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About noise-canceling headphones

or headphones with noise reduction

Things to know about health risks and the right use

Our article covers the essential aspects of noise-cancelling headphones, which are designed to block out background noise and offer varying degrees of noise reduction. If you use these headphones frequently and suspect hearing loss, it is best to take our free online hearing test.

What are noise-cancelling headphones?

Noise-cancelling headphones are a versatile solution that offer noise isolation and can serve a variety of purposes, including but not limited to studying, relaxation, concentration, and entertainment, without being disrupted by external sounds. Additionally, they are well-suited for travel purposes.

How does noise-cancelling work?

Noise-cancelling headphones typically use either an active or passive noise-isolation system. 

  • Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones were first introduced in the 1970s and work by electronically eliminating ambient noise. This is achieved through a microphone system that analyses the ambient noise and generates opposing sound waves that cancel out the noise, resulting in almost complete silence.
  • Passive Noise Cancelling (PNC) headphones use a physical barrier to attenuate noise, such as the material, ergonomics, diameter, shape, fit of the headphones to achieve different levels of noise isolation.

Advantages of noise-cancelling headphones

Overall, noise-cancelling headphones provide several benefits compared to regular headphones. Some of the advantanges include, but are not limited to:

Potentially healthier for hearing

People who work or commute in noisy environments often listen to loud music to counter the noise. However, prolonged exposure to loud music can harm hearing. In such scenarios, noise-cancelling headphones can be helpful as they filter out ambient sounds, reducing the need for loud music as a compensation.

Improve concentration

These headphones are well-suited for enhancing concentration in various settings such as studying, working, or meditating.

Stress reduction

Noise-cancelling headphones provide advantages beyond physical health. They also aid in reducing unwanted noise, making them beneficial for studying, resting, or any other scenario where disruptive background noise needs to be dampened.

No radiation

Active noise-cancelling headphones generate undetectable sound waves to compensate for and eliminate interference from ambient noise. There is no evidence to indicate that this feature can damage hearing. Consequently, this type of headphone does not pose a health threat due to harmful radiation. 

Disadvantages of noise-cancelling headphones

While noise-cancelling headphones have numerous benefits, there are also potential drawbacks associated with their use. The subsequent issues may arise:

Hearing damage due to excessive volume

Similar to all other headphone types, listening to loud music for extended periods with noise-cancelling headphones can cause hearing damage and should be avoided. However, noise-cancelling headphones don't require excessive volume to offset excessive extenal noise. This makes them ideal for listening to music at a moderate volume.

Not all sounds/frequencies are filtered

People who use passive noise-cancelling headphones may be susceptible to low-frequency noise exposure, which can harm their ears in the long run. To enhance protection, it is recommended to consider purchasing headphones with active noise-cancelling technology.

Poorer noise control with old headphones

Over time, headphones may deteriorate and lose their ability to provide adequate noise control, potentially leading to hearing problems. As a result, it's crucial to periodically assess the condition of headphones to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Ear pain due to incorrect fit

Due to their small size and lack of ergonomic design, headphones can cause discomfort and potential harm if worn for extended periods of time, particularly when they are not the correct fit for the ear.

Noise such as whistling

Noise-cancelling headphones are typically safe and free of risks. Nonetheless, wearing them may produce a faint whistling sound in the ear, which doesn't cause any lasting hearing or ear problems. If the noise is disturbing, it's recommended to use passive noise-cancelling headphones.
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How to use noise-cancelling headphones correctly

To avoid any health risks associated with using this type of headset, certain precautions can be taken. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to use noise-cancelling headphones in a safe manner:

Noise-cancelling headphones buying guide

  • Ensure a comfortable fit.
  • Familiarise yourself with the various types of noise cancellation. 
  • The level of noise cancellation required may vary depending on the situation in which you plan to use the headphones. 
  • The effectiveness of noise cancellation is influenced by factors such as headphone design, manufacturer, and technology employed. Typically, higher-priced headphones offer more reliable noise cancellation.

Noise-cancelling headphones usage tips

  • Listen to music at a moderate volume.
  • Cleaning your headphones regularly to reduce the risk of ear infections. 
  • Ensure that noise cancellation is fully functional even after prolonged use.

If the headphones no longer filter out noise effectively, it may be time to consider purchasing new ones.

How to select good noise-cancelling headphones?

The market offers a wide selection of noise-cancelling headphones, making it challenging to select the right product that meets your needs. To identify the ideal headphones, it's crucial to understand the features of the models available.

How many types of noise cancelling are there?

Noise-cancelling headphones fall into four main categories: On-Ear, Over-Ear, Open-Ear and Closed-Ear.

