How do noise cancelling headphones work?

How noise cancelling headphones work and how they can benefit you. 

15 Mar 2019

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Is noise cancelling and noise isolating the same?

There are two main types of technology that can reduce the amount of external noise you hear while using headphones – noise isolating and noise cancelling. Noise isolating headphones work by simply limiting how much noise can reach your ears because of the material they’re made from. Noise cancelling (also known as active noise cancelling) is a bit more sophisticated and uses some clever tech to cancel out external noises.  

 

But how does noise cancelling work?

All sounds create a particular ‘pattern’, which can usually be visualised as a wave on a graph. To cancel out the external sounds, noise cancelling headphones listen to the noises around you, and the headphones analyse the ‘pattern’ of noise. They can then play the opposite pattern inside your ear-cup, which cancels it out. It doesn’t affect the music you’re listening to at all, because the headphones are only listening for noises outside the ear-cup. 

Because of this, they’re very good at getting rid of persistent noises like traffic, crowds or the rumbles you hear on the train, but they’re not as great at blocking any random noises. By the time the headphones have heard, processed and corrected the noise, the sound might have already passed. It normally only takes a few milliseconds, but it can be enough. As we see this technology get more popular, we expect to see the capabilities grow too. 

 

Should I get noise isolating or noise cancelling?

If you’re looking for the best possible listening experience, it all depends on which headphones you choose and how you’ll be using them. There are some high-end noise cancelling headphones that offer amazing sound, but will all that tech packed in, they can be quite heavy, and they might not be the ideal choice if you wear them for longer periods at a time. 

For commuters and people who find themselves in noisy office environments, noise cancelling could be the way to go. But, if you just want a pair that can deliver the best audio experience, without any fancy electronic trickery, a good pair of noise isolating headphones should do the job just as well. Some manufacturers offer the best of both worlds, with each type of technology included. That means you can use them as standard headphones in the peace and quiet of your home, then turn on active noise cancelling when you’re heading out or somewhere a bit noisier.

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