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How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

by Ronald Elias

Headphones are everywhere. Whether you use them while you are working at home to keep out background noise, while you are traveling on long trips, or just to lay back and relax in the comfort of your own room, headphones can help transport you to a magical place where nothing else exists but you -- and the music. 

But then, the phone rings. A car drives by. A noisy baby three rows down on the plane cries bloody murder. That favorite drop on your favorite song? Well, forget that, now it’s ruined. Of course, there’s always noise-cancelling headphones … but you’ve never tried them before. Do they even work? How do they work? What is this new devilry? 

The short answer: science. The long answer could take you 5 to 10 years to truly understand, and that’s only after you travel to a mysterious land and master several ancient and extinct languages and martial arts. 

The medium answer, however, is something that we can help with. Let’s start by breaking things down a bit: There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones, and they both have different approaches. Let’s take a look at both types, and learn a little bit about both of them along the way. 

Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones 

We hate to offer spoilers for this season of “Our Super Awesome Blog,” but the name of this section probably gives the game away a bit here: Active noise-cancelling headphones take an active role in how they cancel noise. 

First, noise-cancelling headphones have a microphone to pick up outside sounds. Next, the noise-cancelling circuits inside the headphones create a wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the noise that you don’t want to hear. This wave cancels out the other noise, meaning you’ll hear just the sound that you want to, without any external interference. 

Of course, no matter what type of headphones you are in the market for, we are here to help. Stop by or give us a call today and we’ll be glad to walk you through all of our headphone options and help you find a pair that will take you to your own musical happy place, without any interruptions. Even from those crying babies.  

Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones 

Active noise-cancelling headphones aren't the only kind you'll see out there, however. 

There are also passive noise-cancelling headphones on the market, and these can still block out noise, though they do offer less noise-cancelling power than active headphones. Passive headphones rely on physical barriers to block out noise, and can be made of foam or other sound-absorbing material to help block out incoming sounds around you. 

Because there is an actual physical difference, passive noise-cancelling headphones can be heavier than normal headphones. But, they also provide extra noise cancellation that you wouldn't get with a lighter pair of traditional headphones. 

Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Safe?

This is another question that comes up a bit, so we wanted to make sure to address it. The answer: Yes, of course! Noise cancelling headphones are perfectly safe to use and won't hurt your ears at all if they are used properly.

Of course, notice that we said if they are used properly above. All headphones can be damaging to your ears if you listen to them at levels that are too high, so you always want to be careful and make sure that you aren't turning up the volume too much. 

If you are on the quest for new headphones and aren't sure which ones are the best for your needs, then the best thing is to stop by or give us a call! We can help guide you through a bunch of different headphone options -- and even let you try out some of our favorite models -- so you know that you'll be walking away with headphones that will give you the best balance of performance, volume, noise cancelling, and comfort. Stop by today -- we'll always lend you an ear!