How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work?

Cut down unwanted noises and enjoy a more immersive audio experience with noise-canceling headphones. These headphones could be an excellent option for individuals who are looking to block unwanted sounds while listening to music. Sometimes unwanted noises can affect the sound quality of headphones as well. This is where the noise-canceling headphones come into the picture. 

In this article, we will learn more about noise-canceling headphones, their advantages, drawbacks, and working. Get into the article to know more. 

What is Noise-Canceling in Headphones?

Noise-canceling headphones are one of the trending fit types available in the market. These headphones are incorporated with an advanced technology known as “Noise Cancelation”. This technology is developed to detect and analyze the sound pattern of incoming noise and generate a mirror “anti-noise” signal to cancel out the ambient sounds.  Moreover, this helps in improving users’ listening experience by canceling out the interfering internal and external sounds while listening to music. 

Anyways noise-canceling headphones filter out background noise and focus on talking to someone or listening to music. This is what most of us think when we come across the phrase “noise-canceling headphones”. However, you can also see individuals using these headsets to tune out crying babies because of airline engine sounds on long flights.

There are Two Kinds of Noise Cancelation: Active and Passive

Active Noise Cancelation Passive Noise Cancelation
It refers to noise canceling performed by actively encountering external sounds It refers to noise canceling performed by the physical elements of the headset, such as design and materials used
Active noise cancellation works best for low-frequency sounds that are consistent, such as ceiling fans or engine noise Passive noise cancellation is the most effective method for filtering out irregular, high-frequency noises
This noise cancellation is typically seen in stereo headsets, which can block (or) eliminate sounds completely This noise canceling is typically used in music headphones, that are designed to fully cover your ears and block external sounds

About Noise Cancelation Technology

Noise-canceling audio devices have an in-built microphone to analyze incoming sound waves and create opposing sound waves to eliminate background noise. They work best when the background noise is consistent and in the low to medium pitch range. 

Moreover, the advanced noise cancelation technology detects external noise and stops it from entering the headphones. This external noise is eliminated by using a trick called “Phase inversion” to create “Anti-noise”. Though it sounds tricky the concept is quite simple.

Consider two identical sound waves that have equal peaks and troughs. These in-phase waves produce louder sounds when summed. But, if one of the sounds is delayed by exactly one-half wavelength with equal peaks and troughs. These out-of-phase waves eliminate noise when added. You will be left with zero. This is the basic working principle of the noise cancelation technique. Hence, constructive and destructive interference sound waves of equal amplitude offset at half wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of zero canceling out the sound. 

What Can I Expect From Noise-Canceling Technology?

  1. Noise-cancellation offers an enhanced listening experience by canceling out interfering external sounds.
  2. The noise cancellation feature works mainly for low-frequency sounds (train, airplane, engine noise). Although noise is reduced, it is not eliminated.
  3. The noise canceling effect may be less noticeable, or some sounds may be heard in a calm environment. If there is little ambient noise, it is even better not to enable the NC feature, as it requires ambient input to operate well.
  4. Noise cancellation does not transmit during phone calls. Although it protects the user from background noise, it does not protect the call receiver.

How Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Work?

Noise-canceling headphones are designed to reduce the amount of external noise that reaches the ear. This is done by the use of electrical circuitry and microphones that detect ambient sound waves and create anti-noise signals that cancel out background disturbances. This allows the users to concentrate on their music or other audio content rather than unwanted sounds.

  • Typically, the headphones are equipped with a microphone, advanced digital signal processors, and an amplifier circuit each with different roles. 
  • Firstly, the microphone picks up the incoming surrounding sounds. Whereas the amplifier circuit process the signals generated from the incoming sound waves.
  • And then the driver speaker produces an “anti-noise” wave from the amplified signal to eliminate the background noise. 
  • Moreover, all the low-frequency sounds like engine rumble, wind gusts, and other background noises are removed by Digital Signal Processors (DSP) from the incoming audio stream before it reaches the lister’s ears. 

This is how the headphones work and unwanted background noise is decreased significantly while increasing the clarity and volume of desired audio sources.

