How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work: A Detailed Guide

Active Noise Cancellation is a feature that never fails to blow our minds. The day we used the AirPods Pro with active noise cancellation, switching back to something else felt almost impossible. But that left us curious – how does this feature even work, and how is it this effective? So, we set out to understand how noise-canceling headphones work and it wasn’t magic after all.

How do active noise canceling headphones work

If you are equally curious and interested in knowing how active noise cancellation works, you are in the right place. We’ll explain why you need this feature and all the different noise cancellation forms.

Noise cancellation might be a hard concept to understand on a scientific level. Hence, we’ve written a simple explanation that can be understood by anyone, even if you are reading these terms for the first time. Let’s begin.

What is Noise Cancellation on Headphones and Earphones

We all love to listen to music on the go, don’t we? And of course, at some point, the background noises from the busy streets annoyed us all. So, when all these noises interfere with our listening experience, to a point where we can barely enjoy the song, we’d be praying to get rid of these noises.

Thanks to the power of technology, another prayer has been answered. Here’s what noise cancellation means.

In simple words, the technology of noise cancellation eliminates the external noise from the surrounding environment (also called ambient noise) from interfering with your listening experience on your earphones. This way you will be thoroughly able to enjoy your music without disturbance.

However, noise cancellation does not work the same on all earphones. On low-end to mid-range earphones, the external noise is eliminated only to a certain extent. Whereas, on high-end earphones, the external noise and disturbance are almost eliminated.

Now that we are aware of what exactly this feature does, let us now take a look at how noise cancellation work on earphones and headphones.

How Does Noise Canceling Work on Earphones and Headphones

Firstly, we need to understand the basic concept of sound. A sound is a form of energy caused due to vibrations. These vibrations cause waves that move from one point to another through a medium such as air.

Now, let us consider that you are using a pair of earphones or headphones with a noise-canceling feature, along with some disturbances in the surrounding environment. There is a microphone that is present that listens to and detects external disturbances and sounds.

Once done, your earphones generate an opposite sound wave, that travels in the other direction essentially pushing away the sound waves arising from the external disturbances.

Basically, they create an ‘anti-noise’ that helps in keeping away the externals and unwanted sounds. Therefore, the noise cancels out and you hear more of the sound waves arising from your music.

Source: Wikipedia

In layman’s terms, it is the simplest explanation you need to know about noise-canceling earphones and headphones. However, achieving a hundred-percent noise cancellation is indeed hard, and as mentioned earlier, this cancels noise out only to a certain degree. Therefore, there are different types of noise-canceling headphones. Let’s look at them in detail in the next section.

Different Types of Noise Cancellation: Noise Canceling vs. Noise Blocking

Here are some of the different types of noise-canceling technologies. The key difference we need to understand is between noise canceling and noise blocking, and no, you cannot use them interchangeably. Let’s understand more.

  • Active Noise Cancellation: This technology uses a microphone and speakers to detect and reduce external disturbances and noises. This is deemed the most efficient form of noise cancellation, with parts and elements small enough that it is used in most truly wireless in-ear earphones.
  • Passive Noise Cancellation or Noise Blocking: This technology uses specifically designed earcups to physically seal out disturbances and noises. It is present in both over-the-ear and in-ear headphones. This is more like using your fingers to block out noise from your ear canals.
  • Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation: You might not need your earphones or headphones to cancel noise to the best of your abilities all the time. If you are listening to music in surroundings with fewer disturbances, you would probably need less amount of noise cancellation. Therefore, adaptive noise canceling earphones are suited best for such situations, where the active noise cancellation adapts to the surroundings and works based on the disturbances around you.
  • Adjustable Active Noise Cancellation: It’s in the name – this technology allows you to manually adjust the noise cancellation levels so that you are also aware of everything that is going on around you.

There you go – we hope you are clear on how noise-canceling headphones and earphones work.

But if you remember, we previously mentioned that noise cancellation doesn’t work the same way in all earphones. So, you might be thinking, if noise cancellation work all the time. Well, let us find out.

Does Active Noise Canceling Work All The Time

Manufacturers only strive to eliminate the maximum amount of noise and disturbance possible, but they cannot assure a hundred percent noise reduction. Noise cancellation works best only if the noise around you is constant, and has a low characteristic frequency.

For example, if you are traveling in a bus, the noise from the bus throughout the journey is constant, and hence, is easy for your earphones to cancel. However, a few occasional and sudden noises will still be heard.

Having said that, if you pick a pair of noise-canceling headphones or earphones from a renowned manufacturer, like Bose or Apple, the results will certainly satisfy you and change the way you listen to music.

But if you are getting noise cancellation on earphones and headphones on a budget, you might not get the best results. Is it just a marketing gimmick then? To call it that is a bit harsh since they offer noise cancellation albeit on a small level. You can call it an introduction to the feature and if you feel a difference in your listening experience, you can switch to a more expensive one that offers better noise cancellation.

You can check out the below buying guides to help purchase a good pair of noise-canceling headphones/earphones:

There you go, that is everything you need to know about noise-canceling headphones and earphones. However, if you have any further questions you can take a look at the FAQ section below.

FAQs on Noise Cancelling Headphones

1. Is passive noise cancellation the same as noise blocking?

Yes. Passive noise cancellation works on the same principle as noise blocking.

2. Which were the first earphones with noise cancellation?

Bose introduced the Series 1 Aviation Headset in 1989 which was the first commercially available noise-canceling headphones.

3. Is noise cancellation harmful to the ears?

No, Noise cancellation is not harmful to the ears.

Enjoy Your Music Without Disturbances

We hope this article helped you understand how noise-canceling headphones work. So, the next time you see this term, you have a better understanding of it and hence, will be able to make a better purchase decision. However, we are interested in how this technology will evolve to enhance our listening experience. So, let’s wait and watch!

Last updated on 26 April, 2023

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