What they are and how they work

What are noise canceling headphones?

For commuters and commuters who face noisy planes, trains, and buses, noise-canceling headphones are more than a luxury—they’re a necessity.

Noise-cancelling headphones cancel out annoying background sounds using a variety of techniques, both active and passive.

Active noise cancellation technology blocks sounds like airplane engines and train vibrations by creating interference patterns. Some models like those from Able Planet also boost certain frequencies to enrich the sound quality, increasing speech understanding and music playback.

Passive noise cancellation blocks sound by using headphones or in-ear canal phones to attenuate extraneous noise.

A secondary benefit of noise-cancelling headphones is the ability to hear better without turning up the volume of your media player, reduce the risk of hearing damage on the road.

A wide variety of noise canceling headphones are available to fit the needs and budgets of everyone from the casual listener to the serious audiophile. Choosing the right noise canceling headphones for you is simple once you understand how they work and what they offer.

How do noise canceling headphones work?

Noise-canceling headphones use two main methods of reducing ambient noise: active and passive.

Active noise canceling headphones use electronics to identify and block out constant ambient sounds.

They do this by picking up ambient sounds with tiny microphones built into the outside of the headphones and creating sound waves that mimic unwanted noise.

Here’s the tricky part: the imitated sound waves are 180 degrees out of phase with the original sound, creating an “anti-noise” signal or interference pattern that cancels them out. The result is a fuller sound at lower volumes.

Although Bose pioneered active noise-canceling headphone technology, other manufacturers such as Shure, Sennheiser and Able Planet offer modern technological solutions that go far beyond Bose’s original technology (and at better prices) .

Active noise-canceling headphones work best on stable frequencies in the lower register. They are ideal for reducing noises such as the refrigerator, car engines or the constant background hum of an airplane.

The downside to active noise-canceling technology (especially in low-end headphones) is background noise, although this tends to be less of an issue when playing audio.

Also, high frequencies and intermittent sounds are more difficult to capture and cancel. So active noise canceling headphones won’t do much to cut through conversations.

Passive noise cancellation uses sound isolation techniques to seal the ears and reduce choppy sounds or high frequencies that are difficult to isolate electronically.

Most often this is achieved with large headphones such as the bulky cans used in recording studios. In general, however, the larger the headphone, the more uncomfortable some listeners find it, especially when used for extended listening sessions.

Other methods of passive noise cancellation include headphones (also called canalphones) that press firmly against the ear canal itself, closing the ear like earplugs with a built-in speaker.

Manufacturers such as Shure (which pioneered this technology with its in-ear monitoring systems) offer canalphones in a variety of sizes and price ranges.

While it’s not for everyone (some people don’t like the feeling of having something lodged in their ear canal), in-ear phones offer the most noise cancellation possible with purely passive devices.

What other enhancements are available for noise canceling headphones?

Audio manufacturers often add features easy to travel to noise canceling headphones. These include adapters that connect to aircraft audio systems, retractable cables, collapsible headband designs for portability, and carrying bags.

An on-off switch is an often overlooked but crucial feature that allows listeners to use noise-canceling headphones with the active electronics turned off to extend battery life.

The inline volume and mute controls are another useful improvement, especially in situations where listeners need to turn down the volume to hear the pilot or train conductor announcements.

In addition, Able Planet offers noise-canceling headphones that enhance frequencies affected by hearing impairment.

Specifically, Able Planet’s patented electronic enhancement called Linx Audio, originally developed to increase hearing intelligibility in hearing aids, boosts high- and mid-range signals so that listeners (with and without hearing loss) can better appreciate both speech and music

Linx Audio works through a process it calls Able Planet Harmonic enrichment.

Harmonic enrichment it takes advantage of the way the human ear transmits sound to the brain. Small patches of hair in the inner ear sway and move when stimulated by audio waves. The brain interprets these movements as sound sensations.

Although the brain perceives each musical note or spoken syllable as a single sound, each actually consists of multiple combined frequencies called harmonics that stimulate different sets of hairs in the inner ear.

High sound pressure levels can damage the delicate hairs in the inner ear and cause hearing loss. But because this damage usually affects only some inner ear hairs, enhancing other harmonics within a sound can stimulate different undamaged inner ear hairs, helping the brain to “fill in” the missing frequencies.

Another Linx Audio feature is active distortion reduction. Increasing the volume can “clip” the peaks of the sound waves, causing distortion. Linx Audio’s distortion reduction technology takes jagged peaks in clipped waveforms and “rounds” them, resulting in a smoother sound for the listener.

Able Planet’s innovations and competitive pricing have won fans among frequent headphone listeners, though it remains to be seen how many audiophiles can turn away from established heavy hitters like Shure and Sennheiser.

Which noise canceling headphones are right for you?

Noise-canceling headphones are available in a variety of prices and features to satisfy just about everyone, whether you’re a discerning audiophile or a traveler on a tight budget.

Carefully consider what your needs are before choosing a set of noise-canceling headphones. If you enjoy listening to podcasts on your subway ride, an inexpensive set of canalphones or low-end headphones may be right for you.

If you’re a serious audiophile, on the other hand, you may want to invest in larger headphones, a sturdier build, or higher-end speakers to increase sound quality, especially if you have frequent travel on your schedule.

AudioLinks offers a variety of noise canceling headphones with active and passive technology to suit a variety of needs and budgets. Expert advice from our team of technicians is just a phone call away (1-212-766-0248) or by email!

Audio Headset

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *