The older I get, the more I appreciate noise-canceling (NC) headphones and earphones. And the more I use them, the more I wonder why I hadn’t hopped on this tech earlier. Being able to go into quiet mode at the flip of a switch feels like a superpower, and comes in handy for everyone from students cramming for finals to old fogies like me trying to catch a nap on a plane.
Bose and Sony both make top-notch NC headphones, but those cost about $300 and above. If you’re not yet overly particular about sound quality or simply don’t want to spend that much, Michigan-based Jam Audio has a perfectly serviceable option to get started with, in the form of its Out There headphones. And you can get a taste for as little as $43.
Yup. We’ve previously seen cheap NC options from TaoTronics and Anker. But Jam’s offering – which is listed at $70 on its own site – is just $43 on Amazon in the US.
The Out There set features clean circular lines and modern design elements, like brightly colored buttons and a speckled finish on the blue colorway. The plastic headband has a nice fabric cover, and the earcups have comfortable foam wrapped in matte faux leather.
It all comes together pretty nicely, even though these aren’t premium materials. The cups fold flat so they’re easy to pack, but these sadly don’t come with a case; I’d have liked an option to buy one for a little more money.
As you’d expect, these cans won’t blow you away with their sound quality, but they’re not bad. The sound stage is fairly narrow, and the sound profile leans into the bass and mids for the most part – and they lose out on a fair bit of detail among higher frequencies.
That makes these good for pop, rock, and electronica, but not so great for intricately arranged metal and classical records, live performances, or anything that encourages picking out individual instruments and voices. The good thing is that the Out There pair doesn’t ever sound strained – so at the very least, you won’t be subjected to audio distorting at high volumes or tinny treble.
The active noise cancellation (ANC) works moderately well: As with other inexpensive gear, it mostly works to cut out low-frequency sounds, so you can get a bit of relief from loud airplane cabins, being stuck in traffic, and ambient noise at offices and coffee shops. Of course, occasional high-pitched sounds, and some speech from close quarters will still come through. Living in India, I’ll take any sort of aural defense I can get to protect my ears from the constant barrage of sound coming from every direction while out in public.
The controls are easy enough to reach, and the headphones pair over Bluetooth fairly quickly and easily. Jam says you’ll get about 18 hours of playback on a single charge, which seems about right: I used these extensively on weekdays, leaving the ANC switch on along with a wireless connection to my laptop, and listening intermittently. I didn’t have to recharge until about two days passed.
I want ANC, what other products should I look at?
You actually have a bunch of options in this category, starting with budget offerings like this one from TaoTronics at $70, and Anker’s $100 Soundcore Space NC. At the higher end of the spectrum, you can consider Bose’s QC 35 II at $340, or two pairs from Sony that we loved: the
WH-1000MX2 at $298, and the more recent WH-1000MX3 at $349, which promises improved audio.
If you’re interested in earphones that are much smaller and more portable, take a look at Xiaomi’s USB-C set, which draws power from your phone’s charging port, or OVC’s H15 earphones, which plug into standard 3.5mm sockets. Both products are from Chinese brands and cost $50.
Who are these headphones for?
If you have long commutes or spend several hours a day sharing work or study spaces, ANC headphones are a must-have – and Jam’s Out There cans are a great choice for folks on a budget. I’d readily recommend this to students heading off to university, as well as people looking to make their bus and train rides just a little less stressful.
These headphones are a steal at $43, and I’d point you in their direction even if they cost a bit more, simply because of how often I’ve been grateful to be able to block out noise while braving big, bad cities.
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Published September 11, 2018 — 15:13 UTC