There are many situations where you just want to shut off the world around you. When you're on a 12-hour flight, you want to shut off the noise around you, play some ambience, and get some sleep. If you're a music lover, you don’t want any outside noise to distract your love of music.
However, your headphones don’t seem to cut it at times. No matter how tight they are or how loud they are, you can still hear that screaming kid or your noisy roommate. This is where noise canceling headphones come in. Apparently, they can help drown out everything around you and allow you to sleep or enjoy your music.
But how exactly do they work? And are they worth it? Which headphones cancel noise completely, and which are bunk?
How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work?
With normal headphones, when everything around you is loud, your only hope is to crank up the volume if you can still hear noises. Not only does that not work sometimes, but it’s not easy on your ears. When you want to get rid of everything around you in a safe way, that’s where noise canceling headphones come in.
Noise canceling headphones employ a technique known as active noise control. Most of us aren't scientists, so we’ll try to explain this in the simplest way possible.
Think of sound as a bull charging at you. It’s a wave of pressure that doesn’t stop once it’s created. A noise canceling headphone will measure the sounds around you and create its own soundwave. This creates its own bull, which clashes with the bull coming at you.
The sound the noise canceling headphone creates is called an antiphase, which is the ambient noise around you but inverted. When both the ambient noises and the sounds created by the headphones clash, this is called destructive interference. Both cancel each other out, and you're (hopefully) at peace.
There are some sounds that noise canceling headphones aren’t able to prevent. These are sounds of the higher frequencies. Their wavelength is shorter, and current headphones just don’t have the technology to cancel the higher pitched noises. That’s why a good pair of noise canceling headphones will also have soundproofing in order to cancel everything else out.
These headphones cancel noise in real time, and a good pair will be able to have a long range of noises you can cancel.
Disadvantages of Noise Canceling Headphones
With that said, there are some cons to ordering a pair of noise canceling headphones. Here are a few of them.
- They tend to be pricy! Because of their technology, they are going to cost more than your run of the mill headphones. If you see a pair of noise canceling headphones that’s too cheap to be true, then it’s probably junk. With these headphones, you get what you pay for.
- The active noise control in the headphones needs a separate power source. They can’t be powered by connecting them to the headphone jack. Some of them will use batteries, and others can be recharged. If you have a wireless pair, it may not last long. If you are on a long flight, bring some batteries or external chargers. The last thing you want is for your headphones to die whenever Junior is having a tantrum. When the battery is dead, some noise canceling headphones will act as normal headphones. However, some may not work at all, leaving you with an awkward pair of earmuffs until you can recharge them.
- A good pair tends to be bulkier and heavier. Usually not a problem, but if you're someone who likes it light, you're in for a rude awakening.
- This is all subjective, but some wearers think the audio quality isn’t as good. However, others may feel like the sound quality is better because of no distractions.
Buying a Pair
A good pair tends to be expensive. We aren’t talking $50-$100. We’re talking over $300 for a good pair. For some, that is quite an investment. An expensive pair can cancel the most noises and feel the most comfortable.
There are budget pairs for $50-$100, and they may help out a little, but they tend to be uncomfortable and not get the noises out. If you need absolutely no background noise when you're trying to sleep or enjoy music, that can be a problem.
Also, know the difference between noise-cancelling headphones and noise isolating. Noise cancelling is when the headphones use mics and electronics to cancel out the noise. Noise isolating is when the headphones are designed to fit over your ear and separate the earbud from the outside world. Noise isolating headphones may be cheaper, but don’t use sophisticated technology to cancel out the noises.
When buying a pair, it doesn’t hurt to do a little research. Look into all the pairs of headphones available. See which ones are good for your budget. There may be an expensive pair of headphones that are junk, and vice versa. However, in most cases, you’ll need to pay more for a better experience.
Also, not all headphones are completely equal. Some stores can let you sample the headphones so that you can find the pair that works the best for you.
So Are They Worth It?
There is no straight answer. It all depends on your situation. If you're a casual music listener and the outside world doesn’t bother you, then they’re probably not worth it. However, if you're a constant traveler who just can’t seem to get some shut-eye unless the outside world is as quiet as their bedroom, then they are worth the investment.
Look at your situation and see if they’re a good fit for you or not. If you came to this article, you probably have some motivation in getting a pair.
Have you had experience using noise-cancelling headphones? Any you recommend, or any you should avoid like the plague? Tell us.