Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q There's a lot of disruption in my office at the moment and I'm finding it hard to concentrate. One of my colleagues suggested that I wear noise-cancelling headphones but I don't know anything about them or where to begin looking for them. Can you help?
A Yes. Noise-cancelling headphones are common and, while more expensive than other headphones, are more reasonably priced than when they were a new, dazzling technology.
By that I mean they start at around €50 and can be bought in any main superstore like Harvey Norman, PC World or DID Electrical.
Sony is generally the brand with most variety in noise-cancelling headphones, meaning they have budget, mid-tier and premium models.
Philips also operates in the budget space, while Sennheiser and Bose have some accomplished sets at the high end of the market.
Philips has a basic set of wired headphones (SHL3850) with noise-cancelling technology for €55 (Curry's), but I'd caution against them. They sit 'on' your ear as opposed to around it, meaning that they don't really block out that much external noise.
The best value set right now, in my view, is Sony's ZX770 pair (€100 from PC World, below). They have nice soft leather for comfort and surround your ear, meaning most of the external noise is cut out.
As with most things, the quality goes up the more you spend.
For example, the best noise-cancelling headphones out there right now are Sony's WH1000X (Mark II). They're incredibly comfortable, have great audio quality and cut out all external din. But they cost €349.
These are almost matched by Bose's QuietComfort 35 set (€379 from Harvey Norman) although the Bose headphones are not quite as comfortable to wear over long time periods.
Personally, that's a price I'm willing to pay because I use headphones every day for exactly the purpose you mention: getting rid of disruptive noise around me in the office, on the street and even (sometimes) at home.
I also travel about once a month and find noise-cancelling headphones to be the single most valuable travel accessory available. They provide an absolute oasis of calm when all around seems to be in chaos. However, I'm more sensitive to noise disruption than most.
If you're not familiar with how noise-cancelling headphones work, the whole thing is quite clever.
In plain English, the headphones measure the sound around you and are then able to turn the specific audio frequencies back on one another, thus 'cancelling' out the noise to your ear. It's a little like neutralising a bad smell with an air freshener, except rather than just replacing the stink with 'pine scent' or 'sea breeze', it chemically dilutes the original smell, at least as far as your senses go.
They're usually (but not always) wireless, too, meaning they'll work with any phone, tablet or laptop. (If you want to use them with something that doesn't have Bluetooth, like an old iPod, hi-fi or PC, most of them also have 3.5mm ports so that you can physically connect them to the machine using a normal lead).
In short, I'd highly recommend getting a pair: it will change your daily experience, do wonders for your sense of calm and probably boost your productivity.
RECOMMENDATION: Sony ZX770 (€100 from PC World, pictured)
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Two to Try
OnePlus 6 €519, OnePlus.com)
OnePlus phones offer very high-level specifications at mid-range prices. The new OnePlus 6 has a 6.3-inch screen that almost stretches edge to edge, 6GB of Ram and up to 256GB of storage. It also has dual cameras on the back and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Its main drawback is that you can only get one direct from its website (oneplus.com) because no Irish operators will range it.
Huawei Watch 2 (€370, Currys)
While they haven't exactly sold like wildfire, smartwatches are now quite common. Indeed, Apple's Watch is the bestselling watch in the world. In Android world, it's a lot more fragmented and modest. Huawei's Watch 2 is one of the best you can buy, although it's really only advised for those who are really into their gadgets. It's also very much a 'bloke' device as it's very, very bulky. Pairing it with your Huawei (or Samsung) phone, you can get all your notifications and a variety of watch faces.