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How do Noise Canceling Headphones Work? A Comprehensive Guide

How Noise Canceling Headphones Work
  Written By: Manpreet Singh
Updated On: 08/18/2023
Est. Reading: 12 minutes

We live in a very fast-paced world surrounded by all sorts of sounds and noise canceling headphones can be an ideal companion for you when you feel like getting away from the world without actually getting away. They can help you create an isolated, quiet space for yourselves enabling you to remain functional and get done with your tasks with ease.

Noise-canceling headphones come in handy when you want to get work done in a disruptive environment like public transit, the aviation industry, or if you live in the vicinity of a construction site. They also prove to be effective in ensuring a relaxing time away from the bustling noises of your town or city, you can just stay in your house and put your headphones on and relax.

If you live with people who tend to be noisy which people usually do, and you need to focus on your game or your work, you don’t have to worry because you can escape the noise by putting on your headphones and transporting yourself to a space immersive of what you need to focus on.

What are Noise-Canceling Headphones?

Now let’s get the basics down and understand what exactly are noise-cancelling headphones.

Noise-canceling headphones came into existence for the purpose of being used by pilots on long, noisy flights. Now, however, their utility is being incorporated into the daily lives of people to make things better and easier for everyone.

Noise-canceling headphones use active noise control to reduce unneeded ambient noises and provide an undisturbed environment for all kinds of work. It doesn’t use soundproofing techniques like Passive headphones. Instead, noise-canceling headphones are equipped with noise detectors that listen for unwanted noise. Then it emits an antinoise sound to cancel the ambient noises by destructive interference so that you can enjoy just your music or work without any distractions.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned about modern-day noise-cancellation headphones (NC) is that they can fall into two main categories – active or passive noise cancellation. The latter type relies solely on soundproofing techniques, while the former makes use of external microphones which pick up ambient sounds and then send an inverse waveform (phase-shifted by 180 degrees). These inverted waves essentially cancel out noise from outside, leaving only the person’s music audible.

Noise-canceling headphones are a fabulous invention for people who want to enjoy music without noise from the outside world. They can also be useful for those who have noise sensitivity from noise-related disorders, such as tinnitus or hyperacusis.

This article will discuss noise-canceling technology and how it works, the difference between passive noise reduction vs active noise cancellation, what are good quality noise-canceling headphone models to consider buying. There is also a bonus section on the best noise-canceling headphones! So let’s dig in.

How do Noise-Canceling Headphones work?

These headphones use noise-masking technology that sends noise in the opposite direction of the listener – away from them, not into their ears. This is done using one or more microphones embedded in the earcup which detects unwanted sounds and emits noise waves with an equal but opposite amplitude.

The noise cancellation process works by creating two sound fields with identical waveforms but 180 degrees out of phase, which results in destructive interference when they meet again at the source’s location – effectively canceling noise. This noise cancellation process works best at low frequencies, while noise-canceling headphones are less effective against mid and high-frequency noises that already sound natural to the human ear – like the whirring of engines or voices.

Before we start talking about noise-canceling technology it is important to understand a few things. Headphones do not actually cancel out the noise as they are simply sound-isolating devices that can help you be free from the noise around you and allow you to focus on your tasks without interruption or distractions.

Noise-cancelling works by reading ambient noises with a microphone and playing an inverted version of those sounds back through the headphone speakers so all frequencies reach your ears but in inverse phase, which results in destructive interference preventing those noise waves from reaching your ear canal thus allowing for silence. This results in a very quiet environment where all outside sounds become barely audible or even non-existent!

Noise-cancelling technology has been around since shortly after WWII when scientists discovered they could generate sound waves of equal amplitude but opposite phase which would effectively cancel each other out and create silence. However, these early noise cancellation techniques were not perfect because there was a high amount of background noise present in the absence of desired noise signals.

This meant that only low-level sounds could be canceled using this method. Over time, engineers worked on improving their designs until noise cancellation technology became good enough to be used in noise-isolating earphones and. noise-canceling headphones.

While noise-canceling has been around for quite some time and is now widely used in many applications, noise-canceling technology continues to be improved on a regular basis by both research institutions as well as commercial product manufacturers.

Now, the noise-canceling technology is not limited to earbuds or headphones but can also be found in noise-canceled microphones which are useful for those who need to record vocals and other sounds as the system cancels out noise and distractions from the background (i.e., air conditioner, keyboard clicks).

Active and Passive Noise-Canceling Headphones – Which should you buy according to your needs?

There are majorly two types of Noise-cancelling headphones – active and passive noise-canceling.

What are Passive Noise-Canceling Headphones?

In Passive noise-canceling noise-isolating headphones sound waves are absorbed by physical noise isolation (ear cups or other forms of plugs). They physically block noise by creating a seal around the ear canal using soft padding and tight headband pressure that prevents noise from entering into your ears while still allowing some ambient noise in for situational awareness.

This passive system works best on low frequencies, which is why you will find these types of headphones useful when it comes to blocking out airplane engine noise or subway rumble but not so much with people talking nearby. Passive noise cancellation can also come with active features such as bass boosting technology (which we will get more into later).

What are Active Noise-Canceling Headphones?

Active noise-canceling headphones use electronics for noise reduction, i.e., the headphones themselves emit white noise which effectively cancels out incoming noises. The noise-canceling headphones work by using tiny microphones to pick up noise signals and then create inverted sound waves which are sent through the headphone speakers resulting in destructive interference and preventing those noise waves from reaching your ear canal.

Difference between Active and Passive Noise-Canceling

There is an important difference between passive noise-canceling and active noise-canceling: in passive mode, noise reduction depends on how good a seal you get with your ear cups; this means it can be very inconsistent since different people have differently shaped ears.

On the other hand, active noise-cancellation uses a microphone to monitor incoming sounds which allows for much better consistency because these sounds do not vary as widely among users’ head shapes. However, both types will provide excellent noise reduction if they fit well out.

As you can see, active noise-canceling technology is more effective than the passive method because it uses white noise not just for noise-canceling but also for audio enhancement (i.e., bass boost).

Passive noise-canceling technology might not be as powerful as active noise cancellation but it can be more effective sometimes because the type of model uses a combination of materials and styles to reduce background noise effectively which is why they’re worth considering if you want something cheaper with better noise reduction levels compared with passive models.

Another main difference between active noise cancellation (ANC) and passive noise cancellation (PNC) lies within the power source: ANC requires batteries and PNC doesn’t. Active Noise-cancelling requires a power source such as AAA batteries or charging via USB ports so these types of headphones have shorter battery lives when compared with their passive counterparts.

Generally speaking, active noise cancellation is more effective than passive but it requires battery power that can drain quickly and cause inconvenience if you need to keep recharging them frequently during your travels or commute.

Because they use batteries, active noise-canceling models tend to cost significantly more than their passive counterparts as well; however, this extra investment could pay off since these headphones will last longer before requiring an upgrade!

How do Noise-Canceling Headphones affect your ears?

We have been talking about noise cancellation from a technical point of view but these headphones can affect our health in another way too.

In general, noise-canceling technology is pretty safe: there are no known risks associated with extended use and the only side effect could be some minor discomfort caused by pressure on your eardrums (which usually passes once you get used to them).

However, it’s important to know that noise reduction does not come without its costs – active noise canceling may cause more damage than passive noise isolation because people tend to listen to higher levels of volume when they don’t hear any background noises which potentially increases chances for hearing loss according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The difference between both noise-canceling systems is that noise-canceling headphones tend to create higher sound pressure levels than passive noise isolation so it’s important not to listen to very high volumes for extended periods of time.