Advantages of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Hybrid noise cancellation is a combination of active and passive cancellation techniques applied in microphones and wearable headsets. Here are the benefits of noise-canceling headphones. 

1. Improves Concentration

It is a human tendency to get distracted from work when massive ambient sounds are creating a disturbance. These sounds not only create disturbance but indeed they steal your focus. However, unwanted noises can damage an employee’s memory over time. In these instances, a noise-canceling headset is a suitable solution. They reduce background noise and allow you to concentrate on your task. 

2. Improves listener’s experience

Most people turn up the volume above recommended levels while listening to music in a noisy environment. Listening to music at excessive volumes may cause long-term hearing loss. To solve the problem, consider using these headphones in crowded places. These headphones are specially designed to reduce background noise and improve your listening experience. 

3. Lowers Stress

Often, crowded places are filled with louder noises, Peace of mind seems to be far-fetched for those who do not use noise-canceling audio devices in these regions. Hearing these unsettling background sounds for an extended period can cause stress and possibly irreversible hearing loss. Therefore, when purchasing your next hearing equipment, consider its noise-canceling capabilities. 

4. Improves Sleep

Sleep issues have become fairly widespread among today’s youth. These problems are frequently caused by prolonged exposure to background sounds. You must realize that while you sleep, your body restores its energy levels. Hence, noise-canceling headphones are an excellent purchase for prioritizing your sleep.  

Downsides of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Every technology has its benefits and drawbacks. Similarly, here are the downsides of noise-canceling headphones. 

1. Expensive

They are more expensive than regular headphones and require a battery to work properly. This can add extra cost as the batteries need to be replaced regularly.

2. Ear Infections

Maintaining headphones is very important. If they are not cleaned regularly, this might lead to the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Wearing these headphones for a long time might lead to ear infections. 

3. Unaware of Surroundings

Wearing noise-canceling headphones while driving is not recommended for safety reasons because they block out noises such as car horns, train horns, and sirens and make you unaware of your surroundings. 

4. Short Battery Life

Noise-canceling headphones tend to consume more power compared to regular ones. They can work up to 20 hours before the battery goes flat. And when your battery empties, you’re left with just an everyday headphone without noise-canceling features.


To conclude, noise-canceling headphones are effective devices to eliminate unwanted and disturbing noises while listening to music. They are more cost-effective than normal headphones but they help in improving your concentration, sleep, and listening experience by reducing stress levels. Though they have their downsides, they may be a great pick for the ones who want to enjoy music without any distractions while traveling, or long-flight (or) train journeys. 

Noise-Canceling Headphones – FAQs

1. Are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Suitable For Babies?

Ans: This is a pretty complex question, as we have various arguments and opinions regarding this question.
Noise-canceling headphones are suitable for babies, as they protect your toddlers’ delicate ears from external noises (or) louder sounds.
On the other hand, using any audio devices can damage the child’s ear canal resulting in long-term hearing problems. 
Ultimately, further research is needed into this topic to determine if and how noise-canceling headphones might be safely used on babies.

2. What Is The Expected Battery Life Of Noise-Canceling Headphones?

Ans: Usually, noise-canceling headphones have rechargeable batteries and can last 20-30 hours on a single charge; however, this varies depending on the make and model. Higher-end models may have longer battery life, whereas lower-cost models may have shorter battery life.

3. Are Noise-Canceling Headphones Safe For Long-Term Use?

Ans: There is no straight answer to this question. Because some argue that these headphones are completely safe and do not emit any radiation that could cause health problems. However, according to a few studies, long-term use of headphones may damage the ear canal and lead to hearing problems. 

4. Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work On Airplanes?

Ans: Yes, they do work on airplanes. Usually, the aircraft engines make louder noises leading to ear pain and headache. These headphones are designed to block out low-frequency background sounds such as engine rumbles and air conditioners. Hence, they are effective in reducing levels of sound heard while traveling on airplanes, though users should note that it is unlikely for any headphones to eliminate all external noises.

5. Can noise-canceling headphones be paired with computers?

Ans: Yes, any standard wireless and wired noise-canceling headphones can be linked to a computer as long as your device has a standard headphone jack.

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