There are many situations when one is listening to music where outside or ambient noise can be heard. This proves to be distracting and takes away from the listening experience. That is why the purpose of active and passive noise cancelling headphones is to cancel out ambient noise. Hi-fi listeners actively seek to cancel out ambient noise in order to improve their listening experience. In this article, we talk about the two main methods this is achieved when listening with headphones.
Active noise canceling headphones require batteries or some sort of charging in order to function properly. How it works is that the headphones have a mic and that mic is used to pick up the sounds around you. As it picks up the surrounding sounds, a processor takes the sounds and fires back the same frequencies 180 degrees out of phase. In theory, this should cancel out the incoming sound. But as all things go in the real world, it does not work out perfectly. This technology works well when having to cancel out low and constant frequencies, such as the engine of a plane, but when it comes to the dynamic sounds of your ambient surroundings and other high frequencies, it does not do so well.
Many active noise cancelling headphones come at a premium price with a lower quality sound. Not only that, most of them don’t even seem to work! This is because companies use marketing tactics such as “15 dB reduction” or “95% noise cancelling” which can technically be true because decibels are worked on a logarithmic scale! That does not go to say that ALL of them don’t work. There are very high quality active noise canceling headphones out there in the market, like the Bose QuietComfort, however they are extremely expensive.
The alternative is to buy regular headphones or earphones in that matter, to passively cancel out noise. How this basically works is by designing headphones and earphones in a way to best block out incoming ambient sounds through material construction and using no other electronics. That being said, closed back headphones and to a certain extent, open back headphones, all provide this passive noise cancellation. Depending on which headphones you buy, you get a different level of passive noise cancellation. That being said, you may never be able to 100% cancel out noise, but when you buy a pair of cans that fit well and crank that volume up, it can really isolate you from the rest of the world.
Earphones do a much better job at passively canceling out noise because they mold into your ear canal and effectively block out any other noise from coming in while blasting sound waves directly to your ear. This is why many performers use monitor earphones to guide their performances when they are singing.
In conclusion, whether you decide to go with active noise canceling or passive noise cancelling, we again encourage you to tryout your options before investing in them. From our own experiences, we feel that a solid pair of closed-back headphones or earphones get the job done and there is really no need to get fancy with the active noise cancelling headphones, but we leave that choice to our readers.