Is Active Noise Cancellation Better than Passive Noise Reduction?

Active noise-canceling headphones are convenient for avoiding noise, but they are not perfect, and their effectiveness depends on the situation. That’s why, in this article, we compare passive and active noise-canceling headphones to see if active noise canceling is better than passive noise reduction or the other way around.

Why Active Noise Cancellation Is Better Than Passive Noise Cancellation:

Active noise-canceling headphones have a few advantages over traditional passive noise-canceling headphones. The most obvious is the attenuation of noise on more everyday sounds.

ANC is Effective

An active noise suppression system can transform a slightly muffled coffee shop into a peaceful one. With the aid of an audio analyzer and advanced ANC algorithms, ANC headphones can cut unwanted noise and enhance sound quality throughout an entire listening range by intelligently filtering them.

In the following situations, active noise cancellation headphones will be shown to have greater noise reduction, greater clarity, and better sound quality:

  • Public places: Airports, Train Stations, Restaurants, Lounges, Libraries, etc.
  • Busy environments: Office, Construction sites, busy roads, etc.
  • Home: Furnace, Refrigerator, Vacuum Cleaner, TV, A/C, etc.

Why would ANC be the best choice in these situations? Because these are instances where the most predominant frequencies are those that ANC headphones are equipped to attenuate; therefore, the music will be clearer and more detailed in these frequencies.

Besides the various places where ANC headphones shine, they’re also good to attenuate thunderstorms for people with nervous disorders or fear of thunders and can help with tinnitus, too. Active noise-canceling headphones are beneficial for those who struggle with constant noise around them.

Another notable feature of ANC headsets is their ability to silence voices and group chatter.

Our brains pay special attention to the tonal range of human speech, which makes it more challenging to isolate and cancel it out altogether. Noise-canceling headphones provide the necessary boost by reducing mid-range frequencies by -10 or -15 dB.

Noise Cancelling Headphones have Transparent Listening Mode

Headphones with a feed-forward or hybrid active noise cancellation system offers transparent listening mode which, as the name indicates: is a mode that allows you to listen through your ear cups to your surroundings via microphones that sit outside the ear cups.

Sometimes, we just need to block out the unnecessary noises to concentrate on the important one – like when a person’s talking. And other times, we need to hear the world around us so that we don’t walk into a busy street or bump into something. And for that, active noise-canceling headphones are better than simple passive ones.

Multipurpose Microphones

Some noise-canceling headset microphones have two purposes: noise cancellation and voice recording. Let’s say you don’t need to activate the noise-cancellation feature but instead want to call a colleague. The microphones for noise-canceling now act as recording devices.

Multiple microphones often result in better recording quality and more intelligible conversations. In addition, the transparent hearing mode or ambient mode also allows you to hear the environment better.

An ANC headset with multiple microphones can be very useful in certain situations, but having many microphones can result in self-noise and high power consumption.

As you can see, there are many scenarios in which active noise-canceling headphones perform better than passive noise-canceling headphones. But now it’s time to talk about the disadvantages of noise-canceling headphones.

Limiting Factors of Active Noise Cancelling

Active noise cancellation is not always better than passive noise cancellation. Aspects such as high battery consumption, performance consistency, value, and price must be considered. These factors vary depending on the technology used and its features and can determine the effectiveness of suppressing various forms of noise.

  • Battery Consumption: This is one of the biggest downsides to ANC mode. If you’re planning on using your headphones primarily on your commute, constantly running the battery can be a big headache, especially if your headphones have no wire mode.
  • Consistent Performance: If you’re planning on buying and using true wireless noise-canceling earbuds in all weather conditions, bear in mind that strong wind or sharp noises can make it impossible for your ANC to perform optimally.
  • Value: Active noise cancellation headphones are more expensive than ones without (obviously); hence the equipment you buy must be robust enough to prevent any degradation of its performance over time.
  • Sound quality: If you’re a sound purist, you might want to consider that ANC can reduce the quality of sound in some cases. For example, hybrid ANC headphones may generate an audible white noise when they try to block every sound.

Noise-canceling headphones are expensive

Active noise canceling headphones usually cost a little more than passive headphones, but there’s no need to worry. They aren’t necessarily worse than passive ones. It’s not very expensive to get a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and there are plenty of good deals online. Especially if you live in a major North American city and there are plenty of local stores where you can test and buy them.

ANC headphones typically have a premium of about $20 to $50. They are slightly more expensive—although the cheaper ones are a waste of money.

The sweet spot for active noise-canceling headphones is somewhere in the $200 to $300 range. You can get a good pair of ANC headphones with powerful noise reduction capability and above-average sound quality in that range.

For an affordable pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the best thing to do is to look for a pair that doesn’t cost too much. I’m talking about a range of $50 to $150. The Anker SoundCore Life Q25 and Q35 headphones stand out as offering the best in active noise reduction performance and value for money.

From the mentioned disadvantages, it’s clear that ANC is not always better than passive noise cancellation. It depends on your individual usage and preferences. But most of the time, if you have a strict budget and aren’t going to use your headphones for hours on end, passive noise cancellation with noise-isolating tips might be a more cost-effective option.

Cannot isolate loud noises

ANC headphones have a reputation for canceling all kinds of sounds, but they are not designed to completely eliminate noise, especially loud noise. Earmuffs are better suited for this type of work; they can be used in environments such as shooting ranges, construction sites, or airplanes, unlike active noise-canceling headphones.

The purpose of active noise-canceling headphones is to reduce the sounds that the sound-absorbing materials used in headphones cannot eliminate, such as human voice and low-droning noises.

The dangers of using ANC headphones in such environments are hearing loss, hyperacusis, and tinnitus caused by the discomfort of constant loud noises.

Earmuffs are better than the latest hybrid active noise cancelling headphones as they attenuate sounds by more than 35-40 decibels. Noise-canceling headphones may not be able to completely eliminate loud noises. But one plays music, and the other doesn’t. Even when they do, high-end noise-canceling headphones are a cut above them.

Another particularity of active noise-canceling headphones is that they work best with low volume sounds and not so well with loud music or a noisy hammer drill, chainsaw, or jackhammer. As such, they cannot protect your hearing and should not be used as hearing protection devices.


All in all, the best choice is to measure your environment and determine the ideal ambiance for you. Whatever your decision, as long as you know that relief from outside noise in public spaces is important in your daily life, you should probably have a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

I hope this article has been of value to you. If you need more information or anything else, leave a comment below. and I will try to help.

Many people ask me if they should get noise canceling headphones or not. In my article, Is Active Noise Cancellation Better than Passive Noise Cancellation, you can find out if active noise cancellation is really worth it. LINK HERE

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