5 Reasons Why Active Noise Cancelling is Bad (Read This Before Buying)

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is an awesome feature to have on your headphones. Eliminating unwanted background noise can effortlessly make the listening experience more enjoyable. But there are 5 or more reasons why active noise cancellation is bad. I’ll address them one by one below and provide you with the answers you need.

Brief introduction to ANC headphones

First, a brief introduction is necessary to understand what active noise cancellation is.

Compared to passive headphones, ambient sound waves are actively suppressed or cancelled in an active manner before they reach the ear.

What are active noise cancelling headphones

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones are headphones that reduce background noise actively (during use). The noise cancellation is achieved by the use of microphones that “listen” for ambient sounds and generate an opposing sound wave to effectively cancel out the sound.

Active noise cancelling headphones are far from being good sounding headphones, as they have more electronics that affect the music being played.

ANC headphones are used for purposes other than music, and offer extremely useful features and overall decent sound quality.

As a result, most active noise cancellation headphones come with a hefty price tag. A price worth paying for consumers with a high tolerance for average sound quality.

How noise-cancelling works

Active Noise Cancelling headphones work by electronically generating a sound wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the ambient noise, resulting in destructive interference which greatly reduces the overall volume of background sounds.

Every ANC headset uses microphones to pick up ambient noise, but there are different types of noise cancellation technologies, which can offer varying results. Some are responsible for narrow frequency ranges, while others are optimized for a wider range of frequencies and use multiple microphones (inside and outside the ear cups).

Reasons why you shouldn’t use headphones with active noise reduction

If you were set on buying a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones, you might want to know about a few drawbacks to this technology before you spend your hard-earned dollars.

Active noise reduction is not consistent all the time

Active noise cancelling consistency is based on the active noise cancelling technology which is used to reduce the noise level. The effectiveness of reducing ambient noise varies from model to model and from frequency to frequency.

Unless you’ve got a noisy environment, active noise-cancelling is not necessary for you. ANC headphones are the most effective in cancelling sounds in the first two frequency bands of the audio spectrum (lows and mids). And even in these frequencies, unless the effect is substantial, you might question if it’s even worth the added cost.

Sometimes it works in a counter-intuitive way

The reason these devices were invented is that they can significantly reduce noise without affecting the music. Which is another reason why active noise cancelling headsets aren’t all that good and effective.

Many times, the noise reduction system does not work the way you want it to. Wind noise is difficult to remove, and even if this system does remove it, you still hear a form of noise that is much worse than the wind noise itself.

ANC affects the sound reproduction quality

ANC sometimes seems to attenuate only the active frequencies in your mix, which is a sure way to destroy the spectral integrity of your sound. Here’s how ANC headphones can ruin your music:

Impairs the quality of the bass response

Noise cancelling headphones use an algorithm to “block out” noise in your immediate environment, but in doing so they also block out any sound coming through the headphones themselves (including music).

It’s a common issue found in Feedback and Hybrid noise-cancelling headphones (learn more about the different types of active noise cancelling technologies. (LINK HERE)

Reducing bass oomph by cancelling out low frequencies is a common problem with noise-canceling headphones. On the contrary, they can also increase the muddy character and pressure of the bass, which makes some headphones a bit uncomfortable and can cause dizziness.

“The disequilibrium that some people may feel from this is made worse because the vibrations falsely signal that the head is moving, but the eyes report that the head is stationary.”

WSJ

Noise-cancelling can generates white noise

Hybrid ANC headsets have a problem called “white noise,” which is the combination of all audible frequencies equally. This is not a loud, high-pitched sound, but a noise generated by the ANC circuitry and the multiple microphones on the outside and inside in their effort to cancel a wide range of frequencies.

Due to a slight delay in processing and the unpredictable and changing nature of the environment, it may be difficult for the ANC to reproduce the anti-noise in time, so the delay may be perceived as white noise.

Feedback noise—Recursive capture of noise by an internal microphone

Feedback noise is present in headphones with Feedback and Hybrid technologies. Unlike Feedforward headphones, these two types of headphones have an additional internal microphone in front of the speakers to pick up sounds behind the ear cups.

Because of these design flaws, some parts of your music may be perceived as noise, which interferes with the user’s listening experience.

The microphone tries to attenuate the sounds that belong to your music and the result is an audible noise that the microphone tries to cancel out again, hence the name feedback.

ANC headphones consume more battery

As I pointed out at the beginning, unless you have a noisy environment, active noise cancellation is not necessary. The extra battery life required to operate the active ANC system could sometimes negate the benefits or make them insignificant.

Feedforward and Feedback headsets consume a reasonable amount of battery power, unlike Hybrid headsets. But in the end, they all drain your headphones’ batteries faster. Active noise cancelling headphones consume more power because they require energy.

NC Headphones can induce vertigo

Although noise-canceling headphones don’t pose a threat to your hearing, they do have some consequences that can be annoying. The most common is a “head rush” or a feeling of imbalance and dizziness, sometimes accompanied by nausea. This is not dangerous, but it can be disorienting.

The dizziness caused by the noise-cancelling stems from not feeling your own head movements when wearing noise-canceling headphones. The sound pressure from the low hum generated by the ANC circuit gives a false impression of movement. Vertigo and disorientation are the result of interference between what you see and what you feel. LINK HERE

This is not a problem for occasional listening, but it can make a big difference if you are susceptible to motion sickness.

Some ANC systems are not properly designed

A poorly designed ANC system is the last and least important problem with noise cancelling headphones, and that’s because it’s a rare occurrence.

It is often believed that devices using active noise cancellation technology are more advanced than those that do not use this technology.

However, in reality there are many factors that can be misused or misimplemented and this can lead to an unsatisfactory result for the customer.

For example: the AKG N60NC has an active noise reduction system that cannot be turned off. As soon as the headphones are powered on, the active noise reduction circuit is activated.

It isn’t possible to listen to music without ANC and users complain that this system is counterintuitive because you don’t have the ability to choose how you listen to your music.

Therefore, find out the ins and outs of the ANC system of the headset you are considering before you buy.

Active noise cancelling headphones concerns FAQ

How safe are active noise cancelling headphones?

Despite some concerns about the health risk associated with the use of active noise cancelling headphones, vertigo is the only reported medical condition associated with active noise cancelling headphones. Active noise cancelling headphones that are powerful enough to create a pressure effect on the eardrum may cause vertigo.

Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or noise-induced hearing loss can also be associated with the use of active noise-cancelling headphones.

It is not due to the inverted noise generated, but rather to the fact that the user is turning up the volume of the headphones and listening constantly.

Concerns about tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss caused by active noise cancelling headphones are not currently supported by conclusive scientific evidence.

Is ANC bad for your ears?

No, active noise cancellation is not bad for your ears. Noise-canceling headphones designed carefully do not have problems with the processing or consistency of active noise cancellation.

The time required for the ANC circuitry is so low that it can effectively suppress background noise without hearing the post-processed signal.

To be clearer, in order for the noise to be cancelled, the positive and negative sounds must be played at the same time. Any significant offset between the two sounds results in less effective cancellation and an additional noise source.

Is sleeping with noise cancelling headphones bad?

Sleeping with noise-canceling earbuds is not totally safe for your ears. Your ears can suffer from the pressure exerted by the earbuds.

Wearing your earbuds overnight is also unhygienic because of the build-up of earwax and bacteria that can lead to ear infections and an immune response, causing the eardrum to swell.

If you sleep with your on-ear or over-ear headphones, you may wake up tired because they are bulky and inconvenient to sleep in.

Conclusion

In the end, despite all the advantages of ANC, you should not ignore the fact that active noise-cancelling headphones have their drawbacks.

They are ideal for people who travel a lot or work in a noisy environment. But ANC results in a worse listening experience for audiophiles.

And even if you’re only interested in the ability to reduce noise, don’t forget that there are good passive noise-isolating headphones that do a fantastic job without all the shortcomings of active noise cancellation.

As such, keep these 5 reasons why active noise cancelling is bad in mind before rushing off to get a pair for yourself.

I hope you enjoy this article and if you have any other reasons why active noise sounding are bad please feel free to leave a comment below.

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