4 noise-canceling headphones to help you mute the cicadas

Consumer Reports

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A cicada sitting on foliage

Cicada(Photo: iStockphoto)

If you live somewhere between North Carolina and Connecticut, you've no doubt been bombarded with information about the Great Cicada Invasion of 2013 (a.k.a. Swarmageddon). Depending on the source, 30 billion to 1 trillion bugs are participating in a once-every-17-years mass emergence. And while they present no imminent danger, these bugs make quite a racket—up to 94 decibels, according to a Huffington Post article.

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If you're looking for a way to muffle the buzz, consider picking up some new headphones. Models with active noise-canceling technology use electronic circuitry to eliminate or at least reduce unwanted noise; when we test noise-canceling headphones, one thing we consider is how well the headphone reduces ambient noise when the noise-cancelation feature is activated.

Also, any headphones that fit tightly over your ears or inside the ear canal will block some noise by creating a seal (called "passive" noise reduction). And over-the-ear and insert-style earphones tend to block more noise than do on-ear and earbud-style headphones.

Among noise-canceling headphones, one top scorer in noise reduction is the CR-recommended Sony MDR-NC500D ($242, Amazon.com). These home/studio-style, closed, over-the-ear phones will block some external sound as well as limit the sound that makes its way outside from the headphones. They even come with a carrying case—handy if you're making a foray into nature, where more cicadas may be found.

(See also: Eight great gadget gifts for dads and grads )

Phiaton PS210 BTNC

Phiaton PS210 BTNC

If the Sonys are a little pricey for you, the JVC HA-NCX78 ear-insert headphones also have excellent noise reduction, and they're just $42 on Amazon.com. But note that we did find they produced a sense of pressure in the opening that might be uncomfortable for some wearers.

Our top-rated headphones, Beats by Dre Beats Executive, run around $300, and have excellent sound quality‐but they aren't quite as good at noise reduction. But of course, they look cool (and we've determined they are worth the money). Not that the cicadas care.

Finally, if you just can't stand wires, we tested one set of Bluetooth earbuds, the Phiaton PS210 BTNC (shown above). They deliver very good overall sound with a neutral character, though active noise reduction was only fair. You get five pairs of earpieces of various types and sizes in the package; they'll run you around $130.

Copyright © 2006-2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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