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I want to block the distraction of my colleagues' conversations. I tried different ear plugs, but none of them filtered out speech enough for me. Reading into earmuffs online, I read that ear protection is generally optimized to filter high and low frequencies while at the same time leaving the frequency ranges for speech untouched. For instance the high end 3M Peltor Optime III Premium is advertised as follows:

This results in maximum high-frequency muffling, while at the same time it is easy to understand speech and signals.

This makes sense on a construction site, where hearing your boss's or colleague's shout can save your life. But this is not a problem in open plan offices. So what is the solution to blocking out the room noise and conversations in an open office environment?

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Noise cancelling earphones worked for me well - but only while music was playing. Blocked out everything. – Oded Sep 21 '12 at 14:49
Work from home!! – Sahil Sep 25 '12 at 8:24
Why is it that people with a private office always want to have their discussions in the open at someone's cube? – JeffO Jan 16 '13 at 14:14
possible duplicate of What can I do about a very loud coworker? – JeffO Jan 16 '13 at 16:32
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Noise cancellation headphones like Bose QC-3 or QC-15 are statistics-based and work well for constant droning kind of noises (airplane engines, wind, street noise, etc). You will still hear conversations with them if they happen anywhere around you.

If you really want silence, you can go with shooting ear-muffs that they use on gun ranges. You can usually get them in your local outdoor-sy shops and they are not that expensive. IMHO this will work best, but you will look a bit goofy.

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@Framester, haha, try shooting ear-muffs at the office, just don't get arrested :P – user3434 Oct 8 '12 at 15:07
@qarma - yes, you probably want to avoid camo and bright orange as your color selection ;) – JeffO Jan 16 '13 at 13:34

Headphones with loud music, preferably in-ear, to block the sound and to distract yourself from the conversations. Noise filtering headphones or ear-muffs will always have problems with speech because its not a constant noise.

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But the music itself will be distracting – Mark Sep 21 '12 at 14:59
@Mark - That's not true for all people. – Oded Sep 21 '12 at 15:51
@Oded: It's not, but there is a huge difference between "block" and "drown out" for many people. – pdr Sep 21 '12 at 17:04

Get a white noise generator. generally a static sound that can be a bit annoying for 10 min or so but after you will rarely notice it being there but will definitely notice when it is not. I have worked in places that have them and those that do not and definitely prefer to work where they are using them.

It works great because it tricks your mind into eliminating all of the back ground noise but you can still have a conversation like normal.

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I see suslik answered about the Bose QC-15 headphones, and I would like to improve on that answer a bit.

I actually am using the QC-15 at work every day. And they are simply amazing.

It is true that while turned on, without any music, they do not cancel out conversations going on right next to you. But they do lower the volume of those quite a bit.

And by playing music in the earphones, even at a very low volume, you will hear nothing of the conversations going on right next to you, at all.

I very easily get distracted by conversations among my peers, even if I am not addressed. And some tasks I cannot perform well with music, I really need silence. But I found that the solution with very low music and noise-cancelling earphones works really well for me.

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