The German supermarket chain Aldi has been running in Australia for 8 years now . Their standard practice for a long time has been to offer regular special deals on a few items of consumer electronics every week, my chocolate fridge is one thing I bought from Aldi .
Today Aldi have started selling Noise Canceling Headphones . These headphones are badged by Bauhn – but that name is apparently applied to random products from cheap manufacturers, it may be an Aldi name that is applied to stuff that they sell. The headphones cost $69AU which is really cheap. But the deal will probably end in less than a week when stock runs out.
Noise canceling headphones can be used in server rooms and other noisy environments. Every company that has a server room should buy a few sets. One of the features of noise-canceling is that it works best on low frequencies and on regular sounds – it specifically doesn’t block human voice well. In some noisy environments it will be easier to hear people talk if you wear such headphones!
Noise canceling headphones are also very useful to people who are on the autism spectrum and other people who get more annoyed by noise pollution than average people. I have been wearing my Bose headphones on public transport and when walking around in the city, this not only stops traffic noise but it also helps to avoid people thinking that I want to talk to them.
The first picture shows me wearing the Bauhn NC headphones, it’s from the right to show the controls for the built-in MP3 player. I have not yet tested the MP3 functionality. It appears that as the controls are one power button, buttons for next/previous track, and for controlling the volume. This is fairly poor for MP3 functionality, ideally you would want to have a display to see a list of tracks, maybe have directories to store files, etc. I guess this could be a convenient feature on occasion, but you wouldn’t buy the headphones for the MP3 functionality.
The next two pictures show a comparison of the Bauhn headset with the Bose QC-15 headset that I bought last year .
The cases of the Bauhn and Bose devices are almost exactly the same size and of a very similar shape, the Bose case is tapered and indented and also has a finer weave on the cloth covering – it looks much nicer. Both devices come with an adapter for an airline socket and with a detachable cable. They also both have pouches attached to the inside of the case with velcro. But the Bauhn headphones come with an adapter for the 6.5mm TRS connector which could be convenient if you want to plug them in to a larger amplifier, the basic connector is 3.5mm in both cases. The Bauhn device uses a standard TRS connector at the headphone end while the Bose QC-15 use a special connector that matches the shape of the headset and which has a TRRS plug (to cater for the high/low volume switch), so it seems that a damaged Bauhn cable could be replaced cheaply while a replacement Bose cable would have to be purchased from Bose (presumably at great expense and delay). The Bauhn case also has a velcro attached pocket for storing business cards (or maybe a name tag or something).
The supplied cable for the Bauhn is described as being 5 feet long – which isn’t quite long enough to reach a tower PC that is sitting on the floor. The Bose has a cable that is about a foot longer (maybe 6 feet total), but due to the non-standard connector you can’t replace it. I presume that I could easily buy a 4 meter cable for the Bauhn headphones, but I could of course buy an extension cable to use with the Bose.
Bose advertise the QC-15 headphones as having 35 hours of battery life from a single AAA battery. Aldi advertise the Bauhn headset as having 5 hours of battery life when NC is turned on – and they use two AAA batteries. It’s widely regarded that rechargeable batteries don’t last as long as the batteries used for estimating the battery life (which presumably are the most expensive long-life batteries available). I’ve found a single rechargeable AAA battery to last well over 5 hours in my Bose headphones, so it seems that battery life is considerably worse for the Bauhn device.
One feature of the Bauhn device is that it can be used without any batteries for playing external music. The Bose headphones can’t be used at all without a battery. So while the Bauhn will use the batteries faster it will at least be usable when the batteries run out. But if you are buying headphones for the purpose of avoiding noise then the Bose headphones are simply better.
The Bose headphones have significantly deeper ear wells than the Bauhn – about 23mm vs 18mm. If your ears stick out more than 18mm (as mine apparently do) then this is a good reason for choosing Bose.
