(Illustration: The picture does not show Mikko or even Mikko's headphones. But it could be.)

Last winter, I got my hands on Valco's noise-cancelling headphones. I tested them in various situations, mostly at work and work-related tasks. I promised to write down my thoughts and experiences. But first, a bit about my background.

I work in a managerial position in a commercial company, and my job is hectic; sometimes in Tampere, sometimes in Helsinki or, for example, Jyväskylä. On the worst days, there are about ten context switches. Typically, I have to address ten to fifteen projects simultaneously. Sometimes I work on the train, sometimes in meeting rooms; sometimes I have to work in a room next to a bunch of noisy folks. Sometimes music blares next door and conversations fly. In summary: quite disruptive and varied environments to work in.

My job requires a lot of thinking, and I often crave peace or silence to concentrate on one thing until a particular part is finished. I used to stay home for this, but now with small children, undisturbed work from home is impossible. Occasionally, I have gone to library reading rooms or similar places for tasks requiring high concentration, but that is not a practical long-term solution.

I got to test Valco's noise-cancelling headphones from their test batch in the winter of 2018. I already had experience with the first Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones, so I understand good noise-cancelling headphones, even though I am not an audiophile.

The first experience was somehow stunning. The over-ear part of the headphones already blocks a large part of the surrounding noise. When you turn on the noise-cancelling, the whole rest of the world disappears. I was quite impressed with the headphones just for the external noise reduction, but then I played some native Sibelius, sometimes other classical music and Waterscapes nature sounds to help concentration while updating processes in winter.

There is nothing to complain about in the sound world; it felt like being in a concert hall. To avoid only praising, I must say that I was not used to headphones covering the whole ear before. It took a while to get used to; on the other hand, the tradeoff was pretty easy: I could work near that open-plan office monkey troop in peace.

As mentioned earlier, my work is quite mobile and location-independent. So, I have been carrying the headphones everywhere throughout the winter and spring, even though they are a bit big. The size of the headphones does not really matter since they come with a genuinely premium case.

The trial by fire for the headphones was probably a Lync meeting, where the Valco headphones were connected via Bluetooth to the phone while I had to walk from Helsinki Central Station to Katajanokka, talking the whole time, with the Abitur celebration truck parade roaring next to me. The outcome was that I could hear the meeting discussions completely, and the microphones in the headphones picked up my voice for the meeting, but the Abitur noise was filtered out so that the other participants did not hear it. Oh yes, the headphones also work as a hands-free device. You probably guessed that already.

I have almost always worn the headphones on the train. Lync meetings do not go so well there because you cannot talk without fellow passengers hearing what you are saying. It is easy to fall into this, as with the noise-cancelling on, the train noise and the chatter of the grannies next to you disappear, and you easily forget you are on a train. Consequently, I have been listening to more music on the train. The headphones have significantly more bass capacity compared to Apple's white earbuds. No wonder.

To mention some practical things about the headphones: The package includes premium noise-cancelling headphones that can be connected to the audio source and microphone (!) with a traditional cable, or you can use Bluetooth. There are touch controls on the surface of one ear cup for volume and track skipping. It takes a bit to get used to. Sometimes the directions get mixed up.

Battery life is not an issue; the battery has never run out. I occasionally plug the headphones to charge with a USB cable, so I have not worried about it separately. A key factor in carrying the headphones everywhere is also the mentioned quality protective case. I had a similar case with my first travel Sennheisers. They always had to be folded in a complicated way, so their usability suffered. The Valcos can be thrown into the case as they are by rotating the ear cups and zipping it up.

All in all, I can warmly recommend these headphones. For context: although I was asked to write about my user experience, I write impartially, meaning I was not asked to write praise.

I am planning to get a larger batch of these headphones for our office, as I let others test them and the feedback was unanimously positive. Then others can work in peace too.

- Mikko J.