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The silencers

March 25, 2007|Hugo Martin

Mark Twain once said that the less a man knows, the bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands. Although today's technology still can't eliminate the ear garbage emitted by such a highly paid blockhead, we have made great strides in reducing the ambient noise travelers endure on planes, trains and automobiles. Noise-canceling headphones don't muffle sound like a set of earplugs. They use internal microphones, circuitry and speakers that create an alternate sound to counteract incoming noise, thus canceling 50% to 70% of ambient sound. Sorry, this technology doesn't work on screaming infants or snoring seatmates.

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BARGAIN BASEMENT

First look: The Sony MDR-NC6 is one of the least expensive noise-canceling headphones on the market. With a plastic frame, an external compartment for a AAA battery and speakers that lie right on the ears, these are the Yugos of noise-canceling headphones.

Likes and yikes: The frames do not fold to a convenient travel size, and the ear padding offers almost no passive noise reduction. Even worse, the active noise reduction system -- the internal electronics -- creates a hiss that is almost as annoying as the outside noise.

The 411: $52, available at electronics stores.

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THE REAL DEAL

First look: Philips has a legacy of reproducing great sound and with these headphones -- model HN110 -- has begun to build a reputation for eliminating bad sound. Meet the Honda of noise-canceling headphones: efficient, reliable and worth the price.

Likes and yikes: The headphones are collapsible and fit into a stylish leatherette pouch. The metal frame is sturdy, and the comfortable ear cups surround the ear, muffling more sound. If you have big ears, the small ear cups may be a tight fit.

The 411: $65, available at electronics stores.

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LUXE MUFFLER

First look: From the company that pioneered noise-canceling technology comes the Bose QuietComfort2 headphones, featuring soft frame padding and an ergonomic design for ultimate comfort. The noise-canceling technology, coupled with the soft ear cups, gives outside noise a one-two punch. If money is no object, these are the headphones for you.

Likes and yikes: The ear cups and the frame are so softly padded, you'll forget you're wearing headphones. Drawbacks: The QuietComfort2 won't let you hear music from an outside source unless the headphones are switched on. Then there is the eye-bulging price.

The 411: $299; (800) 999-2673, www.bose.com or at Bose stores, such as the Showcase Store at the Glendale Galleria.

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RITZY BUT RISKY

First look: The QuietComfort3 is the latest generation of Bose noise-canceling headphones. Compared with QuietComfort2, these are small, they're lighter and the speakers sit on the ears without padded ear cups.

Likes and yikes: The noise-canceling ability is not lost, despite the smaller size and the loss of ear padding. The drawbacks: this version costs $50 more and operates on a pullout battery that plugs into the wall to recharge. If you're like most travelers, you will forget that battery in a hotel room. Sans battery, these become expensive earmuffs.

The 411: $349; (800) 999-2673, www.bose.com

- Hugo Martin

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