, but unless you’re going with a custom fit they’re generally a lot less comfortable - though they tend to sound better.

The “hiss” or “pressure” you feel with ANC engaged is an arifact of how they operate. They’re constantly generating sound … and they’re not perfect at creating/timing the inverse wave yet (may never be), but the residual noise is generally ~20+ dB lower than what they’re eliminating.

Random Active-Noise Cancellation trivia: Lotus (the car manufacturer) built a prototype Esprit Mk3 that had active noise cancellation to quiet engine noise in the cockpit. Never made it into production, presumably because most sports-car drivers tend to like listening to the engine note, but it was quite effective.


Thanks @torq

I first encountered noise cancellation in a private plane where the headphones did make a big difference. That was some years ago, and they hadn’t yet got the “comfortable” part down.

I looked up the phones you listed. I tend to like on-the-ear lightweight for travel rather than something big or something that is in my ear (except noise-reduction plugs). Any recommendations?

And yes, the point of this topic is to put forth phones and technologies that may or may not be gimmicks. Horn speakers built into a wall aren’t gimmicks, but they aren’t often encountered. So someone might think they are.

The nuraphones fit into this category since they’re some of the most unique/strange headphones I’ve seen or used in… well, ever lol. They combine in-ear design and over-ear design into a single pair of headphones with a driver for each to separate the highs from lows. They utilize active Tesla cooling vents that use the pumping from the bass driver to suck cool air in and push hot air out. They measure your hearing sensitivity for each frequency to create a custom sound profile tuned specifically to your hearing capabilities…

Needless to say I was quite skeptical about how well this would all work in practice but what convinced me they may be worth a try is the team who created the headphones has a solid pedigree (PhD’s in sound engineering, ear surgeon, bio-engineer, etc.) and they had a 30 day money-back guarantee so I figured why the hell not – if I didn’t like the nuraphones I’d just return them. So far after a weeks use all of these technologies seem to be working as advertised to create a unique and pleasurable listening experience unlike anything else I’ve tried before.


There are so many things I’ve just never seen or tried. Please do a review of these after you’ve had them long enough to solidify your opinion.

I don’t get on with on-the-ear designs, in any form, to the point that I don’t even bother listening to them/trying them out anymore, so I can’t give you any recommendations there.

The QC35ii and WH-1000XM2 (successor to the MDR-1000X) fold down to be pretty small and are both very light and comfortable, but they’re never going to be as small as on-ear units.

The QC20i just rest in the opening to the ear and don’t actually seal or go into the ear canal the way an IEM would. I can literally forget they are there, even on a long flight. No itchiness or pressure or other irritation. I imagine if they did seal they’d be even more impressive from an isolation perspective, but as it is the noise reduction they provide is significant and well worthwhile.

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OK, ok, with the used Sennheiser MM-450’s I can see the active noise reduction technology has come around to the not a gimmick level. Not that I LIKE these phones, but they are really nice for listening to late-night radio or satellite radio before going to sleep. They cut the air conditioning or other ambient noise, and the low level sssshhhhhh of the technology is restful.

I do like that I can cut the volume way down on the program material. And they’re not in my ears like an IEM

Try and get to a local Best Buy and listen to the Bose QC35 and Sony WH-1000XM2 as @Torq mentioned. Even just a generation before (e.g. Bose QC25) active noise cancellation was “very good”. But this latest generation in those 2 headphones in particular elevated that to a new level and now the ANC is what I consider “outstanding”. Like it will blow you away when you hear them in person. Also, Bose somehow managed to absolutely nail form factor and earpads. Those earpads are amazing in being fully over-ear so your ears shouldn’t touch the sides or back, yet the size of the cups are no bigger than HD6x0 size. For frequent air travelers those headphones should definitely be in consideration and are not a gimmick at all, they are legitimately great sounding headphones that deliver as promised in nullifying loud, constant, low frequency droning noise like that from plane engines.


I’ve done some serious listening to “noise canceling” headphones and I think musical canceling would be more appropriate.

Now try that again with open backed headphones while flying in an airplane…

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I have the Sony M2s, and they are the most comfortable headphones I own. I can wear them for 3, 4, or 5 hours without even noticing. The sound is a bit boxy (closed) and matches the price, but they are a huge leap over my now dead and discarded Bose QC15s.

Horses for courses.

I think I have a mental allergy to Bose, dating back to the 901 speakers. I know it’s irrational.

Did you use either Bose QC35 or Sony 1000x? I’ve heard some really poor noise cancellation implementations and those 2 are the only ones I feel comfortable giving a full recommendation. Also, not sure what you mean by “serious” listening, but I would never recommend people use noise cancellation if they are trying to do focused critical listening like they would with HD800 in a desktop setup. However, for noise subways, buses, airplanes, etc. the noise cancellation is good enough to let you peacefully enjoy music without having to blast your ears with volume.

The Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon headphones can be used to make calls on the smartphone. A mic is located at the top of the cable near the headset. 25 ohms / mini plug compatible. Kind of gimmicky😀

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The Sennheiser MM-450x does that also, but the mic is located on the headphone cup. People on the other end tell me it sounds pretty good. I have started to think of them as adjunct to the iPhone - but they fail because they do not support AAC.

Until everything works seamlessly it’s a bit gimmicky. My Dad thought color TV was a gimmick until the price of a set got down the the price of a black and white set. (Yes, both television and photographs used to be in “black and white”).

Hmm I usually consider something to be ‘gimmicky’ if it’s engineered to attract attention without adding any practical use or functionality, regardless of price. Some gimmicks don’t increase the price of the product yet are designed to increase mainstream appeal so more overall units will be sold which is why I don’t think price is necessarily relevant to whether or not something can be classified as a gimmick. If price was relevant to whether or not something was considered a gimmick then you’d need to include all high-end sports cars, paintings/other works of art, high-end headphones, etc. as being gimmicks.

In other words: if color TV was a gimmick it’d still be a gimmick regardless of whether it was more/less expensive than a black and white TV. Since color TV is obviously adding new functionality it’s hard for me to classify it as being a gimmick at any price range. With that being said, I do remember reading about the plastic covers that were placed over monochrome screens that made the top third blue (for the sky), the middle portion red (to simulate skin color?) and the bottom third green (for grass)… this I would definitely consider a gimmick lol.


The Phillips flat-panels that project ambient color backwards onto the wall are definitely in the gimmick category too:

I’m surprised they are still around. (And the small curved screen flat panels from a couple years ago were gimmicks too; curves make sense on very large screens.)

AHA! I like your response. The key here was that “My Dad thought color TV was a gimmick”. Dad was born in 1928. He grew up on radio, and saw black and white TV from its beginning. In about 1960 - 1965, as networks started to put some shows in color, when we visited people who bought color sets, you got an everyday comparison of B&W vs Color. That first color wasn’t so good, and a lot of shows overdid things with garish clothes and sets. That’s when Dad’s opinion was formed.

Electric cars? not a gimick. Tesla’s TWO 17 inch screens for controls? Hmmmmmm.

Works of art, particularly paintings? not engineered, except in some cases - such as the paintings that use perspective tricks to radically change based on your position relative to them. Usually a gimmick, but not saying that it could not be incorporated with high art.

Now the Cup of Tantalus from my favorite Klein Bottle site, surely a gimmick!

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