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ChatterBlocker — Block Distracting Speech at Work 204

An anonymous reader writes "ChatterBlocker is a PC program that uses digital audio technology to neutralize the sound of speech and other distractions so you can stay focused at work or elsewhere." Personally I just crank the tunes. Anyone know if this actually works or if it's a scam? Or is it just a white noise generator?
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ChatterBlocker — Block Distracting Speech at Work

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:03AM (#16536224)
    It's NOT noise cancellation. From the FAQ:

    Does ChatterBlocker use noise cancellation?

    No. Noise cancellation would not be effective over speakers, and noise cancelling headphones have limited effectiveness in silencing voice.

    Good quality noise cancelling headphones are great for reducing low-frequency sounds, such as airplane engine rumble, but they are not as effective in the 2 to 8 kHz consonant range that conveys much of the speech intelligibility.

  • by Yartrebo ( 690383 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:06AM (#16536242)
    Even with headphones, you need a real-time operating system because the response must be generated within a few dozen microseconds. Off the shelf Linux or, -gasps-, MS Windows, cannot deliver this, no matter how fancy the software. In practice, you use a small computer or microcontroller built into the headphones.
  • Re:Er,,, (Score:2, Informative)

    by koafc ( 718334 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:35AM (#16536408)
    Except, noise cancellin headphones work best for loud background noise like fans, airplane engine noise, etc rather than staccato office voices like my nearby co-worker. (I have the Bose Quietcomfort pair.) From personal experience with the Bose headphones and this chatty co-worker, the headphones cut a bit of her voice but in some ways you can hear her even clearly since all the office white noise is removed. To completely get rid of her voice, I need to combine the noise canceling with music in the background. Then she disappears!
  • Re:Er,,, (Score:4, Informative)

    by ReallyEvilCanine ( 991886 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @10:39AM (#16536424) Homepage
    You're an idiot and so is the mod who called you "Insightful". Read your own link:

    They work well for sounds that are continuous, such as the hum of a refrigerator, but are rather ineffective against speech or other rapidly changing audio signals.

    Noise cancellation requires hardware. Headphones use microphones to pick up the sounds which are then cancelled by phase-inversion []. It gets vastly more complex when dealing with open spaces. This is nothing that software alone has a solution for.

  • Re:Earplugs (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @11:07AM (#16536630) Journal
    Using different densities & materials, earplugs can (to a degree) be tailored to block certain frequencies.

    Also earplugs are generally better at blocking high frequency sounds, while earmuffs are better for the low freq noises (or vice versa, but I think I have it right). And you should wear both if things are going to be really loud.
  • by richg74 ( 650636 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @11:13AM (#16536666) Homepage
    Good quality noise cancelling headphones are great for reducing low-frequency sounds, such as airplane engine rumble, but they are not as effective in the 2 to 8 kHz consonant range that conveys much of the speech intelligibility.

    In a previous life, I had to travel a lot, and used a set of noise-cancelling headphones. They do work pretty well, as the FAQ says. When they don't work too well, the issue isn't really frequency per se; in principle, they could perfectly cancel a constant-amplitude 10 kHz sine wave, for example. The problem with speech is that the consonants (which, as they say, make speech intelligible) are high-amplitude, effectively high frequency transients. For similar reasons, noise cancellation wouldn't do much to mask the sound of a gunshot.

  • Re:Earplugs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Desult ( 592617 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @11:27AM (#16536760) Homepage
    I've got the E3c earphones, and I've had them for about a year and a half. I bought them for plane trips, and they're quite good at reducing the overall noise. It's not total silence when you put them in but it is definitely a significant reduction, especially in background noise/talking. As an example, I have to take them out to hear the flight attendant, or someone sitting beside me, but I can typically hear loud noises (e.g. the "ding" for the PA). With music or movies playing you can miss even louder sounds.

    As a general recommendation, I've found them to be OK sound quality and good build quality - the cable and connections are still in quite good condition even with regular use over the past 18 months. The E3c model came with a bunch of different "plugs". I find the gray soft rubber ones the most comfortable and best sound reduction, but the harder clear ones the easier to use (i.e. stay in your ears and keep clean). I don't know if the E2cs come with different plugs, I seem to recall that was one of the selling points for the E3cs. The E4cs were recommended to me as a better bass response, which at the time I didn't think was that big of a deal. I still think it might be better for my hearing to skip the louder bass, but that is one area where the E3cs are slightly lacking. The bass response is OK but never stands out (does not compare to even a low end set of good headphones imo).