Noise-cancelling technology is a great solution for reducing noise but it’s important to keep in mind that these types of headphones can cause damage if you use them too loudly for long periods of time without giving your ears a break from noise-canceling.

However, noise isolation and noise reduction are much safer options since they only reduce the amount of sound entering our ears rather than creating complete silence with active noise cancellation which may result in fatigue or even hearing loss so it’s best not to listen to very high volumes when using these types of headphones!

Noise Canceling Headphone: Advantages vs Disadvantages

Let’s go through some advantages and disadvantages of NCs.

First off, they are very effective in reducing background sounds since most Noise-cancelling models currently on sale have a noise reduction level of 80% or higher.

Another huge advantage is that noise cancellation headphones are good for your ears since they do not have to be turned up as loud in order to block noise which can damage hearing if it’s done repeatedly over a long period of time.

The first advantage of active noise-cancellation lies within its effectiveness: many passive noise isolation models do an excellent job at blocking out background sounds but they only block low frequencies whereas ANC blocks all types of noises including high frequency sounds such as human voices. This makes them particularly useful when you need to focus on your work and don’t want noise distractions.

However, there are some disadvantages you should know about when deciding whether noise canceling is right for you.

First off, noise-canceling technology works best on low frequencies but less effectively on high frequencies such as people talking nearby; this makes them poor choices for open offices where many conversations overlap and create a lot of background noise.

They also require batteries which adds an extra expense and requires more frequent charging unless the model uses passive noise isolation instead (which does not require a power source).

Additionally, noise cancellation headphones tend to be bulkier and heavier than regular over-the-ear models which could cause discomfort for some users. – There is also sound leakage with noise-canceling technology so it’s important to remember that people around you can hear what you’re listening to as well; this difference in noise levels might negatively impact those trying to concentrate on their work if someone nearby has noise-canceling headphones playing music!

Some people find NCs uncomfortable because their world suddenly becomes too silent but most models have built-in volume controls so you can turn down everything being blocked when noise cancellation is on.

Noise-Canceling vs Noise-Isolation Headphones – A Comparison

Noise-canceling and noise isolation headphones both do a similar job of reducing noise but there are some key differences that separate them.

First off, noise cancelation is an active process that works by creating “anti-noise” to cancel out the background sounds whereas noise isolation uses physical barriers such as pads or earbuds to block sound waves from entering our ears; this means noise isolating models tend to be less effective at blocking low-frequency noises (such as those coming from traffic) than noise-canceling headphones.

Noise Isolation Headphones – How Do They Work?

Here we’re going to explore how passive noise isolation actually reduces outside noises: firstly, most over-the-ear models come with thick padding around the ear area which blocks noise from the outside by physically trapping it so there’s no way for noise to enter your ears.

In this case, noise isolation is a much cheaper option than noise-canceling since you don’t have to pay extra for batteries or power sources; however, they are slightly less effective at blocking noise and sound leakage can be an issue if someone nearby has active noise-canceling headphones on.

Noise Isolation vs Noise Cancelation: Which Is Better?

Noise-Canceling vs. noise isolation headphones both do a similar job of reducing noise but there are some key differences that separate them; if you’re going to invest in one of these two types of noise reduction technologies then passive noise isolation models tend to work better when traveling or commuting because they block out more noises whereas NCs do not perform quite as well on low frequencies particularly when it comes to voices.

Passive noise isolating headphones will be much cheaper than noise-canceling technology so you could try using these in the meantime before investing in a pair of active noise-canceling headphones. However, if you’re looking for total peace and quiet then noise-canceling is certainly something to consider because they offer better sound quality than passive models along with complete silence! If that’s what sounds best to you then take some time exploring NC options on today’s market to find the right fit. For these reasons, it’s important that you take some time to consider all your options before choosing the right model so you’ll know what works best for your individual needs.

In the end, both options have their pros and cons so it’s up to you which type will be best for your individual needs!

