How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work | Soundproof Cow

How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work

June 04, 2021

Sometimes, you just want a little peace and quiet. But blocking out noises can be tough.

What do you do when you want to enjoy your coffee shop latte without overhearing the loud conversation three tables over? Or when your neighbor’s hired roofers, tree trimmers and landscapers work all weekend, and you’re trying to enjoy your days off? That’s where noise-cancelling headphones come into the picture.

You have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a pair of noise cancellation headphones. However, before you make your selection, you probably want to answer the most pressing questions of all:

  • What is noise cancelling?
  • How do noise-cancelling headphones work?

Understanding the Scientific Principle Behind Noise

Noise is a rather subjective term. After all, one person’s noisy music could be another person’s favorite song. Still, all noise is basically sound.

You probably learned in school all about sound and sound waves. Most diagrams illustrate the principle of sound with waves on a grid. The waves rise above and dip below a baseline. The louder and more intense the sound, the closer the waves are together — or the higher the frequency of the waves. The quieter the sound, the farther apart the waves are, and the lower the frequency of the waves.

Does sound actually travel in this type of wave pattern? Somewhat, although the wave diagram is best-suited as a visual explanation. When you hear noise, you’re actually experiencing a brain phenomenon. As the air pressure changes due to slight variations in the ripples of moving particles, your brain interprets the changes as different noises. Depending on the noise, you’re able to identify it based on your experiences.

How Can Headphones Cancel Out Noise?

Although you can create a barrier against the sounds coming into your brain through your ears, not all barriers are effective. That’s why you can hear traffic noises when you’re walking on the sidewalk and listening to a podcast through regular earbuds.

Noise cancellation headphones are totally different. They aim to neutralize ambient sounds so all you hear is what’s coming through your headphones — or, you might hear nothing at all, theoretically, if you’re just wearing the headphones and not listening to audio.

How can you neutralize sound? Think back to the visual diagram of the sound waves. Noise cancellation headphones use technology to generate counter sound waves based on incoming sounds. These counter sound waves are the opposite of the incoming sound waves. The result is that the sound is counterbalanced and neutralized.

Do Noise Cancellation Headphones Always Work?

Like any developing product, noise cancellation headphones aren’t perfect. The technology is still relatively new, although inventors have made terrific progress. Obviously, you’ll want to test out various noise cancellation headphones before choosing the one for your needs.