Noise cancelling earphones face several difficulties. Not everyone realises the difference between them and noise isolating earphones, a misunderstanding that's compounded by the premium the technology incurs. Digital Silence is here to try and bring this noise-busting tech to a whole new budget audience with these DS-101A earphones.
Digital Silence is a relatively new brand, conjured up by audio stalwarts Wolfson Micro to show off their noise cancellation in the mainstream market. The Digital Silence DS101-A sell for around £39, a fraction of what some better-known solutions retail for.
Their design invites confusion, because they look just like a standard IEM pair - which use noise isolation to keep out external sound. Noise isolation in earphones involves using either silicone or foam tips to turn your earphones into earplugs, physically blocking out noise. Although the Digital Silence DS-101A also use rubber tips, they're not the most active part of this isolation equation.
On the back of each earbud are sound holes, which naturally let sound in and out. Without having noise cancellation enabled on the remote housing, noise isolation isn't too good here. Switch it on and things improve though.
The Digital Silence DS-101A earphones have microphones on each earpiece that monitor ambient sound. Sound waves the inverse of this ambient noise are then pumped through the speakers - along with any music you might be playing - to cancel out this unwanted noise.
This entry-level model uses an analogue circuit to create the noise-nullifying signal, within the chunky housing that sits roughly 1m up from the jack plug. There are no settings to pick from on this front - just an on and off switch.
A rechargeable lithium battery powers the noise cancellation, and offers up to 30 hours off a charge - stamina comparable with the best sets available. The battery is charged over microUSB, which is mighty convenient when most new smartphones use this connector. Also on this housing is a call accept button, although the microphone itself is further up the earphone cable - around 10cm or so from the right earbud.
As handy as this control box is though, it does weigh down the cable in a way that other earphone hands-free units don’t. The Digital Silence DS-101A earphones offer up a strong belt clip, but having to consider somewhere to put it is a pain. If you’re wearing a jacket it’s no biggie, but during those (admittedly short-lived) T-shirt-wearing summer months it’s sure to irritate. It’s a little bit too heavy to comfortably leave dangling, and the weight could lead to wear on the connection between the bud and cable before too long. There’s not enough cable between the earpieces and housing to let you clip it on a trouser pocket either.
This difficulty is one reason why many noise cancelling units use an on-ear design rather than an in-ear design – it allows all the tech gubbins to be stashed away in the headphone itself. Here there’s just not room.