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What Is Noise Cancellation?


Active noise cancellation is a technology that prevents external noise from hampering your music listening experience. However, the technology requires complex components which make it somewhat costly to implement. Recently, we have seen a surge in the headphones using this technology, and there has also been a reduction in the price of headphones using noise cancellation. So, what exactly are noise cancellation headphones? To put it in simple terms, noise cancellation headphones improve your experience while listening to music by blocking any external noise. But it is quite difficult to make headphones that manage to mute all the external noise. In the end, these headphones manage to significantly reduce the external sound and enhance your overall experience.

Active Noise Cancellation Vs. Passive Noise Cancellation

Active noise cancellation, as the name says, uses an active component to reduce the interference caused by external noise. On the other hand, passive noise cancellation relies on layers of padding to reduce the external noise from entering the users’ ears. Overall, passive noise cancellation is a lot easier and cost-effective to implement than the active noise cancellation. However, an active noise cancellation system requires a passive system to work most effectively. Even though both the systems work to reduce the disturbance caused by external noise, but they achieve this goal quite differently. An active noise cancellation system listens to the outside noise, picks out the most dominant frequency, and produces a sound with the reverse frequency to cancel the original noise. On the other hand, the passive noise cancellation systems work by blocking out the sound using layers of padding. The result is the same; we get significantly less disturbance than not using any noise cancellation technique at all.

What Is Active Noise Cancellation?

Active noise cancellation is a technology that aims to reduce ambient noise. The important thing in this method is that unlike normal noise cancellation, the technique doesn’t work by simply blocking any external sound. These headphones are equipped with small microphones that detect the outside sound and, in turn, produce a sound pattern that cancels out the outside noise and thus reduces the external noise to a great extent. By the looks of it, active noise cancellation seems to be something new and recent. However, this technology existed since the 1950s, as evident from the patents filed by Lawrence Fogel, who is the one who invented this technology.

Initially, active noise cancellation was used in headsets used by helicopter and airplane pilots who found it difficult to communicate due to the engine sound. Recently, this technology has been introduced in vehicles too, Ford Endeavour in India is equipped with active noise cancellation system to make the cabin quieter. Even though active noise cancellation began to make communication easier for aviators, but it is the people who listen to music are ones who are using it the most.

How Active Noise Cancellation Works?

A headphone using active noise cancellation has microphones embedded on the outside. These microphones listen to the ambient noise around the wearer and isolate the steadiest frequency from it. This specific frequency could be anything ranging from the humming of an air conditioner to the noise generated by a turbine engine. The headphone then creates a noise which has the negative frequency, i.e., a sound having the same amplitude but inverted in phase. This sound combines with the actual noise, and a phenomenon known as destructive interference occurs and cancels out the external sound.

So, the noise created by the AC or the engine is completely blocked out. If the active noise cancellation is combined with good physical noise cancellation, then you won’t hear any external noise. However, this method only works with a steady external noise. So, the headphones would work amazingly against a roaring engine, but if a person is hitting something with a hammer at the irregular interval, then that sound would still get through if the physical noise cancellation is absent. So, if you are in a traffic jam or a place where people are talking loudly, active noise cancellation will fail.

This the main reason why noise cancellation is not the same as soundproofing, which blocks almost any kind of noise from entering the desired area. A system that is utilizing active noise cancellation technology requires batteries to power the components. So, the devices need to be big enough to accommodate not only the noise cancellation components but also the battery packs. Thus, a headphone using active noise cancellation is quite bulky as compared to the normal headphones. There are certain earphones that provide active noise cancellation, but they are not as effective as the full-sized headsets due to their small size. As mentioned earlier, active noise cancellation also requires an efficient passive noise cancellation to work effectively.

Active Noise Cancellation: Pros and Cons

Proper noise isolation requires the use of over-the-ear headphones to work most efficiently, but some on-ear headphones and even earphones come with this feature. However, the in-ear monitors provide decent noise isolation by making a tight seal inside the ear canal. The most significant advantage of using noise cancellation headphones is that user music listening experience is significantly better due to the reduction in external noise. People also say that they can hear sound a lot better while watching videos or when listening to music.

The best use of active noise cancellation is in the places where there is a constant external source of noise, such as an airplane engine or a jackhammer. You can also find noise cancellation headphones useful in your daily commute or in your office or even a library. However, there are some downsides of active noise cancellation as well. The first of these disadvantages is the significantly higher cost. The systems utilizing active noise cancellation need to fit additional components such as microphones and batteries, which cost additional money. Overall, a headphone with active noise cancellation is significantly more expensive than a similar headphone without this feature. Some people also complain that the sound quality of active noise cancellation headphones is slightly reduced as they need to produce two different sounds at the same time. Additionally, these active noise cancellation headphones are bulkier than the ones that don’t utilize this feature and, thereby, less portable.

Should You Buy A Noise Cancellation Headphone?

The main reason why people search for the meaning of the term “Noise Cancellation” is that they are confused about whether they should buy normal headphones or noise cancellation ones. Basically, the choice of headphones depends on their use. So, if you are going to use your headphones in a noisy environment, then getting noise cancellation headphones makes sense. In case you are mostly going to use headphones indoors or in noise-free areas such as a park, then going with normal headphones is a much better and cost-effective option. Some people who find it difficult to sleep could also benefit from the use of noise cancellation headphones.

Noise Cancellation FAQs

What Is Noise Cancellation?

Noise cancellation is a feature in audio devices that reduce the external noise from interfering with your music listening experience.

Difference Between Active and Passive Noise Cancellation

Passive noise cancellation uses multi-layered padding to physically block the external noise, whereas active noise cancellation relies on the use of microphones to capture the frequency of dominant external sound and create a sound at the opposite frequency to cancel it out.

Which Noise Cancellation Technique Is Better?

Even though you need both Active and passive noise cancellation to reduce the outside interference, but if the external source is producing noise consistently, then active noise cancellation would be more effective.

Should I Buy A Pair of Noise Cancellation Headphones or Not?

The answer depends on the use case. So, a person who uses headphones indoors or in a quiet place, then they don’t require noise cancellation headphones. On the other hand, if you commute daily or spend lots of time outside while using headphones, then go with the noise cancellation variants.

What Kind of Headsets Are Available with Noise Cancellation Technologies?

Generally, over the ear headphones are most effective in providing noise cancellation, but there are some on the ear headphones and even earphones that provide excellent noise cancellation.

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