Things to consider before choosing which noise-canceling headphones work best for you?


Noise reduction technologies don’t come cheap but noise-canceling headphones can provide better sound quality than passive noise isolating earphones when listening to music which makes them worth considering if that’s something important for you. If you’re going on long flights regularly then investing in an active noise-canceling pair of headphones is something to consider but noise isolating earphones are the cheaper option and will work well for most people.

Sound Quality

When trying both technologies (noise-isolating vs. noise canceling) to do their job of reducing background noise, active Noise-cancelling technology offers better sound quality because there isn’t any need for extra tools like power sources or batteries whereas passive noise isolators can block out more low-frequency noises such as noise from traffic.

It’s also worth considering that noise-canceling models will offer better sound quality when listening to music compared with passive noise isolating options which are why they’re usually considered more effective.

Noise Reduction Levels

Noise-canceling headphones can reduce noise by up to 98% which makes them an excellent option for those who need silence and that’s why they’re worth considering; however, noise isolating earphones are still pretty effective even if it’s just reducing background noise levels.


Noise-cancelling technology is generally more powerful than passive noise isolation so these types of earbuds will be slightly bulkier due to the extra components needed plus you’ll have to remember your power source since active noise-canceling models use batteries or USB chargers whereas most noise-isolating headphones do not require anything apart from a standard aux cable with no additional tools required.


The material used for the headphones’ body will make a difference in how much sound can get through so try different types to see what works best for your needs; however, harder plastics are usually more effective at blocking out noises whereas softer ones tend to let some sounds come through naturally without any extra tools.

Noise Cancellation Technologies

Active noise cancellation uses microphones that monitor external noises and then send inverse sound waves back into the environment in an effort to cancel them (which results in peace and quiet); passive noise isolators will simply block out background noise physically without needing extra tools like batteries or USB chargers.


If comfort is important for your needs then check reviews on different types of earbuds because some models can be bulkier or heavier than others which can cause discomfort for some people.

Passive noise-canceling headphones are usually more comfortable to wear by themselves if that’s what you’re looking for; however, active noise-canceling earbuds will offer better comfort levels when worn since they don’t require anything else apart from standard aux cables and the noise reduction technology does its job of blocking out background noise automatically so it won’t interfere with your daily activities like wearing headphones normally would.

Ultimately, noise-canceling headphones are worth considering if you want total noise cancellation but the benefits of noise-isolating earphones depend on your individual needs so it’s important that you take some time exploring both options before deciding which technology will work best for your specific preferences and lifestyle!

Are noise cancellation headphones worth it?

Yes, noise cancellation headphones are definitely worth investing in if you want total noise cancellation but they tend to be more expensive than noise isolating options so it’s important that you’re certain this is what works best for your needs.

Although they don’t come cheap noise-canceling headphones are definitely worth investing in if you’re tired of listening to loud music while still having no control over distracting noises around you and there are plenty of options for different budgets that you can choose from.


These are the top pink noise-canceling headphones on the market, but no matter which pair you buy, it’s important to know how they work so that you can get the best out of them. Whether you’re looking for a wired or wireless setup or prefer an over-ear or earbud design, there’s something here for everyone. We hope you find the perfect pair of noise-canceling headphones to suit your lifestyle and budget!


  • Manpreet Singh

    I'm Manpreet Singh, Head of Content & Chief Product Reviewer at OfzenandComputing.com. Born in India and now making waves in Canada, I merge my Computer Science background with a passion for content. Whether it's an in-depth product review or a tech guide, I'm committed to making tech relatable and enjoyable for all. Outside work, Canada's nature and food are my playground. Dive into my world and let's demystify tech together!

  • Prachi Jhalani

    Jaipur-bred writer and commerce aficionado, I find magic in everyday moments and weave them into captivating captions. With a controller in one hand and a pen in the other, I traverse the worlds of games and words, ever eager to share my stories. Join me on this enthralling journey!