active noise cancellation

Active Noise Cancellation Explained: What Is ANC in Headphones?

Active Noise Cancellation Explained: What Is ANC in Headphones?

If you’re new to the world of headphones and find yourself wondering about ANC, an important question you may have is: “What is Active Noise Cancellation?” Nowadays, this term is commonly mentioned across different price ranges, yet often without any explanation.

ANC is short for active noise cancellation, a feature in headphones that helps minimize the impact of unwanted external sounds on your listening experience.

However, this simple definition only provides a glimpse of the concept. Understanding the science behind active noise cancellation requires further explanation, and there are different types of ANC to become familiar with. It’s wise to have this knowledge before investing in noise-cancelling headphones. The following discussion explores the essential aspects of noise-cancellation technology and highlights some of our favorite ANC headphones.

What is Active Noise Cancellation?

ANC, or active noise cancellation, is a technology designed to eliminate background noise, allowing you to fully enjoy your audio without interruptions and without turning up the volume to potentially harmful levels. In the following explanation, you will better understand how ANC works. It utilizes a combination of microphones and digital signal processing algorithms to analyze external sounds and reduce them by emitting counteracting anti-noise signs.

The History

Active noise cancellation technology has a rich history spanning almost a century. In 1933, a German physician named Paul Lueg proposed a groundbreaking idea involving opposing sound waves to cancel out specific sound frequencies. Although Lueg’s patent application did not result in tangible outcomes, it inspired others. Notably, in the mid-1950s, American engineer Lawrence J. Fogel developed his noise-cancelling system for aircraft cockpits.

However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the noise-cancelling technology we recognize today began to take shape. Dr. Amar Bose, the founder of Bose, made a significant contribution in 1989 by creating a noise-cancelling headset specifically designed for the aviation industry. Shortly after, he introduced this remarkable feature to the commercial market by releasing the original Bose QuietComfort headphones. Over the years, noise-cancellation technology has experienced rapid advancements, reaching a point where even affordable headphones priced around £30 now incorporate this great functionality.

Types of Noise Cancellation

active noise cancellation

Headphones offer various noise cancellation options or modes, allowing you to select the one that aligns with your preferences and enjoy personalized audio experiences.

1. Passive Noise Cancellation

This type of noise cancellation is present in carefully designed earphones that create a seal around the ears, effectively blocking out ambient noise. It applies to both earphones and headphones. They must fit snugly to work effectively, preventing external sounds from entering. These are particularly effective at filtering out high-frequency noises, such as conversations with talkative colleagues.

2. Active Noise cancellation Microphone

To diminish or overpower ambient noise, they employ both microphones and speakers. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) primarily comprises two types based on microphone placement.

  I. Feedforward Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

the microphone is positioned outside the ear cup, allowing it to detect external noise before reaching the listener’s ears. It processes this unwanted noise to create anti-noise waves, effectively canceling or neutralizing it and enhancing the listening experience. However, the external microphone placement makes it more susceptible to environmental factors. It may not deliver optimal sound if the headphones or earphones are not correctly positioned, potentially amplifying outside noise.

  II. Feedback Noise Cancellation

the microphone is inside the ear cup, capturing the audio signal as the listener perceives it. This configuration enables the microphone to cancel out noise effectively. Moreover, incorrect placement of headphones or earphones minimizes sound cancellation. However, since this method combines sound and noise, it requires careful design consideration to avoid compromising the clarity and quality of the music that makes it enjoyable.

3. Hybrid Noise Cancellation

Hybrid noise cancellation combines feedforward and feedback microphones, positioning them internally and externally within the ear cup. This combination ensures optimal results without any limitations. It dynamically adapts and fine-tunes to various frequencies, delivering pure sound while effectively cancelling unwanted noise. Sometimes, these earbuds may include an additional microphone to capture ambient sound for improved communication, making them ideal companions in workplace settings.

4. Environmental noise cancellation

As the term implies, environmental noise cancellation eliminates ambient noise in the surroundings. Depending on the technology integrated into the earphones or headphones, they identify and prevent the entry of ecological noise into the headset.

What is Transparency Mode?

Transparency mode proves helpful in bustling environments when you desire to enjoy your music while remaining aware of your surroundings. It achieves this by allowing manual adjustment of the noise cancellation level to permit external sounds. With this mode, there’s no need to pause the audio or remove your earphones; modify the settings directly from your earphones, and you’re ready to proceed. Nowadays, you can even find customizable transparency modes that enable you to select the degree to which you want to incorporate external sounds.

During Travels

The continuous blaring of horns, conversations, construction clamor, and even the rumbling of metro rails can significantly impact our ears day in and day out. This is where noise-cancelling headphones prove incredibly beneficial. They offer the ability to effectively block out background noise, allowing you to experience tranquility in silence or immerse yourself in music at its full intensity. Additionally, with transparency mode, you can selectively enable ambient sounds to enter, ensuring you remain aware of your surroundings instead of being utterly oblivious to what’s happening around you.

At Home

The year 2020 highlighted that even though homes are meant to be havens, having all family members together in close quarters can sometimes lead to heightened stress, especially when work is involved. While physically distancing yourself may not be an option, you can find solace and concentration by using noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the noise and focus on your activities.


Unwanted noise has a far-reaching impact beyond mere productivity. It triggers irritation, invades our personal spaces, disrupts sleep patterns, elevates stress levels, and ultimately takes a toll on our mental well-being. Initially designed for pilots, noise-cancelling headphones later became popular among travelers. However, in the current circumstances, where constant human presence and limited private spaces, even within our own homes, have become the norm, owning and utilizing noise-cancelling headphones has transformed from a luxury to a necessity.


Leave a Comment

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