How do noise-canceling headphones work? Which noise-canceling headphones are the best? NerdSimple has the answers and 5 great affordable choices you can get today.
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Who invented noise-canceling headphones?
Photo by Stas Knop
With each new technological breakthrough, life seems to get louder. We have loud music, cars, airplanes, and workplaces. Noise is unavoidable—isn’t it? Dr. Lawrence Jerome Fogel believed otherwise, and that’s why he created the first noise-canceling headphone system. Though initially developed to help helicopter pilots, it only took a few decades for Dr. Amar Bose to adapt the technology for use with the headphones we know today.
How do noise-canceling headphones work?
Rather than overpowering noise we don’t want to hear to make the sounds we want to hear clearer, active noise-canceling headphones counteract the sound waves of ambient noise. To anticipate and create this “anti-noise,” tiny microphones listen to the noise around you and make an opposing sound, so all you notice is the music, game, or audiobook you’re trying to hear.
Some headphones are more successful with this technology than others. While loud, constant noise (think mowing the lawn) is relatively easy to filter, more inconsistent sounds like people talking may be tougher for some tech to cancel.
The Three Types of Noise-Canceling Headphones
When purchasing noise-canceling headphones, it’s important to remember that there are three different kinds of noise cancelation; some may serve your purpose better than others. The three types are:
- Passive noise-canceling headphones block sound using materials like extra padding, and the most important aspect of passive noise-canceling headphones is the seal. You may prefer to try passive noise-canceling headphones in person to ensure the cushions have a good seal; otherwise, outside noise will filter in.
- Active noise canceling headphones are what most people want today. They incorporate some elements of passive noise cancelation while also putting the above-mentioned “anti-noise” technology to work.
- Adaptive noise cancelation works exactly as it sounds; it adapts to the noise level around you. In some headphones, you need to press a button to switch between stronger and weaker noise cancelation, while others change automatically.
Are noise-canceling earbuds effective?
While some noise cancelation technology is effective in earbuds, the lack of a seal means that noise-canceling earbuds will never be quite as effective as headphones. Still, plenty of earbuds work well enough for those who are active or travel often.
We’ve included some of the best noise-canceling earbuds currently on the market below.
The Top 5 Noise-Canceling Headphones and Earbuds Currently on the Market
These have three levels of noise cancelation and respond to Alexa. They require the Bose Connect App for the optimum experience.
Benefit from “unprecedented” noise cancelation with automatic optimization. These also respond to Alexa.
Choose from noise cancelation or transparency mode. These earbuds come with three tip sizes for a customizable fit. If you’re already in Apple’s ecosystem you’ll find these to be one of the best choices due to the tight integration with iPhones, Macbooks and iPads.
These offer active, passive, and adaptive noise-canceling options—all through touch control rather than buttons. They require the Bose Music App.
Currently At $79.99 on Amazon, these headphones are a great budget option. They offer active and ambient noise cancellation and are high-res audio certified. They require the Edifier Connect App.
NerdSimple’s Bottom Line
The three main types of noise cancelation are passive, active, and adaptive. Passive headphones rely on padding and a seal, while active and adaptive headphones rely on a combination of passive noise canceling and tiny microphones that create anti-noise technology.
There are some great headphone and earbud options available for those looking to cut out the ambient noise and listen to high-quality sound without breaking the budget.