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HEARD ON THE BEAT / IN ORANGE COUNTY

Irvine Company's Headphones Cancel Noise on Aircraft

June 17, 1996|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sony Trans Com, an Irvine company that makes airline entertainment systems, said it has begun selling high-tech headphones that cancel aircraft noise and still allow passengers to listen to movie soundtracks or music.

Sony Trans Com has already distributed about 50 sample copies of the headphones to airlines, which Sony hopes will buy the devices and offer them to first-or business-class passengers.

When the headphones are activated, "it sounds as if you're not in flight, as if the aircraft were sitting still," said Graham Macdonald, senior manager of marketing at Sony Trans Com, which has about 400 employees. "You can still hear the flight crew speak, and you can reduce the volume of [in-flight music or movies] and still hear comfortably," he said.

The headphones look and function like ordinary headphone sets, but erase the in-flight "white noise" by emitting inverse sound waves calibrated to cancel the low-frequency waves emanating from the aircraft.

A consumer version of the product, which could be used to cancel noise emitted by everything from freight trains to vacuum cleaners, will soon be available, Macdonald said. The noise-canceling headphones use one AA-size battery, but a version that takes its power directly from an outlet in the airline seat will be available in a few weeks, he said. So far, the company hasn't taken any orders for the devices, but Macdonald said they were only made available a few weeks ago.

The special headphones cost $70 to $90 each, compared to as little as 75 cents for ordinary in-flight headphones, which helps explain why Sony Trans Com doesn't expect airlines to buy the new headphones for passengers who fly coach.

Now if the company could only come up with a taste-canceling system for airline food.

Greg Miller covers high technology for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at greg.miller@latimes.com

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