Technology is trying to combat what’s perhaps the biggest menace of modern-day life — noise pollution. Geeta Padmanabhan updates us on the latest devices that reduce sound

At Rs.12,999, Creative’s Aurvana Live 2 is not for everyone. But it is the latest in the line of headphones/earphones that have supra-aural (over-the-ear) design and ear-cups that fold inwards to make storage easy. The faux-leather and memory-foam padding on the ear-cups is super-comfy on the ears. The headphone uses a 40mm Neodymium driver but with a bio-cellulose diaphragm that delivers sound beautifully at a wide frequency-range of 10Hz to 30KHz. The best feature is its capacity for passive noise cancellation.

Great that technology is now trying to combat the biggest menace of modern life — man-made noise. Wear Aurvana-Live-2 (or Bose headphones) first thing in the morning to shut out noise from blending mixies, whirring washing-machines, blowing hair-dryers, blaring TVs, ringing cellphones, ear-splitting music on the radio and loud talk. Wear it to shut out the metal rock outdoors — traffic hurtling on broken roads, impatient honking, reverse horn, jets booming overhead.

Noise-free appliances

While walking around with headphones on is not always possible, insisting on noise-free appliances is. A survey by Ipsos shows consumers are willing to pay a premium for a sound-blanket such as ThinsulateTM Acoustic Insulation. Some 68 per cent wanted sound reduction applied to dishwashers, 58 per cent for vacuum cleaners, 57 per cent for ACs, 55 per cent for washing-machines, and 53 per cent for clothes-dryers. Next came refrigerators, lawn-mowers, leaf blowers, power tools, hair-dryers, blenders, microwave ovens and coffee machines. Eighty per cent indicated noise reduction was “extremely/very influential” in their purchase of a dishwasher. Shop assistants at a multi-brand retail store say that customers are increasingly asking for brands that promise noise-free running. The Philips mixie, Daikin air-conditioner (of the crawling ants-ad fame), Siemens dishwasher, Eureka Forbes vacuum cleaners got sold mainly because of their “less-noise” promos, they said.

Consumer demand can get manufacturers focusing on technology to make their products quieter for a calmer living environment. You hear of fan-less computers, better-balanced washing machines that minimise vibration, kettles with a double layer of insulation — all of which reduce noise by 5-25 decibels. Even pianos and drums are incorporating quiet modes so neighbours will not call the police at night. To reduce noise, appliance manufacturers use new synthetic materials, manufacturing processes, and structures. New-gen absorbers compress easily and conform to irregular surfaces, tight spots, difficult-to-reach areas, and irregular cavities in appliances. Some manufacturers have reduced the noise level of their dishwashers so low that they have added lights to indicate operation.

Quiet Mark

One big effort to reduce appliance noise is the Quiet Mark. When Noise Abatement Society (based in the U.K.) initiated a 24/7 helpline for noise from household tools and appliances, the response jammed its lines. Hollywood actor Poppy Elliot, MD, who inherited the company from her grandfather, launched Quiet Mark (quietmark.com) in 2012 with the appeal, “Don't let technology drown us out. We must hear our children’s giggles, enjoy the birdsong, listen to the softly spoken and give attention to the natural.”

Companies that release products designed to make the world a quieter place are awarded a universal symbol — a purple Q — that can be carried by the products. “Quiet Mark's objective is to work together with industry and consumers to transform living and working aural environments. We do this by offering a universal symbol and system of support that helps re-tune the sounds that surround us and de-stress our personal space,” she said. Products are noisy because it is cheaper to make them that way, says their manifesto. After their campaigns for quieter products whether they are airlines, trains, hair-dryers or food-mixers, Quiet Mark has been endorsed by companies like Lexus, Electrolux, Sennheiser and 40 global brands, including Samsung, Mitsubishi Electrics and Philips. The idea is to create a demand for use of quieter technology in our homes, workplace and in the open air.

Ironically, it is the rise of technology that has led us to forget how to be quiet. We have sub-woofers, 1000+watts loudspeakers, booming Dolby sound in theatres, air-horns in buses, racket-creating garbage trucks, pile drivers, powerful pneumatic drills, thundering motorcycles, noisy toys — we create noise that is intrusive, pervasive, ubiquitous. We all need noise hotlines.