Silentium, in addition to having a most excellently science fiction name, bills itself as "a leading innovator in the field of embedded active noise control," or, as it's called in non marketspeak, noise reduction technology. At CES, Silentium prepared a demonstration of two of its products based on what they call Quiet Bubble, the QB1 Active Headset and the QB 2 Active Headrest. Both devices work by creating what amounts to an array of white noise emitted outward from the user's ears that, essentially, repels loud noise and creates a zone of quiet, or at least, of not as loud, around them. We were on the scene to test them both out and discovered that while they won't bring the world closer to a Maxwell Smart cone of silence, they'll probably make commuter airplanes more bearable.
The QB1 Active Headset, modeled here by our own Marcus Yam, was first. They work, yes, but aside from having the Silentium brand on the side, they weren't much different from most other noise reduction headphones. Activated by a switch, seen here on a panel, the press materials promise noise reduction up to 1KHz. We didn't notice anything quite so dramatic. Things got quiet, but equivalent to closing a car door to block out the noise of surrounding traffic. Bose's noise reduction headphones work just as well. Slightly more impressive was the QB2 Active Headrest.
In the Active Headrest, the technology is used to create a quiet zone around the user's head, and it delivers. The intended customer would be airlines and the demonstration room had a constant stream of loud background noise equivalent to an engine on a conventional passenger jet. When the Active Headset was flipped on, perceived noise dropped instantly to a level close to what you'd hear in a fast moving sedan. That sounds great, but the area of effect is pretty narrow - when we moved more than a few inches to the left or right, or turned to look to either side, the effect ended. It's perfect if you're a sound, still sleeper who can lean back in an airplane seat, but if you tend to toss and fidget, it's probably best to stick to earplugs. Still, if you own an airline or auto company, it's probably worth a closer look.