Month: May 2019

For the Warriors, a Lack of Doubt Should Create Some Doubt

2019 N.B.A. Finals Preview
This N.B.A. season has been treated as a foregone conclusion, but Golden State will not want to get too comfortable against Kawhi Leonard and his loaded Toronto Raptors.

Game 1: Thursday, 9 p.m.

The games will air on ABC and will be streamed on Watch ESPN.

The Warriors, for better or worse, have always fed on doubt. No matter how invincible they have seemed, they have managed to find slights to inspire them — often going to somewhat comical lengths to do so.

The last time they faced significant doubt — and even then, it was hardly from a majority of pundits — was before the 2015 finals when, as a group of upstarts, the Warriors had to prove their mettle against LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers. But over the last four seasons, as they made the shift from powerhouse to dynasty, they have used injuries, inexplicably sloppy performances and some apparent figments of Draymond Green’s imagination as ways to make winning feel less inevitable and more like a chance to prove “everyone” wrong.

Even last year, as they pulled off one of the most dominant sweeps in finals history, they seemed to be powered by a reserve of doubt created by the team barely having survived a clash with the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals.

As Golden State comes out of a nine-day break, looking to win its third consecutive championship and a fourth in five years, the doubt created by injuries to Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins — doubt that helped inspire some of the best basketball of Green’s career — has faded away. In what should be ringing the “lack of doubt” alarm in Green’s head, the players and coaches have spent the last few days being asked about the possibility that Stephen Curry will finally win a finals M.V.P. Award.

Shaun Livingston and Curry both answered questions about the award on Monday, playing down the importance of Curry becoming the M.V.P., while neither pushed back against assumptions that the Raptors have only a slight chance of winning the series.

Steve Kerr, for his part, seemed to understand that the line of questioning could be counterproductive for his squad. “We’re trying to win” the series, the coach said when asked two consecutive questions about the award. “So we’re not talking about any awards, we just want to win four games.”

This Raptors team, after all, is far more complete than any of the James-led teams that faced off with the Warriors in their previous four trips to the finals.

After five years of watching his team dominate in the regular season only to fall apart in the playoffs, Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president, blew things up, trading DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The move did not pay tangible dividends in the regular season — the Raptors played slightly worse over the 82-game grind than they had the season before — but the killer instinct they had previously lacked became a defining characteristic of the team once the playoffs began.

You saw it in each series, as the Raptors systematically eliminated Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, playing suffocating defense as Leonard led the way on both ends of the court.

Leonard, who has a finals M.V.P. Award on his shelf from his days in San Antonio, has already justified the cost of trading away DeRozan, a franchise icon. Even if Leonard signs elsewhere as a free agent this summer, he has taken Toronto farther than it has ever been before.

His buzzer-beater to end the second-round series against the 76ers was the most important shot in franchise history, and Leonard followed it up by averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game against the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, thoroughly outplaying Giannis Antetokounmpo, the presumptive winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

And Leonard is hardly alone. Pascal Siakam, who has the makings of a superstar, is a worthy sidekick on offense and defense. Marc Gasol, a rugged veteran acquired during the season when Ujiri sensed yet again that his franchise needed a shake-up, could be a problem for the undersize Warriors. And Kyle Lowry, once a centerpiece of the franchise along with DeRozan, has looked like his old self in spurts, even if he has had more mediocre playoff games than great ones.

Fred VanVleet probably can’t keep up the 82.4 percent he shot from 3-point range in the final three games of the series against the Bucks, but he will still provide a scoring threat from the bench that has to be accounted for.

The Raptors have more length than the Warriors and, at least until further notice, better health. They have home court advantage — a luxury Golden State had in each of the previous four finals — and, with help from their raucous fans, could win Games 1 and 2 before Durant’s anticipated return.

If Green and Curry can pick up where they left off in the Portland series, Durant’s return might be a formality. In the last six games, Curry has quieted talk about his “disappearing” in the playoffs by averaging 34 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists. In those same six games, Green, in the best shape of his career thanks to some late-season weight loss, has nearly averaged a triple-double, with 13.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists, while also playing elite defense at multiple positions. The Warriors’ ability to go galactic, and the likelihood that Thompson has a few big scoring nights in him as well, could make quick work of Toronto.

