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Unfortunately I have to work in a room full of talking colleagues. In order to concentrate, I wear headphones with music on at top volume, but this makes me sick at the end of the day. I would prefer silence, but there is no chance to get a private office. I could try and find some hidden place in the building and work on a laptop, but my boss wouldn't be happy with that. And I could leave the company, but I don't want to - I really like my job here.

Industrial workers working in a noisy environment usually wear special earmuffs. I'm considering to get a pair of these, but I have two problems:

  1. I don't know whether industrial earmuffs really filter out the noise of talking. Maybe these are designed to isolate very loud noises. Talking is not loud here, it's just irritating.
  2. These earmuffs usually have a weight of approx. 250 g. I don't know if this weight on the head is tolerable for, say, 8-10 hours of coding.

Has anyone ever tried to wear industrial earmuffs during programming? Thank you in advance.

=== UPDATE ===

Instead of industrial earmuffs I chose to try custom-molded earplugs. My earplugs are made of medical silicone. They fill my ears completely and dampen the chatter well enough. It's relatively slow to remove them, which is an advantage: people who would like to bother me during programming have to wait. Maybe they will understand what I want and just leave me working.

Anyway, I also tried SimplyNoise. The brown noise dampens chatter better than my earplugs, but it's really exhausting. The rain sound is much better in this respect. I also found it less tiresome than listening to music.

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closed as off topic by maple_shaft May 3 '13 at 12:49

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Did you consider noise-cancelling earphones/headphones? These work with low volume music, so you end up filtering out the ambient noise (colleagues) and listen to your music on a more humane level. –  Oded Apr 18 '13 at 8:55
Well - consider your alternatives. Headache at the end of every day or leaving your job. Sounds cheap to me. –  Oded Apr 18 '13 at 9:02
On noise cancelling headphones, I looked into these a couple of years ago. They cancel out constant background noise, e.g. bus/train engine noise or wind over fuselage when flying. They wouldn't work in a noisy office because while loud the noise isn't the same continuous sound. The tech may have improved since, but as you say it'll cost. –  Binary Worrier Apr 18 '13 at 10:24
@Oded: noise-cancelling is specifically designed to not block the frequencies human speech. Which makes it useless to block of chatter. –  vartec Apr 18 '13 at 12:15
@vartec Oops. The same may be true for industrial earmuffs in order to let the workers communicate... –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 12:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I've never tried wearing them during coding but I used to study Audio Engineering and was required to wear in-ear plugs during any live event. You can get custom moulded ones that let you specify by how many decibels you would like to cut out and what frequencies. They also weigh absolutely nothing, after a short while you forget you are wearing them.

Take a look here: http://www.earplugstore.com/best-custom-molded-ear-plugs.html

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Thank you. How hard/slow is it to remove custom-molded earplugs? –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 10:56
Really easy, it's in and out. They are just like the best fitting headphones you have ever had. –  Chris Apr 18 '13 at 11:49
I've tried ear plugs used for hunting. Besides not working, there's a continuous scratching caused by the plugs. Do these do that? –  Rob Apr 18 '13 at 13:05
Not when you get correctly fitted ones. They are expensive so if you are paying less than £200 expect cheap results. –  Chris Apr 18 '13 at 13:06
The expensive ones get customised to your inner ear shape, and a lot of factory workers have to use them continuously, so they are bound to be relatively comfortable. –  Paul Hiemstra Apr 18 '13 at 13:37

You have to remember something. Those earmuffs are designed to be worn all day, by guys who HAVE to wear them, in considerably higher noise environments than you are dealing with.

If you work for a large company, talk to your company's industrial health and safety guy. Explain the situation, the kind of noise you are trying to kill. He can tell you which earmuffs are good for that and which aren't.

If you don't work for a large company, you'll have to talk to the earmuff supplier. They have people who know which products are appropriate for what situation.

If you REALLY want isolation, get the standard foam earplugs, good for about 28-29 dB of isolation, and wear the 28-29 dB earmuffs over them. I was given those exact orders, when my manager told me that I'd be operating a VERY noisy piece of equipment (dry-firing a Bushmaster chain gun: I can't remember if it was 25mm or 50mm), and I immediately called the company safety guy about ear protection. (I already had a partial hearing loss.) I routinely wore that combination all day long, even if I wasn't playing with the machinery, because the quiet was so nice.

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best answer here - the combined plug+muff route is one I use when going to a firing range, operating very loud equipment, etc –  warren Apr 18 '13 at 13:20
Thank you. Fortunately, our office is not as loud as a chain gun :) I will definitely try custom-molded plugs suggested by @Chris. Maybe combined with the muff, but I do hope plugs alone will do the job. –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 14:02
@kol: Before you go the custom-molded plugs route, try the generic foam 28-29 dB plugs. They're a lot cheaper than custom plugs, and they'll probably do the job well enough. –  John R. Strohm Apr 18 '13 at 15:19

Music can be a source of distraction too. It's good for hacking new code but I find not so great when having to think through a large SQL query.

There are cheap and good quality polyurethane automolding earplugs that shut out noise efficiently. I don't have your problem at my work, but when I need to code on a much more noisy coder convention I simply use earplugs AND headphones, and I can adjust the music volume.

polyurethane automolding earplugs plus headphones

I use generic type music that's just there to be a background, not my favorite music to 'get me going', that way it doesn't interfere with thinking. Recommended :)

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"earplugs AND headphones" - Nice :) –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 11:16
To repeat a comment I put above, I've tried hunting ear plugs but they caused a continuous scratching sound which was equally distracting. Do these do that? –  Rob Apr 18 '13 at 13:06
@kol yeah, bit silly to play sound and block that sound. But I was surprised, even at low volumes the headphones block the "rest" the earplugs couldn't handle. –  Henrik Erlandsson Apr 19 '13 at 6:16
@Rob nope. I got these from a drugstore, did you look there? You roll them into pins and they expand for 30-60 seconds in your ear. I don't know if "polyurethane" is the magic word but it's not the standard foam type. –  Henrik Erlandsson Apr 19 '13 at 6:27

I feel very sorry for you, I prefer a quiet work environment as well. We had a marketing manager with a desk near our dev team who would play the radio all day while explaining that 'hey every one likes music' .. it turns out no one in the dev team liked it and she got fired ( for unrelated reasons ).

In your team there will be one person who is the instigator of all the chit chat. Your mission - if you choice to accept it - is to ferrite that person out. Most people would prefer to get their head down and do a good job but are far to polite to cut off conversations. So your perception that every one is an eager participant in your personal misery may not be true.

Once you have identified your true tormentor invite them out for a drink, spike it and.. oh wait this is a public forum, crap.

OK new advice, get promoted and make every one work harder.

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Get promoted... XD –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 11:19

I use some (peltor x5) they block a lot of sound but they're made to let voice through. You won't hear people perfectly but it won't be silent either.

At least, you won't hear any sound from some outside work site, the air conditioner, phones ringing or any colleague more than 10 meters from you.

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Thank you! I only have problem with people talking at neighboring desks, so I think earmuffs like Peltor wouldn't isolate their voice enough. I will try using custom-molded earplugs. –  kol Apr 18 '13 at 14:07

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