    Just as an aside, I've found that they are somewhat inappropriate for office use. With music playing they will basically silence anyone who might be talking to you directly, potentially even your phone ringing if it's not loud enough. I have a cheap set of normal over-the-ear headphones that do NOT cut out direct noise that I use when I'm in an office environment, that's always been good enough for me.
  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @11:39AM (#16536850) Homepage Journal
    I second this. Phase inversion is ridiculously simple if you know anything about op-amps []. It's simple even in software, but then the main problem comes from hardware and OS latency, so there's not much point. Funny how so many Slashdotters have the 'software hammer' syndrome.
  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by LordEd ( 840443 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @12:14PM (#16537140)

    Does ChatterBlocker use noise cancellation?

            No. Noise cancellation would not be effective over speakers, and noise cancelling headphones have limited effectiveness in silencing voice.

            Good quality noise cancelling headphones are great for reducing low-frequency sounds, such as airplane engine rumble, but they are not as effective in the 2 to 8 kHz consonant range that conveys much of the speech intelligibility.

            How does ChatterBlocker work?

                    ChatterBlocker masks unwanted office chatter using a soothing blend of nature sounds, music and anti-chatter voices.

                    It also offers mindfulness meditation tracks intended to increase concentration, reduce distractibility and minimize the stress response to office noise.

    So i guess the way it works is by making sounds that blend with other background noises, but aren't as annoying (in theory).
  • Developer's reply (Score:5, Informative)

    by evickers ( 1016662 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @12:23PM (#16537204) Homepage
    ChatterBlocker uses nature sounds, music and background "anti-chatter" voices (or "walla") to mask the intelligibility of unwanted conversations. It does not use noise cancellation (which, as has been pointed out, would not work using speakers and has limited effectiveness at voice frequencies).

    It's obvious from your feedback that we did not make this clear enough. We discuss this in detail on our FAQ page, in the "More Info" page and in our white papers, but we have now added additional clarification to our home page. I thought I was doing a good thing by taking off my engineering hat and putting on my marketing hat, focusing on the benefits not the technology, but obviously this has derailed the discussion toward the topic of noise cancellation.

    Our testers felt the program was useful for masking unwanted conversations, and less distracting than listening to pop music. If you're interested, give the demo a try. We welcome your feedback.

    Earl Vickers
    The Sound Guy, Inc.
  • Re:Developer's reply (Score:3, Informative)

    by saridder ( 103936 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @12:56PM (#16537408) Homepage
    I tried the demo at home just now. I used my TV as the 'office chatter' I wanted to block and then ran Chatter Blocker. I then browsed the web to try and read an article. I played with different volumes and I felt that the sounds were just as distracting as the TV and didn't make a difference. I just substituted one noise with another.
  • Re:Earplugs (Score:4, Informative)

    by turtledawn ( 149719 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @12:56PM (#16537410)
    I also have the E2Cs, and I didn't have the problem of feeling like i was sticking things too far into my ear- of course, I've been shooting rifles since I was six which means that I've been using ear plugs since i was six, and am quite accustomed to them. In my work environment, there's a fair bit of background noise (about twelve computers, a large refrigerator, a fossilized air conditioner compressor, three centrifuges going on and off) and at the time i bought the phones, two coworkers whose constant, shrill, incredibly loud laughter reminded me of hyenas. The Shures saved my bloody sanity until i got the promotion and PHB said I had to "be available to answer employee questions at all times." Fortunately one hyena-woman had left by then... They worked really well for my needs, a mix of constant background hum and sharp high-frequency outbursts, though the high pitch stuff still came through enough to detect.

    My problem with the E2C actually was that in combination with my Rio Carbon I could not turn the music volume down _low_ enough to be 100% comfortable all the time. I couldn't listen to rock music with them, for example, because I found it painfully loud. This is not a problem for most people, I'm told :)
  • by bdwoolman ( 561635 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @12:56PM (#16537412) Homepage
    Since my days working in Asia where noise is a constant I have always had earplugs. I like the good ones that printers use in the pressroom. They are great on trains and planes. The only bad thing is that sometimes you don't have them when you need them. Recently I just bought a big assortment of earplugs from [] I seeded them into my carry-on and my shaving kit. Even gave some to my wife for her handbag. A lot cheaper to buy them in bulk. And as for those expensive kind they sell in airports? Well they did not work well for me. The soft compressable foam plugs work great. The assortment I bought has a variety of shapes and sizes that have different DB ratings.