But Curry’s game is mercurial enough to make one wonder if he is due for a rough stretch, and Green is volatile enough that the task of tangling with Leonard and Gasol could put him in consistent foul trouble — or worse if he were to get three more technical foul points, earning a one-game suspension.

If both of those things happen, the Warriors have to hope they can count on Durant, currently reduced to being an extremely tall fan, to fly in for the rescue, putting the team on his back and securing the three-peat. The only problem, of course, is that Durant’s return has been a moving target. Pinning too much hope on a player who has been out since May 8 seems unwise.

As it stands, these two teams are more evenly matched than the average fan might assume, though a combination of top-shelf talent and finals experience should give Golden State a slight advantage. However, if Green is looking for some motivational doubt, there is no need to manufacture it this time around. The Warriors, the first team to play in a fifth consecutive finals since the Celtics appeared in their 10th straight in 1966, are nowhere near a sure thing.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Spotify

Whether you’re a new user of the music-streaming service or a playlist pro, these tips will improve your next listening session.

Apple’s music-streaming service reportedly has more paying subscribers in the US now than Spotify does, but there’s no doubt that Spotify is still the global leader in streaming music—and Spotify has been a multiplatform service since it first launched in 2008. Which is why it’s unforgivable that Spotify’s user experience can be so confusing. Finding a specific album or playlist or mood on Spotify is about as enjoyable as doing taxes: The reward can be sweet, but the journey is onerous.



This is a guide to using Spotify. It will help you maximize the benefit of that monthly subscription fee (assuming you’ve gone ad-free), so you won’t feel, like one of my WIRED colleagues, that you’re only taking advantage of 5 percent of the features of the app. Even if you’ve been using Spotify since day one, there might be something in here that will become your new favorite streaming feature.

Note: Some, but not all, of the features described here are only available to Spotify subscribers.

How to Find Songs, Albums, and Playlists
This part is pretty simple. When you open the Spotify mobile app, you’ll see three tabs at the bottom: Home, Search, and Your Library. Tapping on Search lets you search for artists, songs, or podcast titles. You can specify which of those categories you’re looking for when you punch in your initial query, but Spotify does a lot of the sorting for you. For example, if you type in “Dirty Computer,” which is both the name of an album and a song on the album, the album will pop up first.
If you’re not searching for something in particular, you don’t need to enter a specific search term. Just tap on Search and select from a variety of different categories and subcategories representing your top four genres. If you scroll down to Browse All, you can find playlists determined by mood (“All the Feels”), occasion (“Workout”), even TV show and movie soundtracks (Bohemian Rhapsody). If you’re looking for playlists you’ve carefully crafted or saved, you’ll want to navigate out of Search and go to the Your Library tab on the bottom right.

What’s “Your Library”?
Good question! Your Library is everything you’ve saved on Spotify—your playlists, the streaming radio stations you’ve followed, the songs you’ve downloaded, and the artists and albums that comprise your saved stuff. It’s also another avenue into songs you’ve recently played, though these will appear near the bottom of the mobile page as smallish album thumbnails. (Under the Home tab, recently played albums appear right at the top, and they’re hard to miss.)
There is a very important distinction, though, between your saved items and downloaded items. Saved means that you’ve earmarked it so that it appears in Your Library, thereby making it easy to find later on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your songs have been downloaded and can be played offline. For more on downloading content, see “Make Offline Listening Your Friend” (below).

Work Playlists Like a Pro
Playlists are by far the most appealing part of using Spotify. The company pumps out dozens of genre- or mood-specific playlists. They’re both human- and algorithmically generated, and their influence over the music industry has evolved to the point where being included on a popular Spotify playlist can make or break an artist’s career. Users spend around half their time on Spotify listening to either the curated playlists or ones of their own creation. But at the same time, playlists can be the most frustrating part of the Spotify experience.
Making your own playlist is straightforward: On the mobile app, go to Your Library, then Playlists, and then tap on the giant green Create Playlist tab. Once you have a playlist titled and created, you can tap on any individual song or album, look for the ellipses on the right, and quickly add that content to an existing playlist. This experience is similar on a PC; the New Playlist button lives on the bottom left-hand side of the desktop app. Likewise, adding a preexisting playlist to your favorites is dead simple: Find a playlist, hit Follow, and it will then be accessible via Playlists in Your Library.

