How to Choose Noise Canceling Headphones

By: Bob Keen

In noisy environments, noise canceling headphones will provide moderate amounts of noise reduction among mid and low frequency sounds thus making your listening experience that much more enjoyable. Noise canceling headphones are great for frequent fliers, someone who works in a distracting environment or anyone who just wants some extra peace and solitude once in a while.

Noise canceling headphones come in all shapes and sizes and at many different price points from as low as $40 to a thousand or more. There are two types of noise cancellation; active and passive.

Passive noise cancellation works just like an ear plug. It simply works by blocking the unwanted sound from entering your ear.

Active noise reduction or ANR headsets use sophisticated circuitry to reduce ambient sounds by means of active noise control. They rely on tiny microphones placed in both cups on the headset to pick up ambient noise. The headphones then electronically duplicate the sound frequencies, but with a 180 degree, out of phase sound wave which creates destructive interference which essentially “cancels" or “nulls" annoying background noise that you would otherwise hear.

Also, active noise canceling headphones do rely on batteries to power their noise canceling circuitry, so when buying, be sure to look into battery life specs before you buy and whether or not it is rechargeable.

It’s also nice if they can be run off regular batteries – that way if you’re on a long flight or trip you can swap out the used batteries for a fresh set. Also, keep in mind most active noise canceling headsets rely somewhat on passive noise cancellation, and the better they are at this the less power they need for the active circuitry.

There are two different design styles commonly in use; some fit around your ear (circumaural) , while others rest on your ear (supra aural). Generally, supra aural headphones are smaller, but they don't offer quite as good a seal against noise and may not be quite as comfortable when worn for a long time.

Another excellent reason to buy noise canceling headsets is that by blocking out “extra" ambient noise, they allow you to listen to music or that audio book at a lower volume level, thereby reducing the risk of hearing damage. Not only that, but by listening at a lower volume, you are less likely to experience listening fatigue, thus enabling you to wear headsets for longer periods of time.

Noise canceling headsets are not all fun and candy… there are a couple downsides, the main one being the price. Because of the circuitry, a decent pair should run close to $100 whereas a good pair could be a few hundred or more. Another problem created by the circuitry is that when coupled with batteries they add some extra weight. Weight can be compensated by using lighter weight construction materials all around, but then that adds to the price.

Something else you might want to take into consideration is the sound quality. Since noise canceling headsets rely on extra signal processing to be applied to the sound going through the noise canceling circuitry, there will invariably be some sound compromises. That being said, if you’re mostly going to be using them in a quieter environment, a pair of passive noise canceling phones will provide you with better sound quality at a much friendlier price.

All in all, in the right environment noise canceling headsets can be surprisingly effective, but as with any set of headsetsArticle Submission, let your ears and wallet be the judge.

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