TL;DR: All AI-based noise cancellations suck, only the physical cancellation technique works! And physical cancellation is implemented well only in Jabra devices yet, but other features suck them! All Bluetooth headsets suck too! So, no solution yet, just complaints!
The environment: I work in a pretty talky office room, where sit around 10 people, and all of them have many online conferences every day, including me. So, silence in the room is a rare situation.
The problem: The main problem is that most of the microphones pick up all side talk pretty loud, which makes it very unpleasant for other people to listen to my voice in meetings!
And the journey…
Station 1: Built-in laptops and webcams with microphone array
I’ve started with an old good laptop ThinkPad X240, which has a built-in microphone array with two microphones. Two mics, it would seem, should cancel side noise well, I thought… But not! All side noises are caught pretty loud, even louder than my ears hear them!
And a lot of self background noise, even in a quiet room, and keyboard clicks are too loud…
So, this is garbage!
Maybe just the laptop is too cheap? Let’s try a more expensive one?
I’ve replaced my old laptop with a modern pretty expensive model HP Elitebook in the hope that it has better microphones for such a price.
But the results are the same - a lot of background noise and no cancellation at all.
And even more - when I’m not speaking, its microphones thinks that I speak just quietly, and increase their own sensitivity, making all side sound louder. So, when I don’t speak, others hear a lot of background noise.
The results are the same - garbage!
Maybe an external webcam? They’re made for conferences, isn’t it?
I’ve bought an external webcam (Genius ECAM 8000) with 2 microphones - the results are the same! A lot of self-noise and no cancellation of side noises at all.
Conclusion: Two microphones are just two microphones! Even an array with two microphones doesn't give you any kind of noise cancellation at all! There is just more than one microphone, which gives you maybe some stereo effect or some other benefits, I don't know. But canceling side noises, especially high‑frequency noises like plastic bag rustling — not for them!
Station 2: A cheap Bluetooth headset
I’ve bought just a regular cheap Bluetooth headset Sony DR-BT101 - the microphone is closer to my mouth, so it should work well.
But not again! The same problem - other talks are heard pretty loudly! It’s the same as built-in microphones in laptops.
Station 3: More expensive Bluetooth headsets
Okay, maybe that headset just is too cheap? Let’s try with more expensive ones.
I’ve bought and tested couple of more modern and expensive headsets: Apple Airpods, JBL FLEX - the results are similarly poor!
Limitation: The Bluetooth protocol still has no normal profile for two-sided audio! There is only HSP (Handset Profile) that gives low bit rate, “voice-quality” audio, using the CVSD codec at 8 kHz sample rate, or the HSP 1.6 "wideband speech" mSBC codec at 16 kHz. So, all Bluetooth headsets even in theory can’t give you a good quality sound in calls and meetings!
So, striking out all Bluetooth-based headsets, and go further to the next station.
Station 4: World of professional cardioid microphones
From audiophiles, I noticed cardioid microphones that capture sound only directly in front of the microphone.
I’ve analyzed several reviews and bought a pretty good model - Thronmax MDrill One. The sound quality is great, it has 4 modes of directed capturing - that’s exactly what I need:
But does it resolve my problem? Not! I still hear all side talk, not so loud as in previous microphones, but pretty loud!
So, garbage again!
Another fail: Separate professional microphones seems not a solution too.
Station 6: World of USB RF connection: Jabra Evolve2 devices
So, the solution for garbage sound quality in calls is only a wired or RF connection. I hate wires, so the only solution that can give a good quality is USB RF connection.
After a lot of surfing, reading reviews and articles, I’ve figured out that Jabra has a good experience in mic noise cancellation, decided to buy a pretty expensive headset Jabra Evolve2 65.
And, victory! Results on the side talk cancellations are really great! It cancels all side voices very well! They really almost disappear! Even a colleague, that sits 1 meter to my right and talks pretty loudly, is practically not heard in my conferences!
Victory: Mic noise cancellation in Jabra devices is damn good!
But! The incoming sound quality is very bad! When I just use it as headphones - all works well, but when I activate the microphone (even without a call) - it immediately switches to mono low-bitrate mode with bad sound quality (which Jabra names “Optimized for voice” for a marketing trick). Yes, it’s a little better than Bluetooth HSP, but not much. And the same problem is in all Jabra wireless devices.
Come on, Jabra! What a mono in 2023!? I want to hear a quality stereo sound at conferences too! Why are you restricting me?
And I know that it is possible, many other brands via RF connection provide a good stereo bitrate together with microphone input. Just grab them and do the same!
Additionally, 65 and 75 models have a problem with ear squeezing, they hurt after long use! But the mics are so good… Well, let's live and suffer with them?
Station 6: Nobody cares about noise canceling for microphones?
Continuing to suffer from Jabra’s bad-quality mono sound and ear squeezing, I’ve learned that it is still possible to make microphones with a really good canceling of side voices. So, if Jabra can do this, other brands should be able to do the same! I just need to find them in plenty of models!
So, I’ve dived into many sites that provide headphones and headsets listing, filtering by different parameters, and figured out that all sites don’t have a filter “microphone noise cancellation” at all!
Yes, there are filters and selections with names “Noise Canceling”, “ANC”, “Noise cancellation”, but all they are related to canceling background noise like street noise from vehicles, crowd noise, wind, barking, a neighbor with a puncher, etc. And not for side talks inside office rooms.
Attention! In most cases, the declared noise cancellation feature works just for your own ears only, and not for microphones!
Seems the presence of this feature does not interest people? Really? No, it seems just producers don’t care about it!
So, how can I find among thousand of models their ones, that at least tried to implement any kind of microphone noise cancellation?
Noise cancellation for the microphone? No such filter…
ANC feature? Not suitable for my case…
Number of microphones? no such filter…
So, I’ve decided to filter-out them by two indirect parameters:
Boom microphone, which indicates that they at least care about the mic quality.
USB dongle, which indicates that they try to workarond Bluetooth HSP bad quality.
Multi-device, because I want to use them as a phone headset too.
And I’ve found the only resource, that provides this kind of filtering and detailed review - RTINGS.com!
It even provides recording from microphone in loud environment (speech + subway) - great! And they even has a numeric rating for the feature, needed to me (they call it “Noise handling”) - that’s cool!
So, here is my filter by these parameters - 15 models out of 718 for now:
Not so much to choose from… So I’ve decided to select some most recent ones to try.
Station 7: Modern AI-based noise cancellation
As result, I bought the most recent and pretty expensive SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro model, because they declare good noise cancellation with AI-powered technologies.
As result, in my case, this AI-based magic doesn’t work for my case! It cancels keyboard and mouse clicks, outside noises from the street very well… But catches all side talks in the room! And even tries to increase the sound of others, if I’m quiet.
So, another disappointment!
Also, I’ve found this promo video from Audeze Maxwell with a great noise-cancellation example, and instantly decided - that is exactly what I need! And purchased it immediately.
And, as result - upset again!
The same as in SteelSeries, “known” noises are filtered out, but side speeches - not at all!
Conclusion: AI-based magic doesn’t work, real physics - works! But nobody can cook it normally! Yet?
The next station
The next station is not decided yet… I’m very upset with the situation, that I’ve spent a lot of money and tried almost all modern models, but still can’t find a really good solution for me!
So, maybe you can recommend something to me to try next, to decrease the suffering and find the best headset?
Please come in in the comments with your experience and opinions about this topic, I would be glad to hear you!