Don’t want to disturb people around you with the thunderous sound of your new Bose Noise Canceling Headphones? Fear not, medium-to-high range headphones have come a long way in terms of noise cancellation as well. But what are the differences between active and passive noise-cancelling headphones? I try to explain them to you.
Active Vs. Passive. It’s about more than just the noise originating from your system’s fans or a bodily function—it’s also the distinction between active and passive noise canceling headphones. But what exactly is the difference? And furthermore, should we really care?
Noise-canceling headphones typically fall into one of two categories: Active and Passive. Active noise cancellation uses an external microphone to actively monitor and ‘cancel’ out ambient sound that reaches your ears. Passive noise-canceling headphones block out sound passively by surrounding your ears with soft material to muffle outside noises. In this article, we will break down the difference between the two types of noise cancelling headphones.
With the onslaught of new headphones to come out in recent years, it’s hard to understand the difference between noise canceling and passive noise canceling. In fact, even manufacturers of these headphones don’t always differentiate the two very well. So we have decided to dissect both types and see if there really is a difference? Or if its just marketing mumbo jumbo?
Picture this: You’re on a plane, on your way to a speaking engagement, or just to catch up with friends and family. Most of the seats are taken and you’re trying to get comfortable for what’s about to be a long flight. But it’s tough to do so because of the airplane engines, or maybe because the people around you are complaining about their awful day at work (you hear everything). Technology is getting better every year and has given us a variety of choices when it comes to things like noise cancellation.
In 2022, it’s increasingly rare to find a pair of headphones that doesn’t offer “noise-cancellation” technology. Whether you’re purchasing on Amazon, at your local Best Buy, or stopping for a bite to eat at McDonalds, there seems to be no shortage of sleekly packaged products claiming to block out unwanted sound. However, every pair of headphones that is advertised as having “noise-cancellation” might not be what you’re expecting. This is because there are two different kinds of noise cancellation — active and passive — and they are very different.
Noise-canceling headphones are a delicate subject. They can mean the difference between having an amazing flight and a terrible flight, or between having an easy time chatting with your co-worker or straining to hear what your co-worker is saying. Especially in the business world, where you need to attend meetings and present company updates, it’s essential to have the best technology possible at your fingertips. You are guaranteed to come across diverse opinions when trying to learn about the best NC headphones as some people swear by active NC, while others invest in passive.
What is “Active” noise-cancellation?
Active noise-canceling headphones are a popular choice for air travel, commuting on noisy public transit, and working in both open and closed offices where the ambient noise can become irritating over time. Usually the most expensive models offer more quality sound, more convenient buttons and controls, and a more comfortable feel.
Active noise-canceling headphones allows you to listen to your music in a noisy environment without having to raise the volume to the point where you suffer from hearing loss. They do this by electronically creating “antiphases” that cancel out ambient noise, and effectively stops the sound waves from reaching your ears.
Electronically generating is considerably more energy efficient than simply trying to block out background noises with passive sound-isolation technology, which works by trapping the sounds with an ear cup that absorbs most of what comes into your ear canal. Active noise-canceling headphones typically have a dedicated battery pack that’s used to power these electronics; this allows greater noise suppression, since they are not powered by the same battery that you use to charge your headphones.
Let’s say you’re on a plane and want to listen to music or watch a movie without having to compete with the plane’s engine, or the chatter of your seatmate. With an active noise-canceling headphone, you can “disconnect” from the noisy world around you and immerse yourself fully in the music. Power for active noise-canceling is drawn from a dedicated rechargeable battery built into the headphone itself, so they’re convenient and hassle-free while traveling, especially if they have a folding design.
The more complex the circuitry and electronics inside your active headphones are, the better they will be at canceling out ambient noise. When searching for this type of headphone you may want to look for closed-back designs that rest snugly around your ears to help block out ambient noise even further; bass sounds often carry farther than other frequencies, so some headphones also come with bass-boosting circuitry for a fuller listening experience.
What is “passive” noise-cancellation?
Passive noise cancellation is passive in its nature. In other words, it doesn’t use any power to passively cancel noise. This effectiveness becomes more apparent once you consider how it works. How do you think they manage to cancel noise? Well, they use pads that are formed to press against your ear canal. This provides a seal that blocks out sound waves entering the inner chamber of your ears, which means the headphones don’t let any external sound pass through the vents into your ear canal.
Passive noise-cancelation is a term that is used in marketing, but it is more technically known as noise isolation. Noise isolation headphones use a concept called the tunnel effect. The Tunnel Effect, also referred to as a “vacuum effect,” occurs when sound cannot escape from the headphones due to the tight seal around your ears. This seal also acts as a barrier to outside noise. The result is that you hear less extraneous noise and have more control over your audio experience.
Passive noise-canceling headphones are a great way to block out unwanted background noise. They’re comfortable, convenient and tend to be much less expensive than their active counterparts. Passive noise-canceling headphones can be used with any audio device and you don’t need batteries to use them. It’s easy enough to find quite a few great passive noise cancelling headphones just by doing a quick search online. But what are the best options available? What factors should you consider while shopping for your new pair of passive noise-cancelling headphones?
Active vs passive noise cancellation: which is better?
The debate has been raging on for a while now: which is the better way to eliminate noise – active or passive noise cancellation technology? Let’s take a look at how each type of noise cancelling works and decide once and for all, whilst recommending what we think is the best value, high quality noise cancelling headset currently available.
The main difference between active and passive noise cancellation is that active noise cancellation is achieved using electric circuitry to electronically create a noise that is equal and opposite to the offending noise. Active noise-cancelling headphones will always be more effective at cancelling out ambient sounds. However, their circuitry needs recharging after approximately 30 hours of use. Passive noise-cancelling headphones are more affordable, don’t need charging before use, and are lighter, though they won’t cancel out loud noises as effectively as active ones can.
How do you choose which kind of noise-canceling headphones to buy? If you’re buying them for the airport, then chances are active noise-canceling would be your best bet. That’s because a set of good ANC cans could make more of a difference than passive ones. Active cancels are particularly good at taming low-frequency, consistent noises, like jet engines or trains. But if you’re looking for better performance while working out in the gym, you’ll probably want headphones with less active circuitry or even just a pair of high-quality passive headphones . The drawback to passive models is that they can’t cancel out the high-frequency chirps of your talkative neighbor in the gym locker room.
Active noise-canceling headphones cost significantly more than the passive ones, and they don’t sound as good with ANC turned on. That said, they’re better at blocking out outside noise, so if you’re using your headphones in a relatively quiet environment — like an office or at school — an ANC pair is a better bet. And keep in mind, both types of headphones use batteries, so when that battery dies and your music cuts out (which is bound to happen eventually!), you won’t be able to listen to anything until you charge it or use headphone jack.
Active noise cancellation headphones are not perfect, they add extra frequencies to the music (antiphases) in order to cancel out ambient noise, and as a result the sound quality is degraded. In addition, any music with little low frequencies, like classical music or pop, gets distorted, because the higher frequencies cannot travel through air and background noises will cancel them out. Professional DJs might favor passive headphones which amplify ambient noise without adding any noise or distortion from active noise-cancellation.