How Active Noise Cancellation Works in Headphones

Headphones are available in both in cheap Chinese models and expensive brands. The cost of both products mainly depends upon the technology and mechanical parts used in them. Active noise-canceling technology is prevalent in closed-back headphones nowadays. Many peoples have reported that this technology is not useful because it causes a headache when you listen for a long time.

1. A bit of history

Before going further, it is imperative to know the history and operating principles of active noise cancellation systems. Music acts as food for the soul. It relaxes your muscles, brain, and nervous system. It was the era of 79’s when musical instrument manufacturers start thinking to convert the music into a portable form.

Sony was the first brand that had taken the initiative and developed a cassette player. It was very popular in those days. After this, the first CD player was established in 1984 and the first MP3, which is very popular in the present days also, appears in the market and straight away becomes very famous. Headphones are the most important invention which was developed at the start of the 19th century, and it is not fair, not to mention the headphones. Headphones have helped in the music portability and quality.

The development of the active noise reduction system had started in the ’40s of the last century. The active noise cancellation system is dependent on the principle of sinusoidal signals, which is given by Paul Lug. Lawrence Vogel used a noise reduction system in a helicopter in 1950. The use of an active noise cancellation system was started in back 57’s with Willard Meeker, who was able to cut off noise from 50-500 Hz frequency.

Sound Waves Cancelling - Noise Source vs Anti Noise
Ambient Sound Cancelled by Inverted Sound Waves | Source: Wikipedia

2. How does the noise reduction system work?

The working principle of a sound reduction system is straightforward to understand. Sound has wave nature, and that is why each audio signal has a wave, which can also be reflected. If somehow the sound wave is reflected, then it will completely extinguish. Active noise cancelling microphones detect unnecessary sound waves. After the detection, these sound waves are inverted by the noise cancellation system and transmitted to the main speakers. Hence the main playback sound is not affected.

How Active Noise Cancelling Works - Infographic
How Active Noise Cancelling Works | Source: Cirrus

3. Active noise cancellation system performance

One thing that is significant to keep in mind while using an active noise cancellation system is that this system will only work in the range of 100 to 1 kHz frequency range. If you have an outstanding quality headphone, it will probably reduce the noise to -30dB. Below 100 Hz frequency, your ears cannot feel the vibrations of sound, and that is why it worthless to apply this technology below this range. And for the frequency of more than 1 kHz, the system has its noise. But don’t worry, it will not interrupt your listening as it is just some kind of “hissing” voice.

Now we will talk about our main frequency range, which is 100-1000 Hz. If you have an excellent quality noise cancellation system in this range, you can experience a tremendous decrease in noise as it will significantly reduce the environment’s sound pressure. Inexpensive headphone models, this technology has worked wonderfully well. For example, the noise reduction quality is truly amazing in old Sony models. Other models who have a splendid active noise cancellation system are Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 and Parrot Zik.

4. Why does my head hurt when using Active Noise Cancellation?

Many peoples have complained about the active noise cancellation system because they have experienced some headaches due to an active noise cancellation system. No matter the sound quality, some people start reacting in the absence of noise/sounds, resulting in headaches. There are many reasons for these effects.

The effect of pitching on the ship.

When you start using a headphone with an active noise cancellation system, you will feel the effect of pitching on the ship, and if you are unable to endure being on the ship, you will undoubtedly feel headache. It’s a type of seasickness for you. You can handle the pitching on the ship’s effect. The fact is that when you use the headphones with ANR (Active Coise Reduction), your brain and ears cannot work simultaneously, which will cause confusion, malaise, and headaches.

Monotonous irritant.

It is a common saying that there is a counteraction to every action. Well, it is the same in the case of ANC technology. It is a simple thing that ANC will reduce all kinds of noise voices and give you pure music to listen, but in the same way, the monotonous sound waves will act on the organs of sound, and the human brain has skills of receiving all kind of sounds. Your central nervous system will negatively react to this clear sound in some cases. That is why, by using ANC , different body problems such as nausea and headache can occur.

Silence is not a guarantee of peace.

Many people have fallen in this wrong thinking that silence is a key to the piece. But many organized pieces of research on different listening equipment in so-called silent rooms have shown that silence is not a guarantee of peace.

Clear sound can cause anxiety.

Think if you are locked in such a room where you cannot hear any noise. Anxiety will indeed find you, and you will start feeling uncomfortable. The same is with the active noise cancellation system. Researches have shown that a human cannot spend more than 45 minutes in this kind of room or environment. That is why ANC can cause headaches and nausea in some people.

Negative bass effect.

The active noise cancellation system in headphones is designed to cancel all low frequency because it takes them as street noise. At the same time, a useful sound signal of low frequency can also be neglected by this system, and the rest of the frequency will create a powerful bass, which can cause headaches.

Design flaws can also cause headaches.

Sometime headphone arc could be the reason for headaches. A very tight arc of headphones can cause distress, irritation, and headache. This problem is widespread in overhead headphones, which don’t necessarily have an active sound cancellation system. There are some benefits and some disadvantages of overhead products. The advantage is that you can easily carry a headphone on your head, but if its arc is too tight, it can cause discomfort from too much pressure. That is why you should always use less tight arc headphones. The situation could be even worse when you listen to music for a long time on tight arc headphones. On the other hand, not tight enough headphones tend to slip off your head at even the slightest movement.

Sony MDR-1000X Headphones
Sony MDR-1000X Headphones | Source: Sony

5. What to consider when buying active noise-canceling headphones

Headphones with an active noise cancellation system have many advantages. They provide a very unique, clear, and comfortable music listening. This kind of headphones also provides a safe level of sound, which is non-dangerous to health to any extent. But all these features are not a guarantee that a headphone with ANC is suitable for your body. For avoiding headaches and other problems, it is highly recommended that you should always try the headphone of your friends or colleagues so you can easily test this headphone on your body without spending money. You should try headphones for approximately 2.5 hours. In this period, your body and mind will be able to counter any adverse effects of these headphones.

6. What is the result?

Headphones having an Active noise cancellation system provides very comfortable music listening in the modern era. These headphones are the best music listening tool for those peoples who are tired of their traditional “droplets.” People working in noisy environment conditions will love these headphones because these headphones will reduce noise and unnecessary sounds. You can use them when you are walking on a noisy road or ride the subway. The modern active noise cancellation system technology has modified. Now, you can turn on or turn off the active noise cancellation system whenever you want. So, turn on your ANC and enjoy pure music in a calm environment. Their best use is in the noisy metropolis and airplanes.

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