    I have never tried it but I think plugs under noise cancelling headphones (good ones) would be blissfully silent. However the plugs alone are great. They really reduce the irritation of a flight or a sleeper on a train. Never used them in an office.

    As for this software? Looks dicey to my eyes. Just a mask. And if somebody was playing New Age frog songs in a cubicle next to mine I would probably have to epoxy their CD/ROM drive closed...or worse.

  • Re:Earplugs (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrderm ( 685352 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @02:35PM (#16538070)
    Ive been using shure E3Cs for nearly a year now, on a train, and to block out a noisy office. Wearing the headphones I will usually not hear any train noise - not even the 'ding' for the PA - unless I lean my head back onto the train seat headrest and enough sound will conduct through the back of my skull.

    In the office environment there is really no doubt that they block *everything*. (Even telephones..... why do they put alarm bells on those things?). They score highly for comfort too, which is important if you are wearing them for a full working day. I can turn down the volume to the level I want for the music, rather than the level I need to block out the chatter. One disadvantage is that you need to remove them to have any conversation, or even to get up and walk around in safety. And then you need somewhere hygienic to store them when they are not inserted.

    The E3Cs come with a range of different ear inserts, in different sizes. I recommend you take your time in trialling the different options. I was nearly ready to give up on them before finally trying the *small* soft inserts. I think that is the first time I have needed the 'small' in anything.

  • Breathing (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2006 @03:34PM (#16538444)
    now, come on ... people buying this may be stupid. But reminding them to breathe ?

    You might be surprised.

    I practice martial arts (intentionally ambiguous to avoid comparisons or flamewars). During some exercises, especially solo forms and being thrown, people do tend to stop breathing. When concentrating really hard on something, the natural reaction for most people is to tense up, and that includes holding their breath. Of course, when you finish the art, you're totally out of breath, which doesn't help your form, and possibly a headache. The senseis often remind students to breath. It's something you practice and get better at.

    Another example: have you ever been riding in a car when somebody *almost* got in a wreck? As soon as they're in the clear, what do they do? Start breathing again! Think about the consequences of being in a vehicle that, at the crucial moment, is controlled by somebody who has decided to give up breathing temporarily.

    Now, I don't know if people do it when programming, but people do stop breathing, unconsciously, and that's not a good thing.
  • by I-Secure-Space ( 609104 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @03:42PM (#16538494)
    Other solutions that actually work, but not exactly the issue?: If dealing with youths, and you are 'older', use a high frequency generating buzz(As we age, our ability to hear these higher frequencies diminishes). Numerous studies have found very effective. I beleive that cell hardware manufacturers are startuing to use these frequencies so they can tailor to the younger customers. And then there is the slice and dice method. This device, which I cant yet find link to, "encyrpts" your voice. Apparently it rebroadcasts what you say (e.g. in to the phone) with a slight delay. That basically makes what you are telling the person on the other end of the phone unintelligible to everyone nearby you. I would guess that unintelligible might become "white noise". I wonder if one were to mic' the poeple standing nearby and rebroadcast their conversation with a delay (e.g. via PC speaker) back towards them (call this "crypto-talk"), would they be unable to understand each other? That could be an incentive for them to move farther away (where the effect of the speakers would diminish). And it might not be too detectable - when they stop talking, the crypto-talk stops also. Any audio engineers want to postulate on this? I really need to find the link....
  • by archeopterix ( 594938 ) on Sunday October 22, 2006 @03:55PM (#16538586) Journal
    It should be obvious that you need a computer to run the software. And not unreasonable to assume that you need both audio input and output devices. Yes, but not just any input/output devices. For noise cancelling to work, you need the microphone and the speakers in specific positions and they have to meet some rather strict bandwidth and phase requirements. Randomly picked mic and speakers just won't do.
  • Re:Earplugs (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @02:54AM (#16543256) Journal

    I find wearing ear moldings for more than a few hours a day irritates the insides of my ears.

    Which is frustrating, because I do notice the benefits from my hearing aids. And I can take the batteries out if I want to stop listening to people ;)

  • Re:Free Speech? (Score:2, Informative)

    by cryptoguy ( 876410 ) on Monday October 23, 2006 @09:35AM (#16545624)
    I have used this: []

    It works and is free. When I need to do some reading or concentrate without distraction, some white / pink noise does wonders to block out the chatter in nearby cubes.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito