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How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones work? (Answered)

Do you often wear headphones to block out the noise of the world? If so, you’re not alone. Noise-canceling headphones are becoming increasingly popular, not just for people trying to concentrate in quiet environments but for people trying to avoid being disturbed. So what is noise-canceling, and how does it work?

Unfortunately, not knowing about noise-canceling headphones can lead to constantly getting annoyed by the noise around you.

Image of a man using a noise canceling headphones in front of a blue airplane. Source: arnaud audoin, pexels
Image of a man using a noise canceling headphones in front of a blue airplane. Source: Arnaud Audoin, Pexels

This article cover what noise-canceling headphones are and how they can eliminate noise from your environment. So if you’re looking to black out the sounds around you or are just curious about canceling sounds, this post is for you!

How do noise-canceling headphones work? Active noise-canceling headphones have small microphones inside (and sometimes outside) the earcups. These microphones can analyze the sound coming in and instantly make the opposite sound through the headphones’ drivers. The sound level drops because the air molecules move less rapidly due to the competing forces.

What is noise-canceling headphone?

This technology actively reduces background noise, allowing you to listen to music or other sounds uninterrupted. The tiny engine inside listens to the low frequencies in your environment (through a mic on the outside of the ear cup) and makes an opposite frequency to cancel out the noise.

This removes that sound before it enters the ear pads and tries to sneak into your mix. Most noise-canceling devices use soundproofing for higher-frequency noises, which blocks out most of the higher frequencies, or they use a combination of soundproofing and noise cancellation.

How does noise canceling work?

Phase inversion is what your headphones use to make “anti-noise,” which cancels out the sounds around you. When two similar waves are stacked on top of each other and lined up so that their peaks and troughs match (louder sound), they make a bigger wave.

Constructive and destructive interference: sound waves with identical amplitudes offset at half wavelengths produce compression waves with zero amplitude, canceling the sound.

Since the positive pressures of one wave are working against the negative forces of the other, we say that the two waves are “out of phase” and cancel each other out. Consider it like attempting to add and remove one. You’re left with nothing.

Noise cancellation types and settings

Your noise-canceling headphones may have been used further. Choose the volume, mode, and noise cancellation that work best for you to make the most of your commute or downtime.

Passive noise cancellation

The earcups’ clever construction blocks noise. In addition, the earbuds or headphones themselves exclude ambient noise. Therefore, this is useful for both types of headphones.

Active noise cancellation

Combines the use of microphones and speakers to mask ambient sounds. These are the most ubiquitous kind, often seen in over-ear models. True wireless in-ear earbuds are now possible because the technology needed to make them work has become smaller, and battery life has improved.

Adaptive active noise cancellation

Utilizes your current location’s microphone and speaker settings to adapt to your environment. This more advanced ANC uses digital adaptation to make noise cancellation fit the environment.

Adjustable active noise cancellation

It lets you change the amount of noise cancellation, so you can change how much outside noise you hear. When the total command is required, this comes in handy.

Transparency mode

That way, you may listen to music or podcasts while still being aware of your surroundings.

Adjustable transparency mode

Let us adjust how much of the outside world you wish to let in without turning off your music.

Adjustable own voice

When utilizing ANC for conference calls, you may adjust how much of your voice is heard.

Benefits of noise-canceling headphones

Noise-canceling headphones, whether active or passive, create an atmosphere free of ambient noise and distractions, which is difficult to do in everyday life. You may hear the air conditioner cycling on and off or the refrigerator humming if you’re home alone. There is always the background noise of people taking books off shelves and flipping pages, even at a library.

Following that, etc. High-quality noise-canceling headphones are required to block out almost all of those sounds. This leaves you in acoustic isolation, where you can focus on your music and your music alone without compromising on anything.

If you’re looking for a reason to invest in noise-canceling headphones, consider this: they may help preserve your hearing while still providing immersive listening. Researchers have shown that listening to music on headphones at volumes over 80 dB may increase the chance of permanent hearing loss.

Image of a headphone on top of a disc. Source: erik mclean pexels
Image of a headphone on top of a disc. Source: Erik Mclean Pexels

Also, if you use regular headphones, you might increase the volume more often than you need to. Have you ever, for instance, tried to listen to music at an airport and found that the background noise made it difficult to do so? Or when cars are zooming by?

To avoid being distracted by outside noise, it’s tempting to crank up the volume, even if just unconsciously. However, listening to music at excessive decibel levels is irritating at best. You might suffer some degree of hearing loss.

The majority of in-ear headphones successfully block off the surrounding environment. The normal decrease is between 25 and 30 dB. So, if you have to turn up the volume of your music all the time to drown out background noise, noise-canceling headphones might be a relief.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “How Noise-Canceling Headphones Work” from the Insider Tech YouTube channel.

A video called “How Noise-Canceling Headphones Work” from the Insider Tech YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about how noise-canceling headphones work.

Is noise-canceling healthy?

No health risks are associated with using noise-canceling headphones. In addition, you may use your headphones to drown out distracting sounds without worrying about your health or safety since, unlike cell phones, they don’t release low radiation levels.

Can you listen to silence with noise-canceling headphones?

Even if you’re not listening to music, noise-canceling headphones will still provide a peaceful environment. However, they are not without restrictions. While these headphones do an excellent job of blocking out ambient noise while music is playing, their shortcomings become more evident when music isn’t being played.

Will noise-canceling headphones stop dogs from barking?

A set of passive headphones may be had for far less money and do the job just as well. For example, most closed-back, over-ear headphones, particularly recording-specific models, are very effective at blocking out background noises like children playing, coworkers speaking, and dogs barking.

Can ANC headphones cut out all sound all of the time?

No, unfortunately—not at this time, anyhow. They get close, but since your ANC headphones can’t generate the right signal, some outside noise will still filter in.

Noise-canceling headphones work best against low-frequency, steady-state noises, like those from an airplane, train, or air conditioner at work. Unfortunately, even the best ANC headphones need to be faster to generate an antiphase sound in real-time, so occasional sounds like a shout, dog bark, or horn beep will frequently still be audible.


Finally, we can say that these headphones have not just changed the way we listen to music but also improved our overall quality of life. Overall, noise-canceling headphones do a great job of keeping you comfortable while blocking out outside noise. 

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great with noise-canceling headphones by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what noise-canceling headphones are, how they work, and the types and settings of noise-canceling headphones. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • This technology actively blocks background noise so you can listen to music or other audio without interruption.
  • Your headphones use phase inversion to create “anti-noise,” effectively canceling out the sounds around you.
  • There is a possibility that your noise-canceling headphones have been further used.
  • Extra tips:
  • Active noise-canceling headphones may not provide the best sound quality.

So, do you prefer to use noise-canceling headphones? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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