If you were watching last week’s Thursday night NFL game at Giants (MetLife) Stadium, you may have noticed the headsets the coaches were wearing on the sidelines. Turns out, those are special models made just for the NFL thanks to its ongoing partnership with Bose, and they’re packing some heavy-duty tech. The Bose NFL headsets were introduced at the beginning of last season (which is surprising because Jim Harbaugh was still around to destroy them!).
What really sets the Bose NFL headsets apart is their active noise cancellation (ANC) which eliminates some of the (literally) deafening crowd noise. This avoids loss of pivotal seconds in a game defining situation for coaches, at times when they may have to otherwise resort to using hand signals and stink eyes. Borrowing from Bose’s aviation and military headsets, the NFL models have sophisticated enough ANC to mitigate sound of around 130 decibels. This is quite loud, but not unheard of in the NFL. A record-breaking crowd in Seattle held the Guinness Book of World Records title as loudest outdoor stadium for the better part of the 2013 season, before losing the record to Kansas City in the early part of 2014. Measured sound levels due to fans at these games crested at 137.6 decibels and 142.2 decibels, respectively. This is approximately the same as that of a jet engine. Yes – industry leading, reliable noise cancellation headphones are strongly recommended!
Active noise control is nothing new; it was developed by Bose in the 1970’s, and used to mitigate noise in military and commercial aviation headsets. The technology relies on the fundamental science behind sound propagation. Sound is, essentially, nothing more than a pressure fluctuation in air created by some source, be it tens of thousands of impassioned Giants fans at Thursday Night Football, or jet engines on a Boeing 787. This pressure wave consists of a lot of information that can be broken down into frequency, commonly referred to as pitch, and level, or loudness. Sound level, or loudness, is what is commonly referred to as decibels. Real-world sounds consist of thousands of different frequency components at different levels which, when combined in time, result in the sound of a whistle blowing or that of the deep bass in a team’s pump up music. All of this data is collected at your ear and processed by your cochlea and auditory nerves of your brain to decode into useful information. Peyton Manning screaming OMAHA has never seemed so complicated, has it?!
The Bose ANC system makes use of the peaks and troughs in sound waves as mechanisms for noise control. By measuring the incoming sound wave reaching you, performing some (very) quick signal processing, then projecting the opposite waveform towards your ear, the peaks of the incoming wave line up with the troughs of the ANC wave, and cancel each other out. Since the system relies on signal processing, steady sounds tend to be mitigated the best. So, the headphones work exceptionally well in an aircraft to tune out the hum of the engines, or at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, when the 12th man is at their loudest!
The Bose NFL headsets also feature wireless connectivity to allow coaches to communicate directly to each other and to players. You might have heard a little about this, too — the week one problem involving, who else, the New England Patriots. According to the NFL, the signal interference screwing up the Steelers’ coaches’ headsets was due to a power infrastructure problem at the stadium. Suspicious activity aside, the Bose NFL headsets are well-equipped to deal with a different sort of interference — the weather. They’re reinforced with weather-resistant coating for later in the season, so they can perform reliably during prolonged exposure to wind, rain, and snow. Whether or not the headsets can stand up to Chuck Pagano watching his defense blow a fourth-and-one is less clear.
Bose Technology – Not Just for the NFL
Combine the needs of the modern NFL coaching staff – reliable wireless connectivity (outside of Foxborough, that is) and weather protection – with a dash of urban style, and you’re left with Bose’s new SoundLink around-ear headphones II. Though geared toward the general public, rest assured that the same technology goes into these headphones as over Tom Coughlin’s frostbitten face in January. They may never see the gridiron, but airplane, subway and traffic noise beware!
This article was co-written by Matt Roe. Matt Roe is an audio/sound-focused contributor for Chip Chick. He is an Acoustic Consultant at SSA Acoustics in Seattle, WA, specializing in acoustic design of new constructions. In 2013, Matt was on the field in Seattle doing the official measurement of the record breaking decibel level at CenturyLink Field for Guinness World Records.
Matt has a Bachelors degree and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rochester, and is a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), and the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE).