What Is ANC Headphones? An All in All Guide to ANC

Those who enjoy the peace and quiet and those who are worried about noise pollution and even those who are particular about sound quality and have been around headphones a lot have one thing in common: interest in ANC. Even though ANC is not a recent technology, it has not been utilized to its full potential until lately. Today we will learn all about the ANC. What it is, what it is used for, and what is ANC headphones.

Like any other technology, ANC, active noise cancellation has a starting point sometime in history. Here is how it had started.

The History of ANC

About a century ago, in the early thirties of the 20th century, Paul Leug won a patent for his theory on active noise cancellation principles. Even though the theory was valid and true at the time, the capacity to apply it wasn’t yet available.

In the mid-20th century, Dr. Lawrence Jerome Fogel developed the use of ANC. At the time, loud noise in helicopters’ and planes’ hurt pilots’ ears. Therefore, ANC was utilized to lessen the loud noise while flying and protect pilots’ ears. This is how ANC in headphones had first started.

In the 70s of the twentieth century, Dr. Amar Bose made an ANC headset prototype. Again, the incentive for that was lessening the loud noise inside planes. The headset was that of over-ear headphones with built-in microphones.

In Dr. Bose’s design, the microphones picked up the sound waves intercepting them and countering them with others of opposite frequencies so that they can cancel each other out which will result in quietening the noise. This is the currently used concept in applications of ANC.

In order to understand what ANC headphones are and how they work, it is important to learn a little bit about the difference between noise cancellation types and settings.

Types and Settings of Noise Cancellation

Active noise cancellation: in ANC, the headphone’s speakers and microphone will dampen the noise in the background. This type of noise cancellation technology has been applied in over-ear headphones. It is currently available in both wireless and wired headsets.

Passive noise cancellation: rather than technology, passive noise cancellation depends on material and design of headphones. Headphones that use passive noise cancellation are over-ear headphones with thick ear padding manufactured of materials that – along with the headphones’ design – are able to block out sounds.

Active noise cancellation “adaptive”: in this type of noise cancellation, your headphones’ microphone and speakers adapt to the background noise employing artificial intelligence that can recognize the level of surrounding noise and how much it needs to be reduced.

Active noise cancellation “adjustable” : in contrast to adaptive active noise cancellation, users can manually adjust the level of noise cancellation. It is useful when headphones’ wearers want to hear what’s going on around them and it can save batteries as well.

Transparency mode: it is applied when a headset wearer decides to pause active noise cancellation while they are listening to streaming audio, which means they will be listening to both the audio and the outer noise.

What is ANC Headphones?

Out of the above-mentioned types of noise cancellation, our interest lies in ANC. It isn’t really difficult to conclude that ANC headphones are those headphones that apply active noise cancellation. However, active noise cancellation has three types: feedback active noise cancellation, feedforward active noise cancellation, and hybrid active noise cancellation. Let’s delve into what each of these types mean.

Feedback active noise cancellation

ANC headsets with this type of noise cancellation have the microphone inside the earcups. The headset is constructed so the speaker has the microphone behind it. As a result, what audio the user receives, the mic receives as well.

Pros

  • Feedback ANC headsets are effective at adapting to fluctuations and changing in audio signals, and can correct them if necessary.
  • Also, they can handle many frequencies, a wide variety of them.
  • Even if a user grows tired of wearing a headset in a certain way and changes their way of wearing it, ANC quality wouldn’t change for the most part.

Cons

  • Even though feedback ANC can handle many frequencies of sound, it cannot handle larger ones. For example, it cannot handle 1-2 kHz sound range.
  • In poorly designed headphones, occurrence of feedback noise is possible. It’s when you put the mic next to a loudspeaker and get an irritatingly high pitched sound.
  • Poorly designed headphones also may apply ANC to both in-streaming music and outside noise. For example, you may listen to your favorite music and find the bass completely off.

Feedforward active Noise Cancellation

In this type of ANC, a headset is constructed so that the microphone is not inside the earcup. Before a wearer hears the noise, the mic intercepts it then cancels it and then delivers the filtered audio to the speaker.

Pros

  • The headphones are able to apply noise cancellation effectively because the microphone receives sounds early, which means more time for cancellation. 
  • It also means that the headset is able to handle noise of higher frequencies. 

