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What is Passive, Active, and Adaptive Noise-Cancellation?

Sometimes, all we need in our daily life is some peace and quiet. A time where you can concentrate and focus on the things you want to do without the distracting noise of the outside. Especially these days during the pandemic where we all work at home, we want our own privacy within our own space and mind.

This article was written by Andre Co.

One of the best ways to block out all the noise is literally using something that will block out the noise. This is where noise-canceling headphones, earphones, and the like come in. I’m sure all of you have seen or heard about headphones that use some noise-canceling technology, but which one is best for you?

Different Types of Noise Cancellation

When purchasing headphones or earphones that have noise cancellation, you generally will encounter three types. These are passive, active, and adaptive noise cancellations. The three all do typically the same job, block out noise, but differ in their approach in doing so.

Passive Noise Cancellation

First, we will talk about passive noise cancellation. More often than not, headphones that offer passive noise cancellation are the most affordable of the bunch. Headphones that offer passive noise cancellation don’t use any proprietary technology to block out noise but instead rely on the design of the headphones to achieve noise cancellation. This all depends on the shape, design, and materials used by the headphones.

To find headphones with the best passive noise cancellation, you will have to find big and bulky ones covering your entire ear and have thick ear cups that act as padding and drown out the noise you’re able to hear. Of course, this all still depends on the size of your head and the model that you will choose, so try to find one that fits your head and ear the best and creates a good seal around your ear to block out the noise. Passive noise-canceling headphones are best used to block out ambient sounds, for example, in an office where people talking would be distracting to you.

Active Noise Cancellation

These types of headphones take the whole idea of noise cancellation a step further. Yes, they do the same things that passive noise cancellation headphones would do but adds in the active noise-canceling technology or ANC. These headphones usually have a processor inside them that learns or detects the sound outside and then cancels it out by emitting a signal. Basically, this processor uses tiny microphones inside the headphones to generate a noise-canceling signal that will block all or most of the ambient noise you might hear.

Active noise-canceling headphones can sometimes feel like magic when you first use them. This is especially true when you are traveling or commuting. Imagine inside an airplane where the sound of its engine would probably keep you awake throughout the entire flight disappearing the moment you turn on your active noise-canceling headphones, magical, right? The best active noise-canceling headphones can block out most of these sounds like buses, airplanes, and most chatter.

However, headphones with this specific technology will come with batteries, and you will need to charge them. Active noise cancellation also drains a lot of battery, so the longer it is turned on, the less battery life your device will have. Most of these headphones will still work, though, even if ANC is turned off.

Adaptive Noise Cancellation

One of the newer technologies when it comes to noise-canceling space is adaptive noise cancellation. In principle, it works much like active noise cancellation but with a small twist. The difference is that adaptive noise cancellation is smarter. The microphones on your headphones will detect if the noise outside is loud and will strengthen noise cancellation, while in quiet spaces will lower the amount instead.


The great thing about adaptive noise cancellation is usually these headphones come with companion apps that allow you to fine-tune settings to your liking. You can change the amount of noise cancellation or how much it adjusts to the sound outside to suit your needs. You can adjust the headphones to change the amount of noise cancellation depending on where you are, whether in the park, a plane, or in the library.

How do you choose which one is right for you?

You have to know what you are looking for first. Are you looking for earphones or headphones? Do you want a bulky pair of cans or just small tiny earbuds? These are things that you have to take into consideration. After deciding this, you can narrow your search to find models that offer different types of noise cancellation. Bulkier ones offer better passive noise cancellation, but smaller wireless earbuds now have implemented excellent active/adaptive noise cancellation but for a price.

Speaking of price, more technology means higher prices. Active noise-canceling headphones, most of the time, are more expensive than their passive noise-canceling counterparts. The higher the price, the better the active noise cancellation too. Then there’s sound quality. If you want a pair of headphones with a great sound signature and have great noise cancellation, you better be ready to spend a bit more.


After settling on a price for a pair of headphones, the next thing you should consider is battery life. ANC does drain a lot of battery, and if you’re the type not to want to deal with these things, then maybe passive noise-canceling headphones are for you. Many excellent passive noise-canceling headphones are also wired, so if you don’t want to deal with wireless connectivity and want to go old school, passive noise-canceling cans are for you.


Make sure the pair of headphones you choose doesn’t leak sound. Unless you’re buying an open-back pair of cans (which probably you are not if you’re buying noise-canceling headphones/earphones), you should check if the person beside you can hear what you’re listening to. You wouldn’t want to be rocking out to a song, not minding the entire world because of your amazing noise cancellation technology, then realize that everybody else can actually hear what you are listening to. So make sure you choose a pair that fits well and is made of good material.


So remember, before purchasing a pair, please do try it out. Most stores will allow you to test out the pair before purchasing, or they might have model units for you to try out. This is the best way to choose which ones are the best for you. Different brands have different approaches to noise cancellation.

The good thing is you can find noise-canceling headphones/earphones at different price points these days. So take a look at your budget, ask around and if it is safe enough, try out the pair for yourself before buying. Just make sure that you are ready to dive into this world because, like any other tech out there, finding the right pair of cans for you can be quite expensive and, honestly, very addicting.

This article was written by Louie Diangson, Managing Editor of YugaTech. You can follow him at @John_Louie.

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