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How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

There are two types of technologies used in headphones: active (noise-cancelling) and passive (isolating).  Both are very different, yet offer a similar end result of reducing audible and exterior noises while the user experiences the headphone.

Passive Noise Isolating

This method creates as many barriers as possible in the headphones design between exterior sound and your ears. The more solid pieces and sound dampening materials used in the construction, the more likely the headphone will prevent exterior sounds into the ear cup chamber. Passive noise cancelling headphones tend to be heavier due to the materials involved in creating these barriers.

The closed-back Bowers & Wilkins P7 is an example of a passive noise isolating headphone:

Another example of a passive noise-isolating headphone is the Sony MDR-1A Hi-Res Headphone:

Active Noise Cancelling

This is a method in which an electronic microphone, powered by a battery, is adapted into the ear cups. The Bose® QuietComfort® 25 uses this technology. The device listens to the exterior noises around you and emits what is called an “anti-phase” frequency that provides an inverse effect. The exterior noise and the new anti-phase sound emitted by the headphone will cancel each other out. This results in the cancellation of exterior noises outside of your headphones ear cups. The PSB M4U2 Headphone also uses active noise cancelling technology.

Bose® QuietComfort® 25:

PSB M4U2 Headphones:

When you first put on noise cancelling headphones, the effects can seem quite eerie. After just a few hours it’s easy to see how addicted you can become to listening to your music in absolute silence among the street noise of buses, people talking or an airplane hovering overhead. If you fancy yourself a headphone aficionado or just do a lot of commuting and travel, do yourself a favour and visit our store to hear for yourself!


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