In today’s day and age, having a pair of earbuds is almost a necessity. Be it while travelling or just walking around, playing content is a new trend that has been evergrowing and, to be polite, most people use earbuds so they can listen to whatever they want without bothering other individuals.
Most earbuds today are available in multiple sizes, shapes and colours, but something that has become increasingly common is this feature called Active Noise Cancellation or ANC. This helps tune out the noise from the outside world and provide a better listening experience, free of unwanted noise and voices.
With that having been said, however, you might be curious as to how ANC or Active Noise Cancellation actually works and, whether or not it is of any use? This is the question that we will answer today, with the intention of explaining how this is not just another headline grabber or a gimmick for brands to exploit.
What is Active Noise Cancelling and How Does it Work?
To put it simply, ANC is the combination of two aspects, hardware and firmware or software whose end result reduces or quiets down the outside noise when you are listening to your headphone or earbuds.
It is different from regular noise isolation, which is a primitive solution of muffling the sound via a seal using your headphones’ ear cups or silicone or rubber tips on earbuds. ANC meanwhile listens to and cancels out these unwanted noises.
So, how does it work? It is quite simple. Your earbuds come with mics, but these mics do not help during calls, rather they listen for the sound, be it a passing car or a loud shrill. It picks up this sound that you may find to be unpleasant or loud.
After the mic picks up the sound, the ANC system in your earbuds records the sound waves that this outside noise produces. Then, it produces its own counter sound wave, which is equal when it comes to the amplitude but is actually the inverse of the original wave, creating an interference, cancelling the two waves out, resulting in a flatter wave.
This wave plays alongside your music, and, due to the rather fast process time, you do not notice this cancellation process and just hear the final wave, which is quieter.
Do note that there are a few limits to this technology which also makes it less useful in a few cases. It is quite fast but does not occur in real-time, meaning that ANC will work best with low-frequency sounds in comparison to higher-pitched sounds such as human speech.
For example, your ANC earbuds can most likely reduce and cancel out the noise from your air conditioner and car, but when it comes to a car horn, which is sudden and loud, the ANC will not be as effective.
Who Should Get ANC Headphones or Earbuds?
The biggest myth around ANC is that it improves the sound quality of your earbuds, which is actually false. It does aid in the clarity side of things to some extent, especially in speech, such as podcasts, but the difference is not as much as some would make you believe.
When it comes to the best use case of Active Noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones, the best scenario that comes to mind is travelling. If you own a pair of ANC headphones and are travelling via flight, the loud whirring of the engine can be cancelled out to quite some extent, which can then help you sleep or just enjoy the content that you wish to play.
There are certain cons to ANC however since the feature does lead to a reduction in battery life. Most earbuds lose around an hour or more of overall charge with ANC running for the entirety of the playback period, so, if you are on a long flight, maybe let the earbuds rest for some time instead of constant usage.
Another major downside is a reduction in awareness, since with ANC on, especially in the case of headphones, you may miss out on hearing lower horns or someone calling you out, which is not something you want when on a walk. Some earbuds do come with a transparency mode that lets outside noise in, so that may be of some help in this scenario.
Overall, Active Noise Cancellation has its benefits and cons, and whilst it is not a gimmick as some may say, budget earbuds seldom offer the full effect of ANC. For the best experience, you will have to fork out a bit of cash, in which case it makes more sense to shell out that amount on a headphone rather than an earbud since headphones are better at ANC due to the ear-cups and their tight seal.