An excellent set of noise-canceling headphones will block out ambient sounds and general “pesky” background noises.
This topic has been in the making for quite some time because I live in what I can only describe as the most chaotic student complex.
Need I say more?
Even a minute to myself means that I can’t enjoy immersing in my favorite music or tuning out the world to focus on a podcast. I never knew peace until I got myself some noise-canceling headsets.
This article is for you who noise distractions stop you from focusing or relaxing. Thanks to advancements in technology, Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones block most external sounds from bothering you.
How Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work
Noise-canceling headphones are battery-powered headsets that actively get rid of the ambient noise surrounding a listener.
Not to be confused with sound-isolating earphones that drown nearby chatter or a C.E-marked pair that’s certified for protection against potentially damaging sounds.
Noise-canceling technology provides the ability to block out noisy environments while maintaining a comfortable fit and frequency response.
Such headphones work by using tiny microphones to listen, record, and invert the frequencies of surrounding noise in real-time, then play the inverted signal into the ear.
The inverted signal then actively cancels out ambient noises that enter the ear naturally, and in so doing, eliminates it for a more enjoyable listening experience.
Besides providing a more immersive, music-listening experience, noise-canceling headphones come in handy during plane journeys on trains. They’ve also been effective in eliminating loud air-conditioning systems.
The Downsides of Noise-Cancelling Headphones
There are two sides to every coin.
Headsets have seen some significant advances in recent years. If you’re an audiophile who is serious about music, you’ll appreciate a pair of noise-canceling headphones that are purpose-built for destroying outside noise.
However, there are a few cons to this;
1. They all require batteries to work — While the more expensive brands can be used as conventional passive headphones when batteries expire, you still need replacement AAAs to ensure an uninterrupted listening experience.
2. Some listeners have reported having headaches and experiencing dizzy spells, disorientation, and nausea when using noise-canceling headphones.
A working theory suggests that noise-canceling technology generates extremely low-frequency vibrations (true) that stimulate the balance receptors of our ears. These receptors, in turn, feed mixed messages that trick the brain into thinking it’s experiencing motion and, thus, dizziness. To mitigate this, affected listeners are advised to decrease the ANC intensity from the headphone’s companion apps.
What Type of Noise Cancellation is Right for You?
There are many noise-canceling headphones in the market today that claim to do a better job than the next one.
As such, it would be prudent to ask yourself:
“What do I need noise-canceling headphones for?”
The answer to this question will help you decide. Before taking your money to the electronic shop or giving out your credit card details, here’s what you need to understand;
There are three types of noise-canceling headphones:
Passive Noise Cancellation Headphones — Also referred to as “noise-isolating,” headphones with passive noise-canceling are the most common type of noise-cancellation sets that effectively isolate irregular and high-frequency sounds. While they fully cover your ears with extra padding to drown out outside noises, the only issue is that they are incredibly large.
Active Noise Cancellation Headphones — While ANC headphones are built to mute external noise, they go a step further. They use a built-in audio processor to generate a” mirror-like” anti-noise signal that actively cancels white noise and other low-frequency sounds. Active noise-canceling headphones are ideal for individuals that travel or commute a lot and need some quiet on the way.
Adaptive Noise Cancellation Headphones — While relatively new to the headphones industry, the adaptive noise-canceling technology adjusts the cancellation strength based on how loud the surrounding noise is.
Meaning when background noise is loud, the headphone’s noise cancellation feature is high (stronger), and vice versa. So, what makes the Adaptive Noise Cancellation different? Well, it comes in handy when you need to tune in external sounds while keeping the general level of background noise low.
Characteristics of High-Quality Headphones
“There is always a specific feature that separates the good from the better and the better from the best.”
I will highlight some of the more technical features of any headphone to help you make an informed decision. I’ve listed the features in order of importance and are as follows:
1. Headset Driver
This is the element that transmits audio signals and converts them into audible sound waves for the listener. The driver of a headset is typically made up of magnets, a wire aka coil, and a membrane aka diaphragm. Electrical signals cause the diaphragm to vibrate, and these vibrations cause sound waves that a listener can hear.
Manufacturers will specify the diameter of the drivers (measured in millimeters) used in their headphones. A speaker (driver) with at least 40 mm in diameter is generally considered better in sound quality for low tones.
2. Good Sound Sensitivity Pressure
While the term is used interchangeably by manufacturers, Sound Pressure levels indicate how loud the headphones can be. To measure the sensitivity of headphones (usually stated in decibels per milliwatt (dB/mW), sensitivity shows how efficiently an electrical signal is converted into a sound wave.
The goal is to build headphones that detect even the slightest change of volume. Headphones are made with good sound sensitivity. Sensitivity also affects volume as a function of resistance. Therefore, it plays a pivotal role in helping you understand how to regulate the volume and how (said volume) affects the voltage.
Case in point, to change the volume by 6 dB, the voltage must be increased two times.
3. Frequency Performance
Frequency response/ performance (measured in Hertz (Hz) is a term used to show the range of sound frequencies that headphones can produce. Most headphones have a stated frequency, usually between 20 and 20,000 Hz, corresponding to the human hearing frequency.
Note that the all-important Isolation Ratings of headphones may not tell you everything you need to know. Which is why you must look for a detailed chart that shows how your chosen set of headphones performs in canceling out noise — so you know exactly what you’re buying into.
