Today, we’re following up on our recent post about noise-protection methods with hands-on reviews of four apps that we carefully selected based on their suitability for consumers: two for PCs, two for mobile devices.
If that number seems small, the context is important; overall, the number of options is not overwhelming. Drilling down, we sought out programs that work only with specific models of headsets and microphones and avoided those designed (and priced) for large businesses.
For PCs and laptops
Before the pandemic drove workers into home offices, noise-filtering software for PCs was a niche product, but the mass shift to remote work caused a huge spike in demand. Here are a few solutions that get a thumbs-up from us.
For Windows: Noise Blocker
According to the developers, Noise Blocker uses microphone samples to combat the hum of laptop fans, the clatter of keyboard and mouse clicks, and distortions from the microphone.
To begin, the user teaches noises to the app by clicking the Add button and, for example, typing something (to record the sounds of key presses). The program needs separate training for each bothersome sound: mouse clicks, kids playing outside, and so forth.
Herein lies the disadvantage of Noise Blocker. Going through the recording process for every nuisance sound is tedious, and the app simply ignores unfamiliar noises (as our tests confirmed). What’s more, some key clicks got through the app’s defenses, even though we had trained the program to identify them.
After recording the noises, you need to adjust the filter so that your voice passes through with no interference. We needed a few tries to get this part right, meaning the app’s effectiveness depends largely on the user’s familiarity with the intricacies of sound recording.
Noise Blocker’s mechanics recall how voice commands worked a decade or two ago, when you couldn’t just start talking to your phone. Voice control during that time began with fairly extensive training on specific voice commands, after which the software might respond (if you were lucky) to the sounds it knew, although it completely ignored any unfamiliar ones.
Use: Noise Blocker acts as a kind of intermediary between your recording device and the rest of the software. To activate the filter in the app for online calls, select Noise Blocker as a virtual microphone.
Price: One hour per day free or unlimited use on up to three computers for $19.99.
For Windows and macOS: Krisp
Krisp picked up its noise-reduction skills through machine learning on thousands of recordings of a wide range of sounds and voices. As far as we’re concerned, the effort was worth it.
For our testing, we created a variety of noises: clapping hands, tapping the keyboard, even holding the laptop next to a washing machine in spin mode. Krisp eliminated every interference we threw at it, leaving just the tester’s voice, and only very slightly distorted. But if someone close by (say, a child) suddenly screams during an important meeting, the filter will probably not block it.
Use: Setup uses video instructions that clearly show the necessary steps. Like Noise Blocker, Krisp connects to the system as a virtual microphone. In addition, Krisp creates a virtual speaker. Selecting it as the sound source in Skype settings, for example, makes the app work both ways — that is, it filters noise from others on the call as well.
Price: Two hours per week free or unlimited use for $60 per year.
For smartphones and tablets
Many modern smartphones have built-in noise cancellation. In addition to the main microphone, they have secondary mikes whose function is to detect extraneous sounds. The system subtracts those from the main microphone’s audio stream, so that your voice can be heard clearly at the other end of the line. That filtering enables clear conversations even in windy conditions.
Communication apps usually include built-in noise reduction, too — for example, such a feature already exists in Google Meet and Zoom. That’s probably why little serious demand exists for dedicated noise-filtering solutions for mobile devices; that said, we still found a couple of handy services.
For Android and iOS: NoiseWall
NoiseWall (for Android and iOS) masks extraneous sounds by playing static artificial noise that is a user-defined mixture of four different varieties: white, pink, red and brown.
Our experiments with NoiseWall were inconclusive. Ambient sounds were indeed unable to penetrate the “wall” of noise. However, that sometimes required turning up the app’s volume to near maximum. With prolonged use, the generated noise can become just as annoying as the neighbors or kids outside. All the same, NoiseWall does its job, and the service is worth a try.
Use: To start, just open the app. Noise Wall’s additional settings include a choice of four types of noise and a switch-off timer.
Price: Free with ads or $1.99 without.
For Android: Safe Headphones
The purpose of the Safe Headphones app is not to muffle ambient sounds, but rather to amplify them. In our tests, we were able to discern soft speech through an energetic track thumping in the headphones, a “superpower” that could be useful in situations where you need to hear important information such as a flight announcement at the airport.
When no music is playing, Safe Headphones turns the smartphone into a kind of hearing aid by amplifying surrounding sounds.
Use: The app features an on–off switch, a button to activate the background noise filter, and a volume adjuster.
Price: Free with ads or $9.99 without.
- Your noise issue may be resolved by traditional means such as simply talking to housemates or neighbors, warning them in advance of important videoconferences or calls and asking them to be quiet.
- The Krisp app for PCs and Macs combats noise pretty well, although depending on your needs, a noise-canceling microphone might suit you better.
- As for noise-cancelling apps for smartphones, we were unable to find any — probably because so many smartphones already have multiple microphones and built-in noise cancellation. Incidentally, it might make sense to use a smartphone instead of a computer for important video calls.
For more on using digital and analog means to create a more comfortable home environment, visit our Digital Comfort Zone.