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How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work? Your Ultimate Guide

There is no greater improvement you can purchase than noise-canceling headphones if you are a commuter or want to listen to your music somewhere other than a soundproofed room.

Many people think they need to spend more money to achieve better sound quality, but that may only be partially accurate because you also need to keep out the noise that could interfere with or overpower your music before it gets to your ears.

Active noise canceling (ANC) headphones have been the focus of numerous businesses, but only a few selected have succeeded in making them one of their key selling factors. But how do headphones with noise cancellation operate? Why is it so cool, exactly?

How Do The Headphones Cancel Outside Sound?

By using a technique called “phase inversion” to create “anti-noise,” your headphones can block out background noise. The idea is straightforward, but execution can be tough.

Two waves are counted as “in-phase” when they are lined up with each other, matching up their peaks and channels, resulting in a greater wave when piled up together (louder sound).

But what happens if you nicely delay one of the waves by a half wavelength, lining up its peaks and channels with those of the other wave?

One wave’s right pressures work against another wave’s negative pressures, and vice versa. It causes the two waves to be “out of phase” and deduct from one another. Try adding one and removing one at the same time.

You are simply left with nothing. How is noise canceling possible with headphones given the following basic laws of physics?

Headphones Use a Microphone To Cancel The Outside Sound

ANC headphones listen to your surroundings as well as the sound they are playing since they are fitted with tiny microphones on either the inside or outside of the ear cups.

To prevent you from hearing the incoming wave’s peaks and troughs, the microphones generate an “anti-noise” sound wave when they detect noise.

To ensure that you only hear your music coming from your headphones and nothing else, the headphones produce a sound that is exactly the opposite of that sound wave to cancel it out.

How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work

This is all theoretical, of course. Noise cancellation is difficult to achieve in practice and is far from ideal. When compared to sudden, unexpected sounds like people chatting, constant noises like the low hums of jet engines on airplanes are simpler for headphones to understand and reject.

Certain companies are excellent at active noise canceling, even though the basics are the same. But now that you understand how it works, you can pick the right set.

Can These Headphones Cause Dizziness?

Some listeners who use noise-canceling headphones have described feeling dizzy and disoriented. Some users also have headaches and nausea, although more frequently than not, these symptoms are brought on by something else, not the ANC. It shouldn’t be possible to just blame ANC for these issues.

The stereocilia or hearing hair cells in our ears, which are connected to balance receptors, are said to be responsible for our hearing. Noise-canceling devices may generate exceedingly low-frequency vibrations that do this.

The result is that, even while one’s eyes are fixed, these receptors miss-communicate to the brain that the head is moving. Such clashing signals can cheat the brain into sensing motion and it causes dizziness.


  • For listeners who are only slightly affected, one approach is to decrease the ANC intensity. You can do this with many headphone companion apps. Another choice is to spend less money on a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
  • Those who don’t have side effects could find the sub-optimal ANC annoying or disappointing, but it might work perfectly for you. The last option might be the most comfortable but isn’t the greatest for frequent travelers. It says to completely forego active noise cancellation.

Where Wearing ANC Headphones Works Best?

You’re right if you believe it would be impossible for tiny microphones to capture and communicate a counterattack on each disruptive sound wave. Still, some sound gets through.

The environment must be constant for ANC headphones and the overall sound wave cancellation technology to function properly.

Airplanes, subways (without conductor speaking), and a silent office setting are examples of consistent surroundings. Additionally, some headphones contain ANC which works better than others.

ANC actively mutes background noise that obstructs your ability to hear through your headphones. It can be very effective in blocking out and locking in.

Traveling With ANC Headphones

If you want to spend the trip catching up on a podcast, listening to your favorite music, or just filtering out the noise so you can enjoy the solitude of traveling alone, headphones with ANC will help you get there.

If ANC is turned on, your headphones’ battery life will be shorter. Therefore, if you don’t care too much about noise when traveling for a long time, you can disable ANC to save battery life.

To tune out of a crowded airplane and into your soundscape, the best headphones for flying would be those with hybrid ANC. These headphones will act on both low-frequency noises, such as the deep rumble of an aircraft and higher frequencies, like human voices.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why can I still hear sound with my noise-canceling headphones?

Ans. When you’re in a controlled acoustic environment, like a plane or library, ANC headphones function best to cancel sound. A louder microphone and more anti-noise waves are used by some headphones that are of higher quality than others.

2. Is noise canceling the same as noise masking?

Ans. Although noise canceling, noise masking, and noise blocking all appear to accomplish the same task, there are some differences. Utilizing built-in microphones, noise cancellation creates silence by using destructive interference between two competing sound waves.

3. Do noise-canceling headphones work by stopping sound waves?

Ans. Noise-canceling headphones don’t block sound waves. Instead, they emit anti-waves that interfere with the way the unwanted sound waves are structured. Silence is produced by the opposing peak-and-valley structures of the two waves.



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