Other playlist features aren’t so simple. For example, you can stack album after album in a playlist, but you can’t do that from within the playlist itself, where Spotify will encourage you to search for individual songs. Instead, you’ll have to search for the album you want to add, then tap on the “more options” ellipses in the upper right-hand corner, and choose to add to a playlist from there.
You can also make playlists collaborative so you and your friends can all add songs, but this is at least a two-step process. On the playlist you want to invite your friends to join, first go into the options—tap that ellipsis—and choose to make it collaborative (which is somehow different from making it public). Then, open the options menu a second time, tap Share, and share the playlist with anyone you’d like. When I shared a playlist with a WIRED colleague, he had to save the playlist to his own library first, and only then could he start adding stuff—so that’s good advice to pass along to the friends you’re inviting. Also, on mobile it’s not obvious who’s contributing to a collaborative playlist; the desktop Spotify app will show you who added which songs.

Make Offline Listening Your Friend
Spotify makes it easy for you to download any song in its massive library to your phone. That way, you can listen to music even without a data or Wi-Fi connection.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that saving something to your library is different from downloading your content? More times than I care to admit, I’ve saved songs but failed to take advantage of Spotify’s offline listening before boarding a long flight or embarking on a remote road trip. The crucial difference is that when you save something, it bookmarks it but leaves it in the cloud. You won’t be able to listen to anything that’s saved when you go offline. This is the part where you can learn from my mistakes: Download your favorite playlists now. Right now. Go do it.
Go to a playlist, look for the Download option right at the top of the playlist (you really cannot miss this), and tap the toggle. That’s it. You’re done. A green downward arrow icon will appear next to any playlist that’s available for offline listening. If you want the option to download playlists when you’re not connected to a stable Wi-Fi connection, even though that will eat up a portion of your monthly cellular data, go to Settings, then Music Quality, and navigate to Download. Opt into Download Using Cellular (it should be the last option on the page on mobile), and you’re ready to scramble to download a playlist with two bars of service just before takeoff.

Downloading works for nearly anything on Spotify—not just playlists, but also albums, podcasts, and individual songs.

Up the Streaming Quality—or Turn It Down
Speaking of music quality, you can adjust the bitrate of your audio streams within Settings as well. You can also fine-tune things like volume level or the treble and bass, although these options are within the Playback tab in settings, not under Music Quality.

The options for audio quality range from 24 kilobits per second up to 320 kbps. A normal rate is considered 96 kbps, and that level of quality doesn’t sound fantastic. If you’re dissatisfied with Spotify’s audio quality, bump this setting up until it sounds good to you.
If sound quality isn’t that important to you, and streaming at a high bitrate just isn’t an option because of your concerns about cellular data usage, then you can instead opt into something in Settings called Data Saver. Spotify just introduced this last summer, and it streams your music at the low end, 24 kbps, when the only option is streaming over cellular. Once you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, your audio quality will be bumped up to a normal level again.

How to Let Everybody Know You’re Going Through a Breakup
If you’ve never dug into Spotify’s social settings, then you might be horrified to learn that Spotify sets your music listening habits to public by default. And, while the service offers a Private Session option, that defaults back to public listening after you’ve been inactive for six hours.
Unfortunately, while there are some options for keeping certain activities private, there aren’t any options for blocking people from viewing your profile. This is a serious fail on Spotify’s part at a time when privacy concerns are at the forefront of every conversation about popular tech services, and when people are literally being harassed on its platform. There are some ways to work around it, though. The first and absolutely least user-friendly approach is to turn on Private Session every single time you open the app. The second is to create “secret” playlists, and only listen to those—just know that any public playlists you’ve created or joined will still be visible unless you go in and change the playlists’ privacy settings.
The third option is to refuse to use Spotify entirely, which we won’t blame you for. There are other streaming music options, even if they don’t all offer a free tier.

Let Spotify Do the Work for You

Assuming you’re still hooked on Spotify, you’ll want to take advantage of the playlists that Spotify assembles specifically for you, which can offer a more robust experience than putting together playlists yourself. The very top entry within Your Library is a section called Made for You, which includes a weekly playlist, a roundup of new releases Spotify thinks you should have on your radar, and a series of daily mixes that are heavily influenced by the stuff you’ve already been listening to. An annual playlist that highlights the top songs you listened to during the calendar year could serve as a pleasant trip down memory lane, the audio equivalent of “one year ago” apps—or a reminder to book your next therapy appointment. Still, these algorithmically created Spotify playlists are a great way to veer just slightly out of your comfort zone and expand your music listening. And isn’t that the point of paying $10 a month for a music service—not just to move to the sound of your own familiar drum but to discover a new kind of beat?

