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How Do Noise-Canceling Headsets Work?


Having trouble concentrating on your recorded online lessons, remote meetings, or other media you’re trying to listen to through your disposable headphones? While people often think that the sound quality of their headsets is the problem, the real culprit is actually what’s going on around them. Background noise is one of the most frustrating, yet unavoidable, things that can cause distractions, interruptions, and an inability to hear what’s going on in your headphones. 

However, there’s good news- noise-canceling headset technology is able to dramatically reduce the presence of background noise, effectively blocking it out so that the listener can maintain a distraction-free environment regardless of what may be going on in the world around them. Here’s a quick guide to noise-canceling headsets, how they work, and how they can benefit you if you are working or attending school remotely and need to be able to concentrate on your tasks.

How Noise-Canceling Headsets Work

Let’s start with the basics: what we call “noise”- crying babies, honking car horns in traffic, or just random ambient chatter in a restaurant- is all a type of sound. Because of this, in order to understand how noise-canceling headsets reduce background noise, we have to first understand the concept of sound in any form.

Sound as we hear it is the result of the compression and decompression of particles in the air. The motion of the particles create very slight changes in air pressure, which we refer to as “amplitude.” Our ears and brain can detect these changes, and decode them as sound. The louder a sound, the greater its amplitude.

Noise-canceling headsets work by using a physics principle called “anti-phase.” This concept works by taking two identical sound waves and delaying one of them by exactly half of a wavelength, essentially filling in the valleys of the first sound wave with the peaks of the second one, and effectively canceling out that sound. Anti-phase is kind of like the sound version of a photo negative: if you were to match up a photo with its negative, you would have total darkness because the image would be canceled out. Anti-phase is a similar principle and is used in noise-canceling headphones to block out any unwelcome background noise.

But…HOW Does it Work?

You’re probably wondering how noise-canceling headsets are able to pick up sounds outside of the headphones’ earcups and use anti-phase technology to cancel it out, right? This is achieved by the use of tiny microphones outside the headphones that pick up ambient noise, then create a sound that is exactly opposite to the sound wave, canceling it out to zero.  Of course, as with any technology, noise-canceling is more effective with some sounds than others. For instance, if the background noise in question is a consistent noise, like the low hum of a jet engine when you’re on an airplane, it will be easier for the headphones to cancel out than a sudden, random noise like a dog barking or people talking. As noise-canceling technology continues to improve, we can expect even greater results.

If you are looking for a distraction-free experience with your headphones, be sure to opt for headsets with a built-in noise-canceling feature that lets you listen to and enjoy music, movies, lectures, podcasts, and more wherever you are!