The Joel on Software Discussion Group (CLOSED)

A place to discuss Joel on Software. Now closed.

This community works best when people use their real names. Please register for a free account.

Other Groups:
Joel on Software
Business of Software
Design of Software (CLOSED)
.NET Questions (CLOSED)
Fog Creek Copilot

The Old Forum

Your hosts:
Albert D. Kallal
Li-Fan Chen
Stephen Jones

Question on noise cancellation/reduction

Hello all,

I'm trying to make my home programming-environment as silent as possible. Currently there are two main sources of noise:

1. The PC power-supply unit.

2. Ambient noise that is periodic in nature. E.g., there's a construction site right outside my house, neighbour's TV, etc. These do bother me while coding, but not enough otherwise to warrant raising a ruckus over it.

My questions:

- What are some good noiseless power-supply units you would recommend?

- Have you ever had any success with noise-cancellation headphones? Are there any you have first-hand experience with and would recommend?

Many thanks in advance!
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Is it really worth eliminating power supply noise if you can hear the neighbors TV and/or construction work?  I'm wondering this because I have considered doing the same except that I can frequently hear cars on the road outside so I'm just learning to deal with a bit of background noise.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
You're right - except that there are times (e.g., midnight) when the outside environment is silent but the power supply unit is still noisy. I would rather not wear the headphones unless absolutely necessary.

I can get a laptop, of course, but my budget at present is a bit tight and I have a company provided laptop anyway (that I don't want to work on!).
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones. They go over the ears, caressing you softly like a new lover, making you forget about the outside world so you can concentrate on whatever sounds you choose to concentrate on. You can hear the difference between WAVs and compressed MP3s.

Best money I ever spent. On planes it has stopped me from killing people, it really has.
I don't work for Bose, btw
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Noise cancellation headphones do work, but you need to be aware that there are two kinds.  The first kind detects the incoming sound and actively damps it with sound of the inverse wave shape and amplitude.  This results in a true quiet environment.  The second kind plays a low-level white noise that tends to drown out background noise (You can find these for less than $20).  I would recommend playing some music in the headphones if all you're going to do is drown the sound out.

BTW:  Right now my laptop is compiling and the fans (yes plural) have kicked on.  It's louder than my desktop is.
Steve Moyer Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I too have a pair of active noise cancellation headphones, my second pair.

Mine are Brookstone 250s, similar to the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 in that they are "on-the-ear" rather than "over-the-ear."  I've worn the Quiet Comfort 2 headphones and mine may be 10% less efficient - but they cost $150 rather than $350.

I travel a lot, and normally use these only on airplanes. It's 6:50am on a Sunday morning right now and I'm wearing them to test for this post.

My wife and daughter are both still asleep and I live in a very quiet rural area so outside is virtually silent.  However, I just heard my paper carrier drive by (wahoo! Sunday comix!).

I can clearly hear both my dishwasher and my furnace though they are muted to about 15% of their normal noise level, particularly the furnace.

ANC headphones don't result in blissful silence.  Rather, they knock back the worst of the noise.  And they work best reducing low frequency noise such as that from an airplane engine or furnace or, yes - from a computer's power supply.  But they do virtually nothing for high frequency sounds such as the 60Hz whine of the transformer for my wireless access point or even the hissing noise of my dishwasher sucking in or pumping out water.  Only the passive NR capabilities of having something covering my ears dulls those sounds.

No headphones will eliminate sudden noises either.

From Bose, Brookstone or others you can buy three types of ANR headphones: over-the-ear, on-the-ear or in-the-ear.  I've only used the first two so won't discuss the third.  Over-the-ear headphones such as the original Bose Quiet Comfort headphones completely encase your ears and sit against the side of your head.  On-ear 'phones are small enough that they only cover about 80% of the surface of your ear.  I've owned both styles and they both do about the same job of reducing noise.

There advantages and disadvantages of either style.  On-ear phones are generally lighter because their electronics and batteries are kept in a separate holder so the 'phones themselves may be more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.  However, this means that you are always dealing with a wire going somewhere whether that be a shirt pocket or somewhere else.  I find this to be a significant inconvenience.

The larger over-the-ear phones typically have a jack so you can completely lose the wire but they are slightly heavier.  The larger earpieces help mitigate this but those larger 'pieces also trap heat which I've found uncomfortable during long periods of wear.

I said above that my current pair is my second.  My first was the over-the-ear style by Brookstone - I bought them because they were $50 cheaper.  On those, the band connecting the two phones is made of plastic and after I had had them for about a year, on a flight they fell apart.  Coincidentally, when this happened I was on my way to the same airport where I originally purchased them so I stopped by the Brookstone store, they took them back under warranty and allowed me to trade up to the on-ear style.  The on-ear Brookstones have a metal band and other fittings and they seem generally to be much higher quality - plus, they are about half the size so are simpler to pack in my carry-on bag.  I remember the battery compartment lid on my original phones didn't stay on very well.  Whatever you buy I would not recommend the original Brookstone model.

