On paper, active noise-cancelling headphones seem outright better than regular ones. They also seem better than passive noise-cancellation headphones, which depend on headphone material and design instead of using active-cancellation methods.
There are some disadvantages to active noise cancellation, however, so it’s worth weighing the pros and cons when buying a new pair of headphones.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of active noise-cancelling headphones and how they compare to other headphones.
Advantages of Active Noise Cancellation
Personalized Cancellation of Environment
As we covered in our article on how noise cancellation works, using active headphones will attempt to deafen the sounds around you at the time. It does this by listening to the sound waves approaching your ear, then transmitting a counter-wave to dull it.
Passive cancellation doesn’t have this luxury. All it does is provide a case for your ears and hope that it’s strong enough to block the sounds around you. As such, active cancellation wins out on actually cancelling out unwanted noise.
Perhaps you don’t want to cancel out the outside world all the time. Perhaps you want to hear your surroundings, then turn the cancellation on when you’re in transit or the neighbors get noisy.
Active noise-cancelling headphones typically have a switch that turns the cancellation on and off. This means you can turn it off when you want to hear the doorbell and turn it on when it’s time to zone into a game. This is better than regular headphones (which don’t cancel sounds) and passive cancellation (which can’t be “turned off”).
Disadvantages of Active Noise Cancellation
Active Cancellation Headphones Are More Expensive
Active cancellation requires electronics within the headphones to listen to your surroundings. Normal and passive-cancelling headphones don’t need this, as they’re designed to block sound through their materials rather than technology. As such, active noise-cancelling headphones will ask for a little more to cover the additional cost.
Active Cancellation May Distort Your Music a Little
Because active headphones need to counter the outside world with sound waves, you may find the audio quality drop when you turn on the active cancellation. Passive headphones don’t need to alter the sound, which means you won’t hear any quality degradation.
Active Cancellation Requires Power
If you purchase wired active noise-cancelling headphones, you may be surprised to see that they need charging, even if they can’t be used wirelessly. That’s because the on-board technology can’t be charged via the audio port on the headphones. As such, you’ll need to manually charge them every time you want to use the cancellation.
Regular and passive cancellation headphones don’t have this caveat, so take this into consideration when buying a new pair of headphones.
Are Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones For You?
In short, active cancellation headphones are fantastic for blocking your surroundings. You have to pay a premium for them, they require charging, and your music quality may suffer as a result; however, the personalized cancellation and the ability to turn them off whenever you like make it a top choice for some users.
Do you prefer active noise-cancelling headphones over passive models? Let us know below.