How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work?

19 minutes read

Noise-canceling headphones work by using active noise control technology. These headphones detect external sounds using built-in microphones and create an opposing sound wave to cancel out the unwanted noise. This process is known as destructive interference.

When the external sound wave reaches the microphones on the headphones, they analyze the frequency and amplitude of the noise. The headphones then create a sound wave with the same amplitude but opposite in phase to the external noise. This opposing wave is played through the headphones' speakers, causing the two waves to collide and cancel each other out.

To achieve effective noise cancellation, headphones must be able to detect and react to a wide range of frequencies. They use digital signal processing (DSP) technology to analyze and generate the appropriate sound wave in real-time. The DSP algorithms of the headphones continuously adjust the generated sound wave based on the changes in the external noise.

Noise-canceling headphones are particularly effective for reducing consistent low-frequency sounds like airplane engines, train rumbling, or background office noise. However, they may be less effective in canceling sudden or sharp noises, such as a slamming door or a dog barking.

It's worth noting that noise-canceling headphones can come in two types: passive and active. Passive noise-canceling headphones physically block out some external noise by using dense materials and tight-fitting ear cups. Active noise-canceling headphones, on the other hand, actively generate the opposing sound wave to cancel out noise. These active headphones require power to operate and have built-in microphones and electronics.

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Beats Studio Pro - Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones - Personalized Spatial Audio, USB-C Lossless Audio, Apple & Android Compatibility, Up to 40 Hours Battery Life - Black

Rating is 5 out of 5

Beats Studio Pro - Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones - Personalized Spatial Audio, USB-C Lossless Audio, Apple & Android Compatibility, Up to 40 Hours Battery Life - Black

  • BEATS' CUSTOM ACOUSTIC PLATFORM delivers rich, immersive sound whether you’re listening to music or taking calls.
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  • WHAT'S IN THE BOX: Beats Studio Pro Wireless headphones, Woven carrying case, 3.5mm audio cable, Universal USB-C charging cable, Quick Start Guide, Warranty Card
Bose QuietComfort 45 Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones, Over-Ear Headphones with Microphone, Personalized Noise Cancellation and Sound, Triple Black

Rating is 4.9 out of 5

Bose QuietComfort 45 Wireless Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones, Over-Ear Headphones with Microphone, Personalized Noise Cancellation and Sound, Triple Black

  • NOISE CANCELLING WIRELESS HEADPHONES: The perfect balance of quiet, comfort, and sound. Bose uses tiny mics to measure, compare, and react to outside noise, cancelling it with opposite signals. Bluetooth range-up to 9 m (30 feet).
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  • UP TO 22 HOURS BATTERY LIFE: Enjoy 22 hours of battery life from a single charge. A quick 15-minute charge offers 3 hours when you’re on the go, or plug in the included audio cable to listen for even longer in wired mode.
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  • BOSE SIMPLESYNC TECHNOLOGY: SimpleSync pairs your Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones with select Bose smart soundbars for a personal TV listening experience. Independent volume controls allow you to lower or mute your soundbar while keeping your headphones as loud as you like.Away from your phone. Press and hold the Bluetooth button on each device to sync their sound. Already got a group going. Link by pressing the Action button to connect at a moment’s notice. Includes 3.5 mm to 2.5 mm audio cable
NEW Bose QuietComfort Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones, Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones with Up To 24 Hours of Battery Life, White Smoke

Rating is 4.8 out of 5

NEW Bose QuietComfort Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones, Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones with Up To 24 Hours of Battery Life, White Smoke

  • LEGENDARY NOISE CANCELLATION: Effortlessly combines noise cancelling headphones technology with passive features so you can shut off the outside world, quiet distractions, and take music beyond the beat
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  • 2 LISTENING MODES: These wireless Bluetooth headphones feature Quiet and Aware Modes that let you toggle between full noise cancelling or full awareness of your surroundings for seamless sound control
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Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700, with Alexa Voice Control, Soapstone

Rating is 4.7 out of 5

Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700, with Alexa Voice Control, Soapstone

  • Note: The USB-C charging cable and the AUX cable were underneath a flap which was inside the band of the headphones. Powerful noise cancelling headphones — 11 levels of active noise cancelling let you enjoy music, podcasts, videos & calls without distractions
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Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Premium Noise Canceling Overhead Headphones with Mic for Phone-Call and Alexa Voice Control, Midnight Blue WH1000XM4

Rating is 4.6 out of 5

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Premium Noise Canceling Overhead Headphones with Mic for Phone-Call and Alexa Voice Control, Midnight Blue WH1000XM4

  • Industry-leading noise canceling with Dual Noise Sensor technology.Specific uses for product : Communication
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  • Wearing detection pauses playback when headphones are removed
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JBL Tune 710BT Wireless Over-Ear - Bluetooth Headphones with Microphone, 50H Battery, Hands-Free Calls, Portable (Black), Medium

Rating is 4.5 out of 5

JBL Tune 710BT Wireless Over-Ear - Bluetooth Headphones with Microphone, 50H Battery, Hands-Free Calls, Portable (Black), Medium

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JBL Tune 660NC: Wireless On-Ear Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation - Black, Medium

Rating is 4.4 out of 5

JBL Tune 660NC: Wireless On-Ear Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation - Black, Medium

  • The Tune 660NC wireless headphones feature renowned JBL Pure Bass sound, which can be found in the most famous venues all around the world.
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  • Easily control your sound and manage your calls from your headphones with the convenient buttons and the mic on the ear-cup. Or use the ear-cup button to quickly reach your device's voice assistant.

