If you want to learn about active noise cancellation and how it works, you’re in the right place. This guide will dig into the definition and how it all works. We’ll also discuss the different types of noise canceling.
All your answers about noise cancellation will be found in this guide. So if you have any questions that are common about the topic, there’s a good chance you’ll find them here. With that said, let’s get started.
What is Active Noise Cancellation?
Active noise cancellation (or ANC) is defined as hardware and firmware combining together to make external noises to sound quieter than usual when you are wearing headphones and listening to music. The way it works is that active noise cancellation will pick up on sounds that are created from the outside of your headphones, then using unique methods to ‘cancel’ them out.
This means the sound you would otherwise hear without the headphones won’t be heard. How does this work? Keep reading, because we have a section that explains that in detail.
How Does Active Noise Cancellation Work?
Active noise cancellation uses small microphones. Unlike the ones you speak into, these mics are designed to pick up on ambient noise. When they pick up the noise, they will record the waves that are produced.
From there, ANC will create its own sound waves that equal the waves it has picked up from the noise outside. When the two come together, that’s when the noise is canceled out. When you are playing your music, the waves created by the ANC will work alongside it.
You will never hear the external noise while you are listening to the songs you love. You could hear a horn honking and you might not be able to hear it. The entire process happens so fast.
In this section, we’re going to talk about the different types of noise canceling that exists. These include seven types each with their own unique functionalities. Let’s take a look at the following:
- Active Noise Cancellation: Already explained in detail above. But we would be remiss if we didn’t include this on the list. Let’s move on to the next type.
- Passive Noise Cancellation: This uses a cup-like design that will keep unwanted noise out. These will be found in your in-ear and over-ear headphones.
- Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation: This is one of a couple renditions of ANC. With this one, this will use microphones and speakers that will be digitally adjustable to your surrounding area.
- Adjustable Active Noise Cancellation: Unlike adaptive noise cancellation, adjustable ANC will need to be adjusted manually by you. The good news is because of this feature, it puts the control of how much noise you want to cancel in your hands. So the manual feature isn’t as bad and time-consuming as it sounds (no pun intended).
- Transparency mode: This is a mode that allows you to listen to the noise without having to remove your ear phones or shut off the music itself.
- Adjustable transparency mode: Allows you control over how much sound you want to hear from the outside without turning off the music.
- Adjustable own voice: Gives you control over how much of your voice you want to hear when using ANC on a telephone or video conferencing call.
What is the Difference Between Noise Canceling and Active Noise Canceling?
Regular noise canceling is the same as passive noise cancellation, believe it or not. Now that you know, let’s reframe this question as the following: what is the difference between passive and active noise cancellation? Here’s what they are:
- Sound quality: In the sound department, passive noise cancellation will win out here. The reason for this is that it will block out noise while adding a bit of distortion to your music (and make it favorable for your ears). While ANC does cancel out noise from the outside, it may not enhance the sound beyond the quality it already gives you.
- Affordability: Needless to say, finding the right headphones can come down to a few factors. One of them may be affordability. Active noise canceling will be a bit more expensive compared to their passive counterparts. Even with the cheaper price tag, you get a steal of a deal from passive noise canceling thanks to its ability to enhance the sound quality.
- Loud volumes: Passive noise cancellation won’t fare well if the sound is played at higher volumes. This is where active noise canceling shines here. When the sound is loud enough, the waves used to cancel out the external noise will continue to work in sync with the music you’re playing. In a noisy environment, ANC will reign supreme here.
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What is Hybrid Active Noise Canceling?
Hybrid active noise canceling will use feedforward and feedback active noise cancellation. The microphone will be found both on the inside and outside part of the ear cups. Its purpose is to suppress the noise when it is made at much broader frequencies.
It will adapt like any other type of ANC and will correct the errors if needed. One of the things it may be sensitive to is the noise the wind can make (especially that shrilling sound that it creates). As you may have noticed, we have mentioned the other two types of active noise canceling: feedforward and feedback.
Let’s take a look at each one individually so you know how they function by themselves.
What is Feedforward Active Noise Canceling?
Feedforward active noise canceling has the microphones installed outside of the headphones. These will be placed if there is no space on the inner side of the headphones themselves (where they are placed inside the listener’s ear). The way it works is that it uses what is known as a digital signal processor.
The external microphone will do a great job at canceling noises that are produced at mid-frequency. It has the ability to isolate certain sounds including passing traffic or someone speaking nearby. However, natural noises such as the wind may be an issue for anyone wearing headphones that has feedforward active noise canceling technology.
Some noises will be amplified since they can pass through the ear cup. Because of that, those noises won’t get canceled. Because they happen out of nowhere fast.
What is Feedback Active Noise Canceling?
Feedback active noise canceling features the microphone that is located inside the ear cup of your headphones. Unlike the feedforward ANC, this has the ability to cancel out the noise that is created by the wind. But this comes without sacrifice.
The high-noise frequency sensitivity will be lost meaning it may not cancel other noises that may be produced when they happen at the same time. The solution for this would be to include a processor that will filter out such noise. Some headphones may already have this and others may not.
No. ANC cannot block all noise. It can reduce a lot of them, though. Regular noise will be blocked including anything mechanical like engines. If there are people talking within a close proximity or if the wind is blowing, ANC will not block any of that. Also, high pitched sounds like vacuums and sirens will not be blocked.
Yes, ANC does work even if you are not playing music. If you want to tune out any ambient noises, using ANC headphones or something similar will be the perfect option.
You can still hear some noise while wearing noise canceling earbuds. The reason for this is that the sounds won’t be completely isolated because of air found between your eardrum and the earbuds.
If they are wireless, you can sleep with noise canceling headphones. However, it may not be recommended to do this on a regular basis as it can lead to an increased chance of damaging your hearing (even losing it). Some other issues may occur as well regarding your ears as well.
Believe it or not, if you suffer from tinnitus, noise canceling headphones can actually work in your favor. That’s because it can block out ambient noise, which can be an issue for someone that is dealing with the condition on a regular basis. You can listen to music with headphones but at a low volume so it doesn’t aggravate your tinnitus.
Some people have reported dealing with eardrum pressure and dizziness with noise cancellation headphones. While it won’t directly cause vertigo, it can make a contribution to the condition if you already have it.
CVC stands for clear voice capture. This is useful when you are making phone calls. It can also be used if you are on a Zoom call or if you are being interviewed or listening to a podcast. The technology will help you listen clearly without the interference of ambient noise.
Noise canceling headphones can get the job done when someone is dealing with anxiety or related conditions. Because of its ability to block most noise, it can help a person attain a calmer mind when listening to music.
ANC itself will not improve call quality. The closest you can get to it is cVc noise cancellation.
ANC can reduce up to 45 decibels of sound.
Active noise cancellation has its pros and cons. But its process is fascinating to say the least. You can be able to keep the external noise out while listening to your favorite tunes. While it may not enhance the sound, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
Find a good pair of headphones that has this and immerse yourself in the sounds that you love. You may enjoy a nice walk and listen to your favorite tunes or podcast. At the end of the day, they’re pretty good to have despite some of the disadvantages that it has.
John Fleming is the senior editor for Audiophilez.com, covering everything from headphones to smart speakers. He is a graduate of Music Production and Technology. Before Audiophilez, John began his career as a staff writer for two different magazines, where he became a skilled storyteller across different mediums. When he isn’t writing, he can be found biking, reading books, and playing the piano.