  • On-ear headphones are designed to fit over the ears and fully cover the ear cup while resting firmly on the ear. They are compact and provide good sound quality. Although they are comfortable to wear, the pressure of the pads on the ear can cause discomfort during prolonged use. These headphones are highly functional, lightweight, and easy to manage, often available in a foldable design that allows for easy storage in a backpack or bag.
  • Over-ear headphones fully enclose the earcup without resting on the ear. The large padded cups on this model allow for extended wear without discomfort, and offer excellent sound quality due to better noise isolation and a wider frequency range.
  • Open-ear headphones, available in on-ear and over-ear models, have a small opening (grille or perforation) in the shell housing. With this model, ambient noise can be heard and the sound from the headphones can penetrate to the outside. Although this results in less sound insulation, it offers a richer and more immersive listening experience.
  • Closed headphones provide excellent sound isolation as the padded cups completely enclose the ears, preventing sound from escaping and effectively attenuating ambient noise. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage depends on individual preferences and needs.

What does a noise cancelling headset do?

Different noise reduction systems have varying levels of performance and effectiveness. Complete elimination of ambient noise is not guaranteed by active noise cancellation technology.

Apart from the aforementioned systems, TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earphones can be a good option. They consist of two small separate earphones and provide high-quality sound with rich and immersive audio that is free of interference. The left and right channels are transmitted separately via Bluetooth connection using radio waves.

TWS earphones are currently very popular due to their long battery life for music playback and calls. The best TWS models in the market provide exceptional noise cancellation and wireless operation, and have a range of up to 10 meters.

What are the types of in-ear headphones with ACN?

There are different types of active noise-cancelling earphones on the market:

  • Compact earphones: These earphones are small and offer clear sound for music and business calls without any background noise. They connect via Bluetooth and have long battery life.
  • In-ear headphones: Designed for sports and physical activities, these Bluetooth headsets offer comfort, stability and protection against dust, sweat and splashing water. They also provide good noise isolation and allow freedom of movement.
  • Classic in-ear headphones: These earphones have flat ear cups that rest against the ear canal, allowing ambient noise to pass through, which can affect sound quality. However, this feature can be useful when using the headphones in public places.

Technical features at a glance

The essential components of noise-cancelling headphones are the driver, frequency response, and impedance.

  • Driver: The sound quality of noise-cancelling headphones is heavily influenced by the driver, a disc-shaped component inserted into the earcups. It receives an electric current from the sound source and converts it into sound. The driver size, which ranges from 6 to 200 mm, plays a crucial role in determining sound quality. The most popular types of drivers used in noise-cancelling headphones include dynamic, magnetoplanar, electrostatic, and balanced-armature speakers.
  • Frequency response: The frequency response refers to how the headphone receives, alters and reproduces sound frequencies from the inputs. It is a significant factor in determining how an instrument or sound is perceived. Sounds are made up of frequencies, which are then processed, modified and transmitted to the outside world. Different headphones may emphasize low or high frequencies, resulting in different sound qualities. 
  • Impedance: The selection of headphones should also consider the parameter of impedance, which is the electrical resistance of a circuit when an alternating current passes through it. Impedance is measured in ohms and specified in the data sheet of all headphones. It is an important factor in determining the sound quality of headphones. Most headphones have an impedance of around 32 ohms, but high-end models can reach up to 250 ohms.

Difference between wired, bluetooth & wireless

There are different types of headsets available on the market today, namely corded headsets, Bluetooth headsets and wireless headsets.

  • Wired headphones: The oldest and most classic type of headphones. Wired headphones connect to a device, like a phone or tablet, through a jack socket. These type of headphones offer the best sound quality and don't need to be recharged. However, the cable can be easily damaged and limit movement.
  • Bluetooh headphones: The most popular type of headphones. Bluetooth headphones connect to a desired device via Bluetooth pairing. These type of headphones are easy to connect and compatible with many different devices, making them versatile. They are affordable and suffer less from interference compared to wireless headsets. Bluetooth headphones are practical and can be used on-the-go, when commuting or exercising. However, their range is limited to about 10 meters.
  • Wireless headphones: With a range of up to about 100 metres, wireless headphones offer excellent sound quality. However, they need an external transmitter to connect to compatible devices and are susceptible to interference.

Noise-cancelling headphones battery life

On one hand, corded headsets have no battery and can provide continuous sound reproduction as long as they are connected to a power source. On the other, Bluetooth headsets have limited battery life. The lifespan of lithium-ion batteries can vary greatly and decrease over time. A good quality Bluetooth battery lasts for approximately three years and can be recharged up to 300 times.
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