Cons

  • There is no recognition of the cancellation interception noise. So, there’s no correcting or adjustment of that noise.
  • This means fiddling with the placement of the headset, or even noises from a particular angle can lead to maximizing sounds.
  • Feedforward ANC covers fewer frequencies than feedback ANC
  • Feedforward ANC won’t affect some low frequency noises
  • The mic may pick wind noises

Hybrid Active noise cancellation

The name is an indication of what this type of ANC is like: a combination of both feedforward ANC and feedback ANC. Therefore, there’s a microphone both inside the earcup and outside of it.

Pros

  • You have everything: noise cancellation at frequencies of all types.
  • The headphones are able to correct errors in sound.
  • It is unaffected by difficult sound angles or headset placement.

Cons

  • Since this ANC type has everything, headphones with this technology cost you almost everything. It’s really pricey.
  • There is a definite possibility that having two microphones will lead to generating a lot of white noise that needs cancelling as well, which will require the microphones to be of really supreme quality to decrease and handle the noise-making them even more expensive.
  • Hybrid ANC headphones need some time to get used to how to use and adjust them.
  • Other factors are at play when it comes to hybrid ANC headphones, such as design, functionality, and audio streaming quality. This also adds to its price.

Now that we know what is ANC headphones, there’s the issue of buying them. Active noise cancellation headphones vary widely in terms of design, quality, price, battery life, and more. So, what should you keep in mind when buying ANC headphones?

Guidelines for Buying ANC Headphones

Set a Budget

It is obvious really, and it applies to anything you buy. Do your homework and research headphones and their prices. Establish a balance between the money you have set aside for your new pair of headphones and the qualities you want in your headphones.

Wiring “with vs without” Decide what suits you best

If you are buying headphones because you need them for your work on a computer, for example, and there isn’t much chance of you straying far from the audio transmitting device, then buying wireless headphones defeats the purpose. If, on the other hand, you need to use headphones while working out or doing chores and need good mobility and less accidents with wires, then you should consider buying wireless headphones.

Headphones’ Wearability

Wearability is how headphones DON’T bother you when you wear them. Some people feel too hot and sweaty in their ears when wearing over-ear headphones. Some people worry about infections with in-ear headphones while others are upset about them falling off from time to time. Unless you have a certain brand and design of headphones you’re comfortable with, it’s recommended that you try before you buy.

Sound quality

How much of an audio connoisseur are you? What do you want to hear when using headphones? Loud music with lots of bass? Or are you pickier with what you hear than what you eat? Keep in mind that money talks here; so the more you are particular about sound quality, the more you’ll have to pay.

Headphones’ Durability

Money talks here as well. Some headphones are manufactured so that you can wear them for years while others can be described as “disposable”. Examine the headphones you are buying carefully. Examine the band and its material, the wires if the headset is wired and the earcups. Compare different brands. Ask other buyers and check online reviews.

Active Noise Cancellation

Naturally, active noise cancellation is one of the reasons you prefer a certain headphone brand over another. ANC is one of the reasons there’s a wide range of prices when it comes to headphones, and the better the ANC quality, the pricier the headphones. Moreover, there’s your lifestyle to consider. Do you, for example, spend a lot of time commuting and thus need good quality ANC to deal with the background noise? Or do you stay at home for a long time and noise cancelling isn’t an issue? Based on the answers, choose what ANC headphones to buy.

Batteries

Obviously, this applies in case you are buying wireless ANC headphones. There are wireless in-ear headphones that come with a charging case. However, they aren’t cheap and with other features to consider, you’ll be spending about $500 for good quality wireless ANC in-ear headphones. Decide if a 20 hour or so playback is really worth all that money.

Warranty

Naturally, accidents are bound to happen. Manufacture flaws are also bound to happen. So, a headset’s warranty is something to keep in mind when buying a new one. A good headphone warranty can save your money, time and nerves when an accident that makes your headphones dysfunctional happens.

Wrapping up

We have talked in length about ANC headphones, what active noise cancellation is, how it had first started to be known and used, what kinds of ANC are there with their pros and cons, and even how to buy ANC headphones. You’ll find here all the info you need about ANC headphones.

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