Is bar culture changing in the Bay Area?

It’s a tale as old as 2019. On a Friday night, your friends invite you to the trendy new bar in your neighborhood. It has high, exposed ceilings, mid-century modern furniture, potted snake plants, and minimalist wooden surfaces. Oh, and cocktails are $15.

You were looking forward to a night of catching up with your pals, but you can’t hear a single word they say in the packed bar. You shout over the cacophony until a throbbing ache emerges in the space between your ears, then order too many craft cocktails to dull the pain.

“The growing trend in bars and restaurants just being really loud is something a lot of people can relate to,” said Daniel Gahr.

Gahr and Shirin Raza, who are married, own Bar Shiru, a hi-fi vinyl listening bar in Uptown Oakland.

“If you look at the aesthetics of where we are currently in architecture and interior design, it’s a lot of hard surfaces, glass and materials that don’t necessarily make for the best acoustic environments,” Gahr continued.

The couple opened Bar Shiru in February this year as an antidote to the bad acoustics in restaurants that are rampant in coastal cities nowadays. On a trip to Tokyo in 2015, they were enthralled by the city’s popular jazz listening bars. Gahr and Raza were inspired to bring the concept back home — but as more of a loose interpretation, rather than a faithful recreation.

“We didn’t want to bring that exact thing here because the U.S. audience and American bar culture is quite different from what it is in Japan,” explained Gahr. “We were really intent on building something that was to our vision and for the Oakland community.”

In Tokyo, hi-fi vinyl bar owners are known to be strict at times, even shushing customers for chatting. Bar Shiru, conversely, encourages a social atmosphere while still offering a fully analog, high-quality sound system.

It even still looks like your quintessential trendy bar of the moment: high ceilings, concrete, Eames-style chairs, wooden tables, and a lot more square footage than you would typically find in a Japanese listening bar.

To keep it from getting too loud, Gahr and Raza discourage large groups and maintain a strict capacity. When I stopped by on a busy Friday night, walk-ins were designated to an open seating area at the front of the bar, while those with reservations were seated at small wooden tables in front of a floor-to-ceiling collection of vinyl and huge speakers.

“We wanted this to be a place that balances intentional listening and the ability to hear the music really well, but also at a volume that allows for conversation as opposed to yelling,” said Gahr.

In the clamor of a busy weekend evening, some of the bar’s music focus was lost. As one might expect, people get chatty — and loud — when packed together in a bar setting, no matter the original intent of the space. The volume never got overpowering, though — it was just a little hard to make out what record was playing over the hubbub.

However, on a second visit on a quiet Sunday evening, the Bar Shiru the owners had envisioned came into clearer view. Old friends caught up over beers, occasionally bobbing their heads to the Pat Martino record playing. When the bartender changed records, everyone had to sit with the staticky silence for a moment — a refreshing moment of mindfulness in the often overstimulating bar environment.

Bar Shiru isn’t the only bar in the Bay Area to start paying more attention to its acoustics. North Light, a cafe, bar, bookstore, and record shop all in one, opened in Oakland’s Temescal district earlier this year.

“If we’re on a commute or at home, we really care about what we’re hearing,” said Dan Stone, who co-owns the North Oakland spot with concert promoter Lee Smith. “We care about it then, so why wouldn’t we want that with the places we patronize and spend our time?”

North Light plays tunes via turntable, paying careful attention to which records are being played at which times of day.

“We play music without English language lyrics during the day, such as mariachi, flamenco, and jazz.
“Then it converts to a bar vibe around 5,” explained Stone. This allows artists, writers, and musicians to use the cafe as a peaceful home office during the day before the energy picks up at night — no headphones to drown out distracting top 40 radio required.

Social Security impostor scam: It’s growing, and this is how it works

To scammers, your Social Security number is a gold-plated and diamond-encrusted asset, and now they have a new way to try to steal yours and get paid.

Consumer advocates are raising an alert about a twist to an old impostor phone scam. It’s called the “Social Security impostor scam.” A blog at the Federal Trade Commission recently wrote: “In the shady world of government, the SSA scam may be the new IRS scam.”

Here’s how it works:

You get a call with a warning that your Social Security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity or because it’s been used in a crime. You are asked to confirm you number or told you need to withdraw money from the bank and buy gift cards.

The phone call may be a robocaller with a message to “press 1” to speak with a “support representative” from the government to reactivate your Social Security number. The scammers use technology to spoof your Caller ID to make it look like the Social Security Administration is really calling.

More: New scam aims to trick you into giving up your cell phone account information

More: These robocalls don’t want to talk to you, they just want you to call back, FCC says

In the last 12 months, people filed more than 76,000 complaints about Social Security impostors, reporting $19 million in losses. The median reported loss last year was $1,500, the FTC said.

People are asked to give up the personal identification numbers (PINs) on the back of gift cards or use virtual currencies like Bitcoin to pay. (According to the FTC’s consumer alert, people withdrew money and fed cash into Bitcoin automatic teller machines.)

After handing over the gift card numbers to the “Social Security office,” one consumer interviewed by Fraud.org was told he would receive a refund equal to the amount he paid to unfreeze his account from the Federal Reserve. Of course, the refund never came and the man lost nearly $20,000. 

“One scammer will try a new twist on an old scam or try one new wrinkle that gets them more money,” said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud with the National Consumers League. “Scammers like to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to using the latest techniques to defraud consumers.”

The scammers can be clever. With numerous data breaches that have hit corporate America, fraudsters may already have accurate personal information about you, including your real Social Security number, Breyault said. The information is used to build trust and make the call seem more legitimate, he added.

According to Fraud.org and the FTC, here are some important things to remember:

  • Don’t trust your phone’s caller ID. Scammers can make it look as if the Social Security Administration is calling and even use the agency’s real number.
  • Don’t give your Social Security number, other personal information, to a caller on the phone.
  • Social Security will never suspend your number, according to Fraud.org. If anyone tells you something different, you’re being scammed.
  • Social Security will never call you and demand money. No government agency will demand you pay something using gift cards or Bitcoin either.
  • If you have a question, check with the real Social Security Administration. The administration will never contact you out of the blue. The agency’s number is 1-800-772-1213.
  • Talk about the scam with friends, family and neighbors. Report government impostor scams to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

African-American strippers awarded more than $3 million in discrimination case

Five African-American dancers will split more than $3 million awarded to them Wednesday for back pay and suffering while working in a Mississippi strip club. The attorney for Danny’s Downtown Cabaret in Jackson, Bill Walter, said he would ask a federal judge to reduce the award. If the judge doesn’t agree, he said he will appeal.

“Obviously, the client is disappointed in the verdict,” Walter said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the club several years ago, alleging that black dancers worked limited hours and were fined $25 if they missed a shift. White strippers were allowed flexible schedules and were not fined for missing work, the commission argued.

he agency also said the manager called one black dancer a racial slur and club owners forced black women to work at another club they owned called Black Diamonds, where conditions and security were worse and dancers were paid less.

“This case shows the EEOC will sue any employer, operating any type of business, who violates federal anti-discrimination laws, especially those who will not stop discriminating even after being given repeated chances to do so,” Rucker said. “The jury … sent a powerful message to Danny’s and any employer who thinks they are above the law.”

Morehouse Graduates’ Student Loans to Be Paid Off by Billionaire

Not even Morehouse College administrators knew the announcement was coming.

Addressing the college’s class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, a man who is richer than Oprah Winfrey, made a grand gesture straight out of the television mogul’s playbook.

“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he said on Sunday morning, bringing the approximately 400 students in caps and gowns to their feet.

“This is my class,” he said.

In January, Mr. Smith, a billionaire, donated $1.5 million to the college to fund student scholarships and a new park on campus. He received an honorary degree at the graduation on Sunday.

[Who is Robert F. Smith? Read more.]

The value of the new gift is unclear because of the varying amounts the students owe, but the money will be disbursed through Morehouse College and will apply to “loans students directly have for their college education,” a representative for Mr. Smith said.

Because Morehouse was not informed of Mr. Smith’s plans before the ceremony, details about how the money would be distributed were not immediately available.

A private equity titan, Mr. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000.

After making a fortune in software, he was named the nation’s richest African-American by Forbes. According to that financial magazine, Mr. Smith’s estimated net worth is $5 billion, making him richer than Ms. Winfrey, who previously held the title of the wealthiest black person.

