I have a weird love affair with noise cancelling headphones. Specifically, the ones from Bose, but that’s just because I haven’t tried any others. Plus, I’ve used Bose products for years, so I’ve built incredible brand loyalty.
The ability to cancel out noise isn’t all that impressive on its own. For that, I could just buy earplugs or industrial earmuffs. It’s the ability to control what I hear: I can decide what audio I listen to and how loud I play it. I can also elect to hear nothing. With normal headphones, the same is true, but the lack of a noise cancelling layer is a significant disadvantage. On airplanes, I have to crank up the headphones so the engines are drowned out by music, which can’t be good for my ears. Noise cancellation dramatically helps my focus when working, because the distractions are limited to things I control, not external variables.
That’s not to say noise cancellation has its flaws. When walking in a city, vehicles and people disappear entirely if they’re out of my visual range. When working in an office or at home, I can be spooked by people tapping on my shoulder. I can also miss entire conversations. And finally, when making calls, it’s weird to not be able to hear yourself.
Noise cancellation overall gives me a sense of control over the world I wouldn’t otherwise have. It adds an active element to an otherwise passive sense.