How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work? [Plus The Top 5 Reviewed]

Have you ever tried listening to music in public transportation? The noise is so loud that it’s interfering with what you’re trying to listen to. One thing that could help you in such situation are noise canceling headphones.

How do noise canceling headphones work, you ask?

These gadgets block out the background noise of public transportation, people’s voices, crying children, etc. They allow you to enjoy your music without any background distractions.

You will no longer have to turn the volume all the way up and potentially harm your ears or deal with ear static. Because background noise isn’t bothering you anymore, you can keep the volume down which is also better for the people around you.

Types of noise reduction

There are two types of headphones; one is canceling the noise while other is isolating it. Though they sound much like the same thing, we’ll discuss the difference between the two a bit later.

Note that headphones are either passive or active in canceling noise. The difference doesn’t seem as big in theory, but the two types provide entirely different performance.

Any headphones can help with passive noise reduction. This is thanks to the materials used, which block out the sound waves at higher frequencies.

The circum-aural types are the best because they are specially designed to maximize noise filtering. They have many layers of high-density foam or other sound-absorbing material.

These are usually on a pricey side but can reduce noise for about 15 to dB. While this is fairly impressive, it’s not enough to overcome the sound of a jet engine for example.

For such extreme situations, you’ll need active noise canceling headphones. These can do more and better than passive ones.

For starters, their construction creates a barrier that blocks sound waves, especially the high-frequency ones. On top of that, they also erase low-frequency sound waves.

How do noise canceling headphones work?

The difference is clear, but you’re maybe wondering how they accomplish this. They create a sound wave that’s very similar to the incoming noise. However, the sound waves produced by the headphone are 180 degrees out of phase with the incoming wave.

So, one wave comes from the noise canceling headphone, and one is coming from the outside ambient. They have the same amplitude and frequency, but their rarefaction and compression are lined so that they cancel each other out.

The compression of one wave lines up with the rarefaction of the other which is known as destructive interference. This phenomenon allows you to focus only on the sound you want to hear.

The crucial components

Noise-canceling headphones have to have a few specific components in order to achieve the desired result.

  • Noise-canceling circuitry – these electronics sense the noise from the microphone and note its frequency and amplitude. They then create a new wave that’s 180 degrees out of phase.
  • Microphone – it’s inside the ear cup and listens to the sounds that come from the outside and can’t be blocked passively.
  • Speaker – the noise canceling circuitry creates the anti-sound that is fed into the speakers together with the normal audio. This sound erases the noise but doesn’t interfere with the designed sound in the normal audio.
  • Battery – these headphones are called active because they require energy to produce the noise-canceling effect. Rechargeable battery works as that source of energy.


These are great at distinguishing between the background noise and the sound you want to hear. However, they tend to compromise the sound quality by muffling sounds. This only happens with some models, and although it’s not too noticeable, some people do feel it.

Also, some people experience a change in air pressure. Most headphones have ports built in the ear cup which vent air that’s trapped, but changes in air pressure do happen from time to time. This can cause headaches and muffling sounds in your ears.

Most manufacturers recommend you to wear the headphones only for a while before taking a break. You have to allow your ears and head to relax a little. Listening to music on noise-canceling headphones for an extended period every day may result in damaged hearing.

Extra benefits

Even with the disadvantages, people never go back to regular headphones once they try the noise-canceling ones. This is because noise-canceling headphones do far more than just reduce noise.

They can help you alleviate fatigue when traveling. It sometimes happens if you travel for an extended period and you’re exposed to low-frequency noise.

The best thing is that you can use these headphones even when you don’t want to listen to music. They block outside noise, so they’re great for when you’re trying to have some sleep while traveling. Students often use them for the same reasons when they’re trying to study in noisy environments like neighbors playing loud music during the day.

Noise-canceling vs. noise-isolating

The main difference between the two is that one cancels the noise actively while the other cancels it passively. Noise-isolating headphones do it passively, and they have muffling elements. They don’t use a microphone or similar software.

Noise-canceling headphones actively cancel the noise and have a microphone, battery and other elements we mentioned above.

Are they worth it?

Noise-canceling headphones are almost always on a pricey side. They tend to cost more than regular headphones simply because they do more than just play music. We’ve discussed their benefits, and what they do in terms of canceling outside noise, so it’s not as hard to understand their price.

These use microphones, software, and batteries, most of which you don’t have in a standard model. This is the main reason for the increased price.

It’s hard to answer with “yes” or “no” as it’s mostly up to you to decide whether these are worth to you.

However the best noise cancelling headphones for kids can protect their sensitive ears from hearing damage.

if you simply want to block noise and have a tight budget, try the best earplugs for sleeping.

Best soundproof headphones

1. TOZO T10 bluetooth soundproof earbuds

These are among the best options if you’re looking for noise-canceling headphones to use when working out. These are small, easy to carry around and don’t require any cables as they operate via Bluetooth.

The earbuds have a nano-coating and are water-resistant. They’re protected from sweat, so you’re able to work out for hours while listening to your music. These are perfect for hiking, yoga, jogging, or any kind of fitness and exercise.

TOZO bluetooth soundproof earbuds

The ear hooks are hard enough to provide a snug fit but are still not too hard to be uncomfortable. You get a pair of ear tips made from memory foam for an even better fit and seal that keeps your earbuds in place. You also get some regular ear tips in the pack so you can switch between the two.

Probably the best thing about them is the lithium polymer battery. It takes only two hours to charge, and it works for about 7 hours straight.

These come with an 18-months warranty and 45-days money-back guarantee. It’s among the best deals for earphones you can use every day and in every situation.


  • Water-resistant
  • Ideal for working out
  • Lightweight
  • Ear tips included


  • They’re quite tiny

2. COWIN E9 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

These Bluetooth headphones allow you to connect your phone, pc, TV, or tablet within 33 feet. They’re among the best hands-free models as you can use your voice to change songs, make calls, and control the volume.

Noise-Canceling technology is ideal to reduce traffic or airplane noise. It’s great if you work in a busy office or you’re just trying to study while your neighbors are partying.

What’s best is that these also come with a cable so you don’t have to use them in Bluetooth mode all the time. This might save battery on your device if you’re fine with using a cable.

COWIN E9 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

The headphones feature proprietary 40mm large-aperture drivers. These allow you to enjoy the clean sound of your music in details you maybe never noticed before.

Its ear pads are made of protein and 90° swiveling ear cups. They’re comfortable thanks to the high-quality skin-like texture. On top of that, the entire set is quite lightweight at 12.5 ounces.

Though its 600mAh battery allows 30 hours of playtime per charge, you want to make sure to give your ears a rest every two or three hours.


  • Cable and wireless mode
  • Swiveling ear cups
  • 30 hours of playtime per charge


  • Not to be worn longer than 2 hours

3. Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Anker Q20 are among the most popular headsets with innovative noise-canceling technology and excellent sound system.

Their upgraded ANC technology reduces noises such as those in city traffic, airplane cabin, busy office, and others. It’s a great way to cancel out those annoying sounds and enjoy your music, videos, and movies.

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

The unique design is what does most of the job of reducing outside noise while also enhancing bass response. The headset features proprietary 57mm large-aperture drivers that help provide the deep and rich sound.

This one is built with high-quality polymers with chrome finish. All of its frames, hinges, and slides are reflective and look attractive and polished. The ear pads are soft and lightweight so you can wear the headset for hours without feeling sore.

It comes with a 3.5mm turn Type-C audio cable, and USB Type-C charging cable. Its battery can hold up to 650h on standby and about 16 hours of constant use.

You get a 12-month replacement warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee from the manufacturer in case you’re not happy with the gadget.


  • Comfortable
  • Cables included
  • Unique, shiny design


  • A bit bulky

4. TaoTronics ANC Foldable Bluetooth Headphones

TaoTronics is a well-known brand that’s been around for years making gadgets we all know and love. No exception when it comes to their active noise canceling headphones.

These cancel all unwanted noise allowing you to listen to your favorite music while working out, traveling or studying. They work great even if you don’t play any music as they’ll deaden some of the outside sounds making it easier for you to focus.

The finely tuned audio symphony goes great with their advanced CSR Bluetooth chip. The headset features two large-aperture 40mm drivers and delivers audiophile-grade sound.

TaoTronics ANC Foldable Bluetooth Headphones

Its ear pads are made of protein, so they’re soft and comfortable to wear for a few hours depending on what you’re comfortable with. The adjustable headband is made of zinc alloy that’s quite durable and heavy-duty. It stretches up to 180° without breaking or deforming.

Probably the best thing about this set is its playtime. The headphones can play your favorite music or movies for 24 hours straight on a single charge. Still, it’s recommended you make breaks every few hours to prevent soreness and discomfort since they’re quite tight-fitting.


  • Finely tuned
  • Adjustable zinc alloy headband
  • 24h playtime


  • Bluetooth only

5. COWIN E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

These are versatile and convenient as they provide quality hands-free operation. With its built-in microphone, you get to control the volume, pick up calls, or change songs all without hands.

Their unique transmission technology and advanced digital audio processing offer a high-quality performance of stereo sound. This allows you to enjoy your music, videos, TV, etc.

COWIN E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

The set also features a rechargeable battery that’s built in. There are no cables and wires tangled when you use them in the Bluetooth although you also get a 3.5mm audio cable for when you want wired earphones.

Its head is retractable allowing you to customize the fit for more comfort. Another thing that adds to the overall comfort is the ergonomic design. Its soft cushion pads make it easy to wear the headset for hours at the time.

Still, the manufacturer recommends you take them off every one to two hours to allow your ears to relax.

The headset is foldable for easier and more convenient portability and storage. They’re more sturdy when folded which is ideal if you carry them in your bag when traveling.

These are also compatible with your PC, TV, phone, laptop, iPad and other similar devices that have Bluetooth.


  • Easy to store and carry
  • 5mm cable included
  • High compatibility
  • Many colors to choose from


  • Shouldn’t be worn for more than hour or two

Are noise cancelling headphones safe or dangerous?

They’re safe as long as you don’t overdo it. Make sure you’re never using them when you should be listening out for noises, such as driving, cycling or walking around town and crossing roads.

They’re dangerous if they block out noise you need to hear to be safe. They can be used however, during train or plane journeys and car journeys where you’re the passenger, or if you’re listening to music in a loud but safe environment (say, your gaming room when your PS4 has a loud fan). They’re also really good for meditating, listening to music at home or the gym etc.

Make sure to only use them when you know you don’t need to be listening out for noises or warnings. They can also be harmful to your hearing if you listen to really loud music all the time, but this can be said of any noise or headphones.

Can noise cancelling headphones cause Tinnitus?

Well, no. Sound cancelling headphones can actually be beneficial to people with Tinnitus or hearing problems. They cancel out the annoying damaging low and loud rumbling sounds like the noise of a plane engine. This means they actually protect your ears and hearing!

Just make sure you don’t listen to music too loudly on them because that could damage your ears and hearing!