How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work?

Your guide

Michael Gray

Michael Gray

Michael has been writing about consumer technology for over a decade. He usually writes about headphones & other gadgets.
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If you are a music lover, you would indeed be disturbed with the ambient noise that kills your listening pleasure.

When you are on a plane or on a motorbike – the sound of roaring engines can be a huge disturbance and can block the sound that comes from your headphones.

You would not be able to listen to what your speakers are emanating. That is exactly where the Noise canceling headphones would be helpful.

How do they work? Or do they really work?

Let us answer all these questions for you related to noise canceling headphones and understand how these can improve your musical experience.

What Are Noise Canceling Headphones?

Well, the Noise Canceling headphones… Noise canceling headphones. The functionality is well evident from the name itself. However, there is confusion when we use the term.

There is a huge difference between noise canceling and noise isolating headphones, but we tend to use the term interchangeably.

The Noise-isolating Headphones use extra padding and opt for an airtight design. They can only block the ambient sound to some extent and only offer noise isolation functionality.

They are best suited for high-frequency noise isolation at the best.

Read this guide if you’re looking to buy over-ear headphones as well.

Difference Between Active and Passive Noise Cancellation

Well, noise cancellation is available in two categories … Active and Passive noise cancellation.

The Passive noise cancellation works by blocking some frequencies of sound waves.

The technology used in noise isolation varies depending upon your model. They work by isolating your ears from the sound around you as much as possible.

They accomplish the task through the means of a dense material that is capable of deflecting the sound waves. The super tight seal around the outer ear would ensure that you stay shielded from the outside noise to a maximum extent. However, this may not be as effective as True Noise Cancellation. This technology is referred to as the Active Noise Cancellation.

How Do The Noise Cancellation Headphones Work?

Well, Active Noise cancellation headphones have everything that regular passive noise cancellation ones come with.

They come with a structure that prevents the high-frequency sound waves. In addition, they come with an extra layer of noise cancellation that erases low-frequency sound as well.

In fact, this is achieved by creating their own sound waves that are exactly equivalent to the incoming sound waves. The sound waves created are out of phase by 180 degrees and thus effectively cancel the intruding sound waves.

This is done with the help of the following components:

The Microphone

The Noise Cancellation headphones come with a tiny microphone built within. These microphones help in canceling the ambient sounds effectively. The microphone picks up the ambient noise and processes it into a similar, yet distinct sound wave. This sound wave is fed into the noise cancellation circuitry within the headphones.

The Noise cancellation Circuitry

The circuitry located within the ear cup takes the input from the microphone and creates a fingerprint for the wave. The fingerprint for the incoming sound wave consists of the frequency and amplitude of the incoming sound wave.

The circuitry will then create a sound wave exactly with the same frequency and amplitude, but at 180 degrees out of phase when compared to the incoming sound wave. The technology used in this noise cancellation is referred to as Destructive Interference.

The technology involves creating a new sound wave that has exactly the same amplitude and frequency but arranged in such a way that the crests of one wave fall on the trough of another and vice versa. Thus, these sound waves cancel each other and you get a crystal clear sound that emanates from your speakers.

The Battery

The active noise cancellation needs a battery to power them. The noise canceling effect we discussed above can be caused only if you added the requisite energy to the system… so battery achieves the task of supplying this energy.

Please note that achieving this feat to a 100 per cent accuracy can only be possible in a controlled atmosphere in a laboratory.

In the real world situations, the technology comes as much close to the perfect functionality, but may not be 100 per cent accurate. You will still be left with a little ambient noise affecting you.

However, the effect would be much minimized when compared to opting for a headphone without the noise cancellation properties.

Further reading: How Long Do Headphones Last? Things You Need to Increase Their Life

Do They Really Work?

Having understood how does the noise canceling headphones work in theory, now comes another important question – do they really work?

Well, the practical experiences have shown that the technology can help you achieve a reduction of up to 20 decibels.

In terms of percentage, that should translate into around 70 per cent of the noise cancellation functionality. If the technology used has been good enough with the precision components, you should be able to get a good noise cancellation performance in train travel or airlines or for that matter in any place with high background noise.

However, the performance should be dependent upon the quality of construction and material used in the headphones. Some regular users at times complain about the compromised sound quality. Some so-called noise canceling headphones have been found to be muffling sounds.

Any Other Benefit of using Noise Canceling headphones?

Well, one of the major advantages is the fact that they offer you a crystal clear listening experience. If you are an audiophile, that is something you will cherish a lot. However, in addition – they also tend to offer you a few other advantages as well.

Prolonged exposure to low-frequency noise can bring fatigue to your ears. Use of noise canceling headphones reduces the exposure to these low-frequency sound waves.

Moreover, you can also make use of the noise canceling headphones to cancel the ambient noise, and not listen to any other audio source. In fact, they can be your gateway to a quieter surrounding when you are in a noisy environment.

Wearing these headphones without any audio source and switching on the Quiet function can help you stay away from the busy hustle bustle of the city and have complete privacy to yourself with respect to the sound around you.

Do They Work on Airplanes?

You would not believe it, but the noise canceling headphones were specifically created for the airline pilots who were on longer flights.

They were used for improving the comfort levels of the pilots so that they would not be fatigued by the ambient noises, which generally includes a combination of low frequency and high-frequency noise.

That in itself should be proof enough to indicate that they work really well on airplanes. In fact, even the first consumer options for the noise canceling headphones were marketed targeting the frequent flight travelers.

Can You Use Noise Canceling headphones with Hearing Aid?

That is one of the questions one would frequently face – can you wear both hearing aid and headphones simultaneously?

That is something dependent upon your hearing aid and the headphones you are about to use.

If you have the in the ear type of hearing aid, practically any type of noise-canceling headphones would work with you. However, there is some discomfort experienced in a few cases.

If you are wearing your headphones on the hearing aids, it can cause some sort of feedback. This is also referred to as Whistling. But, the effect can be reduced by reducing the volume of your hearing aid.

If the issue still persists, you can consult the manufacturer for a perfect setting that should work with your headphones. Some hearing aids may need a feedback calibration test to arrive at the best setting to reduce feedback or whistling.

One of the issues that may affect you would be the accumulation of moisture inside and around your ear. This can, at times, damage your hearing aids.

Further reading: How to Use Apple Headphones as a Mic On PC (Complete Guide)

The Verdict

Of course, there are many issues and trade-offs you need to go with if you are planning to use a noise canceling headphone.

However, it should also be noted that these are capable of achieving much more than just canceling the ambient sound. Enjoying a quiet surrounding in a busy street is just one of the advantages.

Cities have become louder. With a 24 x 7 construction activities, continuous roaring and honking of the vehicles and several other sound sources, the demand for the noise canceling headphones have been growing.

So instead of disturbing your peace of mind with a regular set of headphones, you can hop on to the bandwagon and go with the new range of noise-canceling headphones.

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