How do noise-canceling headphones affect the audio spectrum?

Noise-canceling headphones use a technology called active noise cancellation (ANC) to reduce external noises and provide a more immersive audio experience. While the primary objective of noise-canceling headphones is to minimize unwanted sounds, they can have some impact on the audio spectrum.

  1. Lower Frequency Response: Noise-canceling headphones are more effective at reducing low-frequency sounds like airplane engines, traffic rumble, or air conditioning hum. ANC works by producing anti-noise that is 180 degrees out of phase with the unwanted noise. This technology is more effective in canceling out low-frequency sounds than high-frequency sounds.
  2. Attenuation of High Frequencies: While ANC predominantly targets low-frequency noises, noise-canceling circuitry, and the earcup design can provide some passive isolation and attenuate high-frequency external sounds to some extent. This attenuation can slightly impact the perception of high-frequency audio.
  3. Changes in Soundstage: Noise-canceling headphones may alter the soundstage, which refers to the perceived location, depth, and spaciousness of sound sources. ANC can create a closed-off feeling, as it blocks external sounds and can reduce the sense of environmental acoustics present in the original audio.
  4. Introduction of Auditory Artifacts: Noise-canceling technology can introduce certain auditory artifacts, especially when dealing with low-frequency sounds. ANC systems may cause slight phase differences or resonances that can affect the audio spectrum, resulting in subtle changes to the sound quality.

It is important to note that the primary focus of noise-canceling headphones is to enhance the listening experience by reducing external noises. Consequently, the impact on the audio spectrum is often minimal and can vary between different headphone models and manufacturers.

What is the difference between noise reduction and noise cancellation?

Noise reduction and noise cancellation are two different techniques used to reduce unwanted noise in audio signals. Here is an explanation of each:

  1. Noise Reduction: Noise reduction is a process of reducing unwanted noise from an audio signal. It involves analyzing the audio content and identifying areas where the noise is present. Then, various algorithms are used to minimize or remove the noise while preserving the desired audio information. Noise reduction techniques can be applied during the recording or post-processing stages.
  2. Noise Cancellation: Noise cancellation is a technique used to actively eliminate or cancel out specific frequencies of unwanted noise. It primarily works by using an additional sound source to generate an "anti-noise" signal that destructively interferes with the original noise, thus canceling it out. This technique is commonly used in headphones or earphones to reduce environmental or background noise for an improved listening experience.

In summary, noise reduction aims to minimize noise in an audio signal, while noise cancellation actively cancels out noise using opposing sound waves.

How do noise-canceling headphones handle wind noise?

Noise-canceling headphones typically use microphones to pick up ambient sounds, including wind noise. These microphones then generate an "anti-noise" signal that is played back through the headphones, canceling out the incoming sound waves. However, wind noise can be challenging to cancel completely due to its unpredictable nature.

To mitigate wind noise, advanced noise-canceling headphones often incorporate additional features:

  1. Wind-Resistant Design: Some headphones have physical design elements that help reduce wind noise. This may involve using windshields or special baffles around the microphones to minimize the interference caused by wind.
  2. Multiple Microphone Array: High-end noise-canceling headphones employ multiple microphones strategically placed throughout the headphone structure. This allows the system to capture and analyze the directionality of sound sources, including wind, to apply more accurate noise cancellation.
  3. Digital Signal Processing (DSP): Noise-canceling headphones utilize DSP algorithms to process and analyze the sound captured by the microphones. Advanced algorithms can distinguish between desired audio signals, like music or speech, and unwanted noise such as wind. The headphones then generate an inverse waveform to cancel out the wind noise in real-time.

Despite these techniques, wind noise cancellation is not always perfect. In outdoor environments or strong winds, some wind noise may still be audible due to its unpredictable and varying nature. However, newer models of noise-canceling headphones continue to improve wind noise cancellation capabilities with each iteration, reducing its impact on the overall audio experience.

How do noise-canceling headphones eliminate high-pitched noises?

Noise-canceling headphones eliminate high-pitched noises through a process called active noise cancellation (ANC). Here's how it works:

  1. Microphones: The headphones have built-in microphones on the outside that capture the surrounding sound, including the high-pitched noises.
  2. Analysis: An electronic chip inside the headphones analyzes the captured sound and identifies the high-pitched noise frequencies.
  3. Anti-sound Generation: After identifying the high-pitched noise frequencies, the headphones create an inverse sound wave called anti-sound or anti-noise. This anti-sound wave is essentially a mirror image of the high-pitched noise wave.
  4. Combining the Waves: The anti-sound wave is then combined with the original high-pitched noise wave. As a result, the peaks of the high-pitched noise align with the troughs of the anti-sound wave, effectively canceling out the noise.
  5. Earmuff Design: In addition to active noise cancellation, noise-canceling headphones also have a physical design that helps block out external sounds. The ear cups are usually padded and designed to create a tight seal around your ears, preventing outside noises from entering.

By combining active noise cancellation with the physical design, noise-canceling headphones can effectively eliminate the high-pitched noises, providing a more immersive and quiet listening experience.

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