Using ANC Without Listening to Music on Headphones

We know from past articles that ANC is great for canceling external noise for a pleasurable music listening experience. But what about when we want to use active noise-canceling headphones for the sole purpose of canceling out external noise without a song playing at the same time?

This article is for those who want to reduce their exposure to music, who are tired of listening to the same songs repeatedly, and want peace of mind without listening to music on their ANC headphones. I also reveal whether you can use ANC without music, what the implications are, what to expect, and what things to consider before purchasing headphones with ANC for this purpose. LINK HERE

Is it possible to use active noise-canceling headphones without the music playing?

You can use the ANC function of most active noise-canceling headphones without playing music. You may encounter difficulties with some headphones, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The decision to wear your active noise-canceling headphones with ANC on and no music playing depends on your headphones and the implementation of active noise cancellation technology. Some headphones have an ANC setting that does not require music to be played, while others perceive the absence of music as a signal to turn off.

Headphones that automatically turn off when music is not playing have an “Auto off” setting that should be disabled. Other headphones: Apple’s AirPods Pro, for example, allow you to use active noise cancellation without playing music.

Do all ANC headsets work without music playing?

Not all ANC headsets allow you to use their active noise cancellation function without restrictions. Various brands have different implementations of active noise cancellation, so it is difficult to know how each works.

Concerning this issue, certain headphones cannot operate without music playing for various reasons such as:

  • They require a battery (every wireless ANC headphone)
  • Doesn’t work in wired mode without battery life (Soundcore Life Q30 and most ANC headphones)
  • No ANC on wired mode even with battery (Plantronics – BackBeat GO 410)
  • The microphones for ANC are currently used for phone calls (Jabra Evolve2 85)
  • Strictly requires you to play music (DALI iO-6)

Consequences of using ANC without music

This section highlights the expectations and limitations of using your headphones without music.

There are three things about active noise-canceling headphones that changes when the ANC is on and you’re not listening to music:

  1. More external noise – maximum noise reduction or noise masking is possible when music is playing in the headphones
  2. Less noticeable noise – humming or white noise from ANC
  3. Headphones use less battery power.

Hear more of your surrounding when not listening to music on headphones

One of the main problems you encounter when using the ANC system without music is that the noise reduction effect isn’t as strong as when you’re listening to music. In addition to the headphones’ passive and active noise reduction, the music also masks some outside noise at low volumes.

If you want to use your active noise-canceling headphones for the sole purpose of canceling out external noise, you will be able to hear people talking around you, but only softly. With the music turned on, the effect is stronger.

Hum or white noise from the ANC

The second problem with using the noise cancelling system without music is the humming or white noise generated by the ANC system that can be heard in the headphones. This problem is common in hybrid headsets and is caused by the additional microphones added to the ANC system to provide higher noise attenuation than other noise-canceling technologies.

The humming or white noise doesn’t decrease when you turn down the volume but is masked by music when it’s being played. Without music to cover up this noise generated by the ANC circuit, you’ll still hear this humming or hissing even if the outside noise is significantly reduced.

Headphones like Soundcore Life Q35, WH-XB910N, and WH-XB900N have a very noticeable hiss or ineffective ANC, which isn’t ideal for ANC-only use. As such, while humming or hissing is a compromise, it’s not present in all headphones. Among the few noise-canceling headphones that have inaudible hiss or virtually no hissing are the Sennheiser 4.50 HD BTNC, Apple AirPods Max, and Bowers & Wilkins PX7.

Lower battery consumption

Many studies show that the Bluetooth system consumes less power when data is not being transferred. When you don’t listen to music, Bluetooth is in standby, and your headphones consume less battery power.

The ANC circuitry is built into the headset and does not require any form of communication with the audio source. Better quality ANC headphones will also consume less battery power.

The headphones that consume the least amount of battery power when ANC is enabled are Sony WH-1000XM4, Bowers & Wilkins PX7, and Bose QuietComfort 45. All three have great battery life and perform wonderfully in the ANC department. However, PX7 is the only high-end headset with no hiss.

FAQ on using ANC without listening to music

Do all ANC headphones suffer from hissing or humming when no music is playing?

No. But the vast majority of headphones with active noise-canceling generate a hissing or humming sound, especially in hybrid active noise-canceling headphones. It’s not always present, as it also depends on the noise source and environment you’re listening to music in. It’s often experienced even in high-end ANC headsets, and there’s not much you can do to remove it.

These headphones produce no hiss when no music is playing: Sennheiser 4.50 HD BTNC, Bowers & Wilkins PX7, and Apple AirPods Max.

How do I know which headphones are suitable for ANC-only use?

To find out which ANC headphones are suitable for use without music, you need to do three things:

  • Check the noise reduction measurement graphs for any given ANC headphones on Rtings or Reference Audio Analyzer.
  • Make sure they have high noise reduction in the 20 – 1,000 Hz range (lower noise reduction curve than the passive isolation curve).
  • Ensure that the noise reduction curve is always lower than the passive isolation curve or overlaps it beyond 1000 Hz (to ensure that there is no hiss).

In conclusion

In conclusion, it is possible to use active noise canceling headphones without listening to music. It’s perfectly natural if you get tired of music and don’t want it playing all the time. ANC headphones are not damaged when you use them without music. So use your headphones as you wish and don’t worry. On the other hand, hearing constant, noticeable noise from ANC can make you dizzy or sick, so low-noise ANC headsets are best for the job. LINK HERE