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How Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work

November 7, 2018 by Ronald Elias

Headphones are everywhere. Whether you use them at work, on 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 work? How do they work? What is this new devilry?
The short answer: Science. The long answer could take you five 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 along the way.

Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones

You know how if you close a door, you can’t hear whatever nonsense is going on behind that door? Or at least, you can hear it a little less?

Well, think of passive noise-cancelling headphones a bit like that. Passive noise-reducing headphones use physicality to help block noise from your ear. Like doors for your ears, they offer up some protection from the outside world, keeping the unwanted noises out, while they of course push the wanted noises in.

Some headphones even have sound-absorbing material in them, giving you even more blocking power. They aren’t going to be able to block out everything however, but it’s a start at least to combatting the outside world that just doesn’t seem to want to let you listen to the next episode of “Serial” in peace.

Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones

We hate to offer spoilers for this season of “Your Favorite Store’s 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 – such as that iron-lunged toddler in row B. 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, sans crying. Sans car horns. And even sans your boss, but that probably means your music is a bit too loud.

No matter what type of headphones you are in the market for, though, 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.
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