When choosing headphones based on their frequency response;
- Determine the type of sound signature that suits your needs, which can be warm, bright, “V” shaped, balanced, smooth, dark, etc.
- Look at the frequency response and go for a set that emphasizes low frequencies if you prefer deep bass.
- Choose headphones that emphasize the mid-range frequencies, ideal for singing.
- Headphones with good extension in the higher frequencies that decays slowly or is more or less flat in that section are great if you like trebles
4. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) and Noise
THD refers to the sound distortion, usually when the headphones are used at a high volume, while the noise factor is the amount of noise the headphones can accommodate or prevent.
THD is often expressed as a percentage. Headphones generally produce sound through vibrations of the speaker’s diaphragm.
At high volumes, the diaphragm may not vibrate fast enough, resulting in sound distortion. Most headphones, especially high-end products, have a THD of 1%, even less, which tells you, the lower the Total Harmonic Distortion, the better the quality of the headphones.
Note; While most of the abovementioned technical characteristics are indicated on the product box, they may be too technical to remember. Even if you forget everything else, remember one vital spec;
The main component of the headphones, which is a 40mm diameter of the speaker.
Additional characteristics of high-quality headphones to lookout for include;
- The headphones are adjustable, flexible, and made from durable materials that fit snugly on your ears to ensure effective sound isolation and noise cancellation.
- They don’t leak sound and can keep your privacy, especially when listening to something loud.
This tells you how well the product will sound in terms of notes, how much bass it can produce, how much power it will need to work, and how well the headphones can block out sound.
Now, let’s pick you some noise-canceling headphones.
My Top 2 Picks of Noise-Canceling Headphones
Have you decided you prefer passive or active noise-canceling headphones, or maybe you would like to experience the adaptive technology? Do you want full-sized headphones or earbuds? Wired or wireless? What fits your immediate needs, comfort, and style?
If you want to enjoy both great audio and excellent noise cancellation, checkout my top-two picks;
- Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Headphones Specs
Aesthetically speaking, the Sonny WH-1000XM4 headsets haven’t experienced a significant overhaul from their predecessor Sony WH-1000XM3. However, it boasts of the following improvements;
- DSEE Extreme audio up-scaling and multi-point pairing
- They deliver excellent noise cancellation thanks to their exceptional and cutting-edge LDAC codec support can send a bitrate of up to 990 KBPS.
- Travelers or those with long commutes will appreciate the Sonny WH-1000XM4 auto-play/pause and conversation awareness feature using a built-in sensor.
- The WH-1000XM4 boasts of lightweight, comfortable design, with high-quality pleather padding for extreme comfort.
In terms of price, you are looking at $350 / £258.23 / AU$471.45. This is a bargain considering the Sonny WH-1000XM4 are some of the best noise-canceling headphones in the market, said to match the audio quality and feature sets of the AirPods Max and Bose NC 700.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are not water-resistant. So, it’s prudent to keep them dry and away from any water source.
Tip; Keep an eye out for Sony deals available on Amazon. The company is known to slash ridiculous prices on some of its best-selling products.
Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700 Specs
Why are people still spending hundreds of dollars on the Bose noise-canceling headphones 700, you ask?
Well, it features up to 10-levels of adjustable ANC and an eight-mic system that produces superior sound and call quality. Thanks to the innovative ANC technology and sound quality, Bose 700 makes the strongest argument for best noise-canceling headphones that offer;
- A complete redesign for improved sound quality
- Playback buttons have been replaced with a touch-sensitive gesture pad that sits snag on the right ear cup for easy playback controls
- USB-C charging
- Bose 700 microphone can pick up calls thanks to the purposeful low-frequency attenuation that reduces the proximity effect
- As the headphone with the best Active Noise Cancellation feature, Bose 700 is an esthetically-pleasing lightweight, well-built, and easy-to-use product.
- While the Bose 700 headphones don’t have folding hinges, it has a sturdy metallic headband that makes it near impossible to break. Plus, you can rotate the ear cups to a full 90 degrees when not in use.
- Unlike the softer cushions on its predecessor, the QC35 II, there’s a change in materials used for the Bose 700 padding are stiffer, which make for a better noise-canceling experience, especially when outside.
You can snag these stunners for about $300 to 350 via Amazon’s Prime Day deals.
If that’s a hefty price tag, keep an out for future sales or consider giving Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Headphones a shot. Of course, you’ll have a good chunk of change still in your pocket but not the same beautiful design and active noise-cancellation effectiveness.
The Bose noise-canceling headphones 700 have 20-hours of battery, unlike its competitors, whose products have an upward of 35 hours. (impressive!)
While the Bose noise-canceling headphones 700 are water-resistant, they are by no means waterproof. Therefore, can’t be submerged.
On the flip side, the headphones have an IPX4 rating. Meaning, if you’re working out or get caught in the rain, the water-resistant headset will survive minor water spills or sweat. However, complete immersion will 100% render them useless.
Tip; To get the most from the Bose noise-canceling headphones 700, iPhone users should download the Bose Music app to access the setup process.
Android users will get a drop-down prompt to help you pair with and hook up the Google Assistant. Once you’ve created an account with Bose and are connected, you can do everything from renaming the headphones to switching between devices in the app and adjusting the level of active noise cancellation between 1 to 11.
With all of this information at hand, no one can dare call you an amateur!
You can now get yourself a pair of exceptional headphones and share these tips with a friend who is also looking for an immersive experience!