Mr. Smith studied chemical engineering at Cornell University and finance and marketing at Columbia Business School. Although he shunned the spotlight for many years, Mr. Smith has recently embraced a more public role, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and making major charitable contributions. Cornell named its chemical and biomolecular engineering school for him after he announced a $50 million gift, and he has made major donations to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He started the Fund II Foundation, which is focused in part on preserving African-American history and culture, and signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign through which wealthy individuals and families commit more than half their wealth to charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

Anand Giridharadas, the author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of big philanthropy, said Mr. Smith’s offer was “generous.” But, he added, “a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt or the subprime crisis on an epically greater scale.”

Sunday’s announcement came amid growing calls to address the crushing burden of student loan debt in the United States, which has more than doubled in the past decade.

Over the past 20 years, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges rose 58 percent, after accounting for inflation, while tuition at four-year public colleges increased even more, by over 100 percent, according to research from the College Board.

According to federal data, the average federal student loan debt is $32,000. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is up to 10 years, but most students, according to research, take far longer than that to pay off their balances.

For the students at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that costs about $48,500 per year to attend, the gift could be transformative, especially in the unsettled years after graduation.

In an interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major carrying $90,000 in student debt, said: “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”

Mr. Smith’s prepared speech did not include his plan to pay off the students’ debts.

“Now, I know my class, who will make sure they pay this forward,” Mr. Smith said on Sunday morning. “And I want my class to look at these alumni, these beautiful Morehouse brothers — and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity moving forward — because we are enough to take care of our own community.”

The Pros and Cons of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones regularly top lists of essential travel gadgets, but are they worth it?

A little bit of silence. Sometimes that’s all we want. Whether it’s halfway through a 10-hour flight with a crying baby, or trying to sleep though the snoring from the hotel room next door, the promise of noise-canceling headphones is one that every traveler probably finds intriguing.

Yet are they worth it? These headphones are often expensive and for some people, they don’t live up to the hype.

I’ve spent the majority of the last five years traveling, taking dozens of flights and train journeys, and as someone who has reviewed noise-canceling headphones for even longer, I can definitively say “maybe.

Noise-canceling headphones, also called active noise canceling headphones, use electronic processing to analyze ambient sound and attempt to generate the “opposite” sound. The result is less noise overall.

Imagine ocean waves. There’s high part, the crest and the low part, the trough. If you combined the positive height of the crest and the negative depth of the trough, the result would be a flat sea. Or for the math inclined, if you add +1 and -1 you get 0. This is essentially what active noise-canceling headphones do. Add troughs to crests and crests to troughs. Except instead of seawater, it’s sound waves.

It’s not perfect. these headphones don’t “create” silence, nor are they able to eliminate noise. The crests and troughs do not perfectly cancel out. The absolute best noise-canceling headphones merely reduce noise, and work best with low-frequency droning sounds. So a loud hum is a quieter hum. The roar on an airplane is a quieter roar on an airplane. They also don’t work well for all sounds. At higher frequencies, like the human vocal range and higher, the headphones do very little if anything at all. So if your hope is to block out the cries of the baby in seat 15C, you’re out of luck. Fast and transient sounds, like a door slam or a hand clap, also aren’t blocked effectively.

What’s perhaps even more frustrating is not all noise-canceling headphones work the same. The best reduce a lot of noise, the worst reduce very little or nothing at all. There’s no way to tell, looking at a headphone’s specs, which are which.

Two headphone sets could claim to reduce the same amount of noise but perform completely different. Only hands-on testing, ideally with objective measurements, can tell the difference. Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews products, does these types of measurements for all the noise-canceling headphones they test. (For Wirecutter, I’ve written both the over-ear and in-ear noise-canceling headphone guides along with my colleague Brent Butterworth.)

Noise-canceling headphones require a battery to power their electronics. Noise-isolating headphones, which do not require electronics and therefore can be far cheaper, work by creating a seal in your ear canal to block noise. Basically they are like earplugs, but with earbuds inside. If you can get a good seal, these work reasonably well. Getting a good seal can be a challenge, however, since everyone’s ears are different and not all headphones will fit correctly. And even if you do get a good seal, noise-isolating headphones will not be able to block low-frequency sounds as well as the best noise-canceling headphones. They will reduce a wide range of frequencies, which can help.