The relentless hum of bus tires and airplane engines will make you yearn for silence. Noise-canceling headphones use built-in mics to listen to your environment, then generate audio waves that nuke background clamor. These ’phones offer increasing levels of control over what reaches your eardrums.
The Panasonic RP-HD605N headphones tap two sets of mics to power three tiers of noise canceling. Tap a button on the right ear cup to choose what you block (or hear) in a given scene. Use the lowest setting to catch both your podcast and a gate announcement, the middle to zap train engines, and the top for sweet, total solitude.
The rotating dial on the right ear cup of the Microsoft Surface Headphones lets you toggle through 13 noise-altering modes. On the lightest, four microphones amplify ambient sound to help you hear crucial notices, such as subway delays. At the highest, a second set of four mics works to eliminate hubbub across the entire audible spectrum.
Onboard microphones, plus the GPS in your smartphone, allow the Sony WH-1000XM3 to determine your current activity and environment, then automatically select the level of sound control. The pair cranks to the topmost of 20 settings when you’re on a plane, but it has a lighter touch when you’re walking and need to be aware of a speeding bus.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 Transportation issue of Popular Science.