The Bose headphones are a tighter fit, the spring that pushes the ear-pieces together is stronger. But they have better padding so this doesn’t cause me any discomfort. Also the Bose headphones have better passive noise reduction due to having a more snug fit around the ears. I’ve worn my Bose headphones on a flight from the US to Australia with hardly a break and they were quite comfortable – I would never want to do that with the Bauhn headphones.
I tested the Bose and Bauhn products against three noise scenarios, external music, an air-conditioner, and a car engine.
The Bose headphones made good reductions of the noise from the external music (Numb by Linkin Park) and the air-conditioner. The Bauhn headphones did little to stop Linkin Park and was not very effective against the air-conditioner noise. I think that this is largely due to the lack of passive noise reduction, the air-conditioner in question makes little vibration noise and the sound of rushing air is generally immune to active noise cancellation. Both headphones were very effective when in a car with the engine idling. The engine noise of vehicles seems to fall in an ideal frequency range for active cancellation.
When listening to Youtube music played on my Thinkpad I could not notice any quality difference between the two sets of headphones. I did notice that the Bose headphones seemed to have a greater response in the higher frequency range, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one set is better than the other. Maybe if I was listening to FLAC0 encoded music that I had personally ripped from a CD then I would notice a difference. But for most people the Bauhn music quality should be good enough.
The Bose product is solidly designed, while the Bauhn product appears cheap in every way. Opening the battery compartment on the Bauhn headphones is difficult and if you do it wrong you could easily break the lid off, I expect that every set of Bauhn headphones that is used by children will be broken in a small amount of time – but it should still be fully functional with a broken lid. The matt finish of the Bose headphones should hide minor scratches much better than the shiny Bauhn headphones. The Bauhn headphones also have lower quality plastic parts, it appears that the molds used were designed cheaply and without adequate care to prevent marking the final product.
The design flaws that affect usage of the Bauhn product are the shallow ear wells, the poor fit of the cushions around the ears (which is probably mostly due to a weak spring pressing the ear cups to the wearer’s head), and the battery compartment lid which is difficult to open and appears prone to breakage. The other flaws are all cosmetic.
I wonder whether the Bauhn product was made by one of the big name manufacturers who deliberately reduced the quality to avoid competing with their more expensive products. It seems that the major flaws could have been corrected at design time with almost no increase in manufacturing costs.
If you can afford the Bose® QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones then they are really worth the extra expense, I have no regrets at all about spending about $320US (including tax) on my Bose QC-15. The Bauhn product is good for when you want something cheap, for example a set to be used in a server room, or for the use of children. I bought a Bauhn headset for a friend who is a pilot, he spent $1,100 on a noise-canceling headset for his plane but had never got around to buying one for recreational use – I expect that he will allow his children to use his new Bauhn headphones, if they get broken it’s only a $69 expense.
The second cheapest NC headphones I’ve seen on offer in Australia is Harvey Norman selling Phillips HN-110 Noise Canceling Headphones for $100AU .
Amazon sells Philips HN 110 Folding Noise-Canceling Headphones for $50US but doesn’t seem to ship them outside the US (at least not to Australia).
JB Hifi also has some NC headphones on sale in Australia , but they are more expensive at $219 for AKG and $319 for Sennheiser. Also the models they sell are on-ear which means that they will inherently have very little passive noise reduction – and will also annoy anyone who doesn’t like having their ears squashed.
If I was buying NC headphones for my own use and didn’t want to spend $300US then I would either buy the Philips HN 110 Folding Noise-Canceling Headphones from Amazon and get a friend in the US to post them to me or I would buy them from Harvey Norman.
But the Bauhn product is good if you want cheap headphones to stop engine noise and give reasonable quality when playing music.
-  http://aldi.com.au/
-  http://etbe.coker.com.au/2010/02/28/chocolate-fridge/
-  http://aldi.com.au/au/html/offers/2827_12539.htm
-  http://etbe.coker.com.au/2009/12/20/bought-the-qc-15/
-  http://www.harveynorman.com.au/product/1255509334278/phillips-full-size-noise-reduction-headphones
-  http://www.jbhifi.com.au/portable/mp3-players/head-phones/noise-cancelling/