Mobile Mondays: Work Better in a Noise-Free Environment

Welcome to Small Biz Go Mobile’s newest feature, Mobile Mondays. Every Monday we’ll be bringing you the latest tips, tricks and gadgets to help you better do business while on-the-go. If you’re anything like us, you’re just as likely to be working from home as you are at the airport or the coffee shop. But none of these places are ideal work environments, are they? Maybe you’re dealing with screaming kids, people talking loudly on their phones, or even just the background noise. When you’re trying to get important work done on-the-go, you need to create a productive atmosphere and reduce distractions. That’s why this week we’re taking a look at a small investment that could make a big impact on your mobile office life: noise canceling headphones.

For the past few months I’ve been evaluating noise-canceling headphone technology, trying to find the ideal balance between usefulness and portability. I’ve tested headphones at home, in coffee shops, in airports, and even on New York City’s brutally loud subway system. For me, the pair of headphone that came out on top are Phiaton’s PS 20 NC earphones.

If you’re not familiar with in-ear monitor style headphones, allow me to bring you up to speed. Unlike, say, your iPod’s earphones which rest against your ear canal, headphones like the Phiaton PS 20 NCs contain silicone ear buds that you actually insert like ear plugs. While this gives a more pleasant sound at lower volume than your iPod earphones, that fact alone isn’t sufficient to block most noise—indeed, there are plenty of in-ear monitors on the market that sound great but only in quiet environments.

The PS 20 NC earphones include several sizes of silicone buds, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not they will fit. People with both large and small ear canals should be able to find a size that will comfortably fit their ears. And speaking of comfort, here’s another great reason to start thinking about these ‘phones: you can listen to music at significantly lower volumes than you’re used to.

The PS 20 NC’s include a small rectangular box along the wire containing the battery-powered (AAA, included) noise-canceling tech. You simply turn on the switch, and Phiaton’s noise-canceling technology is activated. Small microphones in the ear pieces detect external noise and the system actively responds to noise in your environment. That may sound complicated, but the result isn’t: near silence when listening to music in most environments. I found myself happily writing on trains and in loud coffee shops without worry while wearing the PS 20 NCs completely oblivious to the world around me. Thankfully, when I did need to interact with other human beings, the PS 20 NC’s brought a great feature for me: a mute button on the control box that turned off all sound and allowed to quickly insert myself into a conversation and then return back to work.

Out of all the earphones I tried, there was no question—available for $129 at Amazon, the Phiaton PS 20 NCs were the most comfortable and best-sounding earphones that can still be considered affordable. Sure, cheaper models exist. I tried out the $65 Audio-Technica ANC23 earphones as well. Unfortunately, while the price, sound quality, and noise-cancellation were all good, I found them somewhat uncomfortable. Even trying the different sizes of ear pieces included my ears always hurt after more than half an hour of use. Your mileage may vary (they are solid earphones at an attractive price) but for me being able to wear (and work!) with earphones in for hours was an important consideration.

Why earphones and not, say, a nice pair of headphones? After all, over-the-ear headphones like the fantastic and affordable Audio-Technica ANC7 or the incredibly well-reviewed (though pricey!) Bose QuietComfort offer more complete blocking of outside sound. The thing is, I already carry enough gear: my laptop, external hard drives, a smartphone or tablet, chargers. The list goes on. With a small felt carrying pouch and weighing almost nothing, throwing the Phiaton’s in my bag was trivial. As a result, for the first time I found myself carrying, and using, my noise-canceling headphones everywhere. And once you start using them, you never want to be caught without them. The technology is addictive because it works. So if you’re aiming to reduce some of the stress of working in unusual environments, look no further than the Phiaton PS 20 NCs.