Overall, for travelling I like ANR headphones.  For programming use I echo another poster: get used to some noise.  As I said before, these phones don't completely silence things and I find that once I become accustomed to the lower noise level, the noise that is left is not as loud but it is just as annoying.
Karl Perry Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
+1 for Bose over-the-ear phones - they really help to reduce most background noise, especially the muted chatter of other people. I've haven't tried the on-ear version yet.
Mark Pearce Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I have not tried the noise canceling headphones, but have made some attempts to quiet the PC.

Are you sure that the problem is the power supply?  The PS fan is one source of noise, but you also have the case ventilation fan and disk drives as potential noise sources.

I currently use an Antec Sonata PC case and the power supply that came with it.  This is not the ultimate noise solution, but is a big improvement over the Lian Li case on one of my other PCs.

You can read some reviews at: and there are some dealers that specialize in quiet PC components, or even entire PCs: .
Sunday, November 11, 2007
This company specializes in quiet, multiple monitor PCs.
Mark Jerde Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Dells are quiet. I also have a Sony Vaio desktop and can't even hear it.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I think all major power supply manufacturers have "silent" versions. It's just a question of budget...
Jimmy Jones
Sunday, November 11, 2007
In-ear ear-buds can be had for $40 or so. But going for something around that price should give you a sweet spot of performance vs price. It should knock out a good chunk of the impact of ambiant noise. But whatever vibrates through the walls or the floor will vibrate right into your ear anyway. But assuming nothing that severe is going on, try to work up a list of great music that you can easily tune out and concentrate on your work. Try to get a wide selection of music so it's always fresh and enjoyable.

Genres that are going to help include Ambiant music (look up wikipedia on the genre, many sub-genres avail themselves).

Things that don't work: classical music. They are so pretty, you start to listen actively to them. So what happens, it makes you pay attention to the noise by proxy! So bad bad bad. YMMV of course.

Music that are poppy, unless it's really old and soft. 80s pop charts of the dreamy soft rock. That will be easy to tune out. Other stuff not so.

Sometimes you do want ot listen to music actively. You'll find work where you can afford this sort of distraction. So have playlists that addresses those needs.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Oh, you can never drown out bugs and email. So write good code. Apply And earn the trust to go home early.
Li-fan Chen Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
It's already been said here, but just to make one point clear:

ANR headphones knock out only frequencies below about 1 KHz.  Anything above that won't be attenuated, and may even be amplified.  All brands will have this limitation - basically it's physics: when using a microphone to sample sound, electronics to flip the waveform around and pump it into a speaker, the mechanical parts have inertia, and therefore delay, and they won't work well above 1KHz at all.

Therefore, the headphones will muffle your power supply somewhat, but they won't do squat for trucks, outside noise, conversations or the neighbor's TV.  They're really meant for air travel, where they work well on engine and slipstream noise.
David Jones Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
> Dells are quiet.

Of the 5 Dells in my house only my laptop is quiet.
Mark Jerde Send private email
Sunday, November 11, 2007
You could try the method that Arthur C. Clarke wrote about in the short story "Silence Please", in "Tales from the White Hart" ( )
Ken Ray Send private email
Monday, November 12, 2007
>> Dells are quiet.

>Of the 5 Dells in my house only my laptop is quiet.

The modern Dells I've seen have been darn near silent in comparison with the home-built machines that I've typically owned in the past.  They're well engineered to use one, large, slow-turning fan to cool the entire case, sucking air through well-designed grilles.  In comparison, the typical "Stick more fans in it" solution is LOUD.

You can purchase specially designed quiet PCs.  You might look a sites like for some ideas.

In silence comes at a cost, in both money and performance.  Expect to see massive, expensive heat sinking, slower-spinning hard-drives, and components that don't need active cooling -- so no monster video cards.

Personally, I don't think it is a bad trade-off.  Quieter PCs sure are nice...  Now, I've got a fan dying, and it sounds like there's a diesel truck idling in my office. :(
Michael Dwyer Send private email
Monday, November 12, 2007
Acousti Products ( provides noise-reducing items like foam for the inside of your case, quieter fans, and vibration-reducing gaskets.  I have this in my system and it made a significant difference.
Productive Coder
Monday, November 12, 2007
Since no one else said it: have you cleaned your computer case and fans with compressed air?  Clogged fans are much louder.

Sometimes removing a spare CD drive cover will improve airflow, usually not eliminating the noise but dropping the frequency to make it less whiny.
Sunday, November 18, 2007

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
Powered by FogBugz