I’m the kind of person that needs silence in order to concentrate. Most kinds of background noise distract me, and the most distracting of all is the sound of people talking, particularly when it’s close to me. And I’m distracted like this all the time at work. I share an office with seven other people — most of whom are not programmers — and they frequently chat and laugh and make loud phone calls. Most days my concentration is broken every thirty minutes or so, which makes me unproductive and frustrated.
A few weeks ago I decided I had to do something about it. Many times on the web I’d seen programmers recommend the use of noise-cancelling headphones to block out background noise. This sounded like the way to go but I knew next to nothing about them. A bit of research was in order.
It turns out there are basically three types headphones:
- external full-size headphones;
- in-ear monitors (aka canalphones)
The best choice for blocking background noise while maintaining high sound quality and good portability are in-ear monitors (IEMs).
So the next step was to research which IEM model to buy. Here, Head-Fi.org was invaluable. Head-Fi is an audiophile forum devoted to headphones, earbuds, IEMs, and everything else audiophile. It contains a cornucopia of expertise and information. I read numerous discussions and reviews, and eventually a particular model stood out: the Head-Direct RE0.
REO in-ear monitors
The reviews claimed the RE0s have fantastic sound quality, good isolation, and are very good value at US$79. So I went ahead and ordered them.
Ten days later they arrived and I tried them out on the walk back from the post office. My first impression was actually a bit underwhelming; perhaps all the glowing reviews — and my own imagination — had led me to expect something staggering. The music certainly was clear and well defined, but it felt rather lifeless. I guess I’d been too exposed to bass-heavy car stereos and their ridiculous thump. Anyway, the reviews all agreed that the RE0 sound quality would improve with time, so I hoped that would be the case with mine.
I should remind you that the primary purpose of buying the earphones was to block out office noise to I could concentrate properly. And in this they accomplish well. As soon as I put them into my ears (which required a bit of fiddling and grimacing) all background noise vanished. I did feel isolated. My colleagues’ talking and laughing and loud phone calls seemed to me a million miles away.
So now it’s a few weeks later and my concentration at work has improved greatly. I’ve even had bouts of that programmer’s holy grail: the state of flow.
And as for the REOs’ sound quality, it has indeed improved noticeably. The posters on Head-Fi.org were right. In fact, the REOs sound better than anything I’ve ever heard (which admittedly isn’t much.) I now notice lots of little things I’ve never heard before in songs I’ve played a million times.
So the mission is a success. I’m no longer distracted unnecessarily by my workmates. I’m more relaxed and productive. And I’ve even rediscovered my love of music.
However the most significant outcome of all this is my discovery of a love for Norwegian post-jazz. This can only mean I’m extremely sophisticated.