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What’s the Difference Between Active vs. Passive Noise Cancelling?

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Blog, Health & Wellness, Home & Living, Latest, Technology

There are a lot of factors that come into play when purchasing a brand new set of headphones or earphones. With so many features available in the market, it can be difficult to choose which one is best for your personal use. However, one thing that seems to be a common factor for choosing your headphones is the noise cancelling feature.

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Looking for the best active noise cancelling headphones?


When it comes to premium active noise cancelling wireless headphones, the beautifully designed Master & Dynamic MW65 are the cream of the crop. Learn more on Amazon

We’re Here For the Music; Not the Noise

Man wearing CleanAirTek. CleanAirTek mask in action!

Imagine you’re on a plane sat next to a young mother and her cooing baby. The baby is the cutest thing in the world at first, but you know that your feelings will inevitably change at some point during the 8 hour flight. Of course, the annoyance will be outside anyone’s control, but you can’t help but worry that you’ll lose your patience. Suddenly, you remember there’s a way out.

“I can’t believe I forgot!” you think to yourself as you produce a pair of noise cancelling headphones from your carry-on bag. Just as you’re putting them on, the baby begins to cry.

The noise cancelling function works perfectly, removing the shrill crying of the baby immediately. The mother’s sighs of relief can be heard throughout the cabin (well, not by you) as she sinks into her chair and closes her eyes with a smile.

How Did Noise Cancelling Get Its Start?

A good way of understanding how noise cancellation works is by going back to its roots and understanding how the technology came to life. The idea for noise cancellation came in 1978 when the great Amar Bose — yes, that Bose — was on flight from Zurich to Boston.

Before boarding the flight, Bose was excited to try out a new generation of headphones. However, during the flight, he found that he could hear a lot of external noises. Worse, he could barely hear anything coming from the headphones! This inspired and motivated him into drawing what would become the foundation of the very first noise cancelling headset that he and his team would create.

xFyro ANC Pro

Noise cancellation technology can be found in over-the-ear headphones, as well as wireless earphones such as the xFyro ANC Pro.

Types of Noise Cancelling Technologies

There are two different types of noise cancellation: Active Noise Cancellation and Passive Noise Cancellation. These two types of noise cancellation technologies use different methods to mute external noise, and we’ll dive in deeper on how they work to give us a more peaceful listening experience.

Passive Noise Cancellation (Also Called Noise Isolation)

With passive noise cancelling, electronics are not typically used to cancel out noise. Rather, the most effective passive noise cancellation headphones employ circum-aural technologies that are designed to prevent external noises from entering the headphones in the first place. These types of headphones can be made with layers of high-density foam that absorb the external sounds and cancel out the noise before it reaches the user. This type of headphones will give you a great listening experience, but you can expect those headphones to be heavier compared to their active noise cancelling counterparts.

Passive Noise Cancellation Pros

  • Pure sound with no hum or hiss
  • Less battery drain
  • Lower cost
  • Manipulates natural acoustics

Passive Noise Cancellation Cons

  • More difficult to find earbuds with comparable effects to ANC earbuds
  • Typically heavier, especially over-the-ear headphones
  • Passive noise isolation typically can’t be switched on or off
  • Fewer opportunities to listen at low volume

Active Noise Cancellation

Active Noise Cancellation uses special technology to ensure that external noises don’t mess up your sound trip by using a trick of physics called “Anti-phase”. In those types of headphones, there are built-in microphones that listen to Ambient noise. When external noise reaches the headphones, anti-phase literally inverts or flips those sound waves, which is outputted to your ear to cancel out the background noise so you are only able to hear the music playing from your headphones. This type of noise cancellation only works when there is consistent noise playing in the background but if there are sudden loud noises that arise you can expect to hear that while listening to music.


Active Noise Cancellation Pros

  • Sonically cancels out external noise
  • Easier to listen at lower volumes
  • Can be switched on or off  
  • Great for spaces with continuous ambient noise, like airplanes or busy cafes
  • ANC headphones and earphones are more likely to have additional premium features

Active Noise Cancellation Cons

  • Typically heavier, especially over-the-ear headphones
  • More decibels of noise enter the ear, since external noise is cancelled out by creating an equal and opposite sound
  • More battery drain
  • Can have difficulty neutralizing sudden loud outbursts of sound

Should I Get Passive Or Active Noise Cancelling Earphones/?

Now that you know how passive and active noise cancellation work, how can you tell which one is best for you? If you’re looking for something comfortable then you can expect the PNC to do you better compared to the ANC, since your ears will be surrounded by high-density foam and you can comfortably wear it for a longer period of time. Interestingly, listening to passive noise cancelling headphones may be better for your ears because with ANC you’re accumulating more noise. After all, active noise cancellation works by by creating an opposite sound wave of the picked up surrounding noise, playing it in your ear along with your music. This means that even if you’re listening to music without external noise, you’re still taking in more decibels as compared to listening with passive noise cancelling headphones.

Our Pick: Passive Noise Cancelling Earphones

Kokoon NightBuds –  Smart Passive Noise Blocking Earbuds for Better Sleep

Perfect for side sleepers, these soft & tiny earbuds sit deep within the ear secured via a patent-pending five-point anchor system. As you fall asleep, sleep sensors detect when you’re in dreamland, bookmarking your place and fading out your audio. Check out the video below!

Our Pick: Passive Noise Cancelling Headphones

WorkTunes Connect –  Wireless Gel Ear Cushions Hearing Protector Headphones

Safely listen to all your music while mowing the lawn, woodworking, and landscaping. The WorkTunes Connect are also great for large crowds, and other loud environments, capable of blocking out up to 23 decibels of external noise. And because the pair employs passive noise cancellation (also referred to as noise isolation), these headphones won’t flood your eardrums with twice the decibels.



Our Pick: Active Noise Cancelling Earphones

xFyro ANC Pro –  The World’s First AI-Powered Noise Cancellation

7mm graphene drivers delivery studio quality audio, with a dual-beamforming mic for crystal-clear calling. Next, you get an all-day battery with 100 hours of listening time. Finally, an IPX5 water resistance rating keeps your earbuds protected from the elements.

Looking for the best active noise cancelling headphones?


When it comes to premium active noise cancelling wireless headphones, the beautifully designed Master & Dynamic MW65 are the cream of the crop.

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