• The Sound Connoisseur

How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

Have you ever wondered what noise cancelling actually is or how noise cancelling headphones work?

You may have noticed over the last few years that noise cancelling technology has slowly been making its way across many of the premium brand audio products that have been appearing on the market. But what actually is noise cancellation, and will it give you a significantly better listening experience. Is it just a new wave of over-rated salesman hype or is it worth shelling out a few extra notes for?

The basic focus of noise cancellation technology is centred around enabling the listener to be able to hear audio content, in an otherwise noisy environment, without the need to raise the volume excessively.

To achieve this effect, noise cancelling devices aim to eliminate lower-frequency wavelengths using a method called active noise control.

Active noise control incorporates the use of a microphone on the audio device to 'listen' to the ambient sound, measuring the surrounding waveform. From this measurement it generates an audible waveform that is the exact negative of the ambient sound measured, therefore in effect 'cancelling out' surrounding noise.

If someone is listening to music using noise cancelling headphones the waveform is mixed along with the music being played. Alternatively, when music is switched off the negative waveform is emitted without being mixed with any audio signal and noise cancelling headphones can be used to aid sleeping in noisy places such as when travelling on passenger aeroplanes.

Big brand names such as Bose, long-time pioneers of noise cancelling technology in headphones, now offer noise masking earbuds (Bose Sleepbuds), specifically designed to wear when you go to bed. They don't stream music or have the acoustic noise cancellation as explained above. Instead, these tiny, wireless earbuds are pre-loaded with soothing sounds to help you get a good nights sleep.

Should you buy noise cancelling headphones?

We would recommend noise cancelling headphones for the regular traveller, or anybody who will appreciate an enhanced listening experience either in busy places, such as on public transport or even at work in an open plan office. Anywhere there is a constant bustling of noise.

One word of advice is that if you are looking to purchase a good pair of noise cancelling headphones, don't get mixed up with the term 'noise isolating headphones'. These rely only on soundproofing, creating a good seal around the ear and include no electronics; - they will be noticeably cheaper!

For further reading on active noise control or alternative uses for noise cancelling headphones follow the links in the text.

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