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What Is Active Noise Cancellation? Best Explained With 3 Types.

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As music lovers, we are all looking for that one pair of headphones or earbuds that will help us to experience our favorite songs without any interruptions. And nothing is more infuriating than the outside or ambient noise that we hear alongside.

That’s why nowadays, all the new buyers mandatorily look for the ‘Noise Cancellation’ feature in their in-ear or over-the-ear sound system. But most of us don’t really understand the actual meaning of this term and people often ask questions like ‘What Is Noise Cancellation?’ but the one in trend right now is ‘What Is Active Noise Cancellation?’ also known as ANC.

Again, while we talk about noise cancellation, there are types that we will come across in this article, mainly Active Noise Cancellation and Passive Noise Cancellation, and later focusing more on ANC.

Noise-cancelling featured headphones are expensive, agreed. Even though it’s a modern-tech feature, with the technology industry growing day by day, now it’s no more limited to a specific price tag. You will get to see plenty of headphones and true wireless earbuds with noise-cancellation. It is pretty obvious that with a different price range, the effect of noise-cancellation will vary as well.

But if it’s any consolation, most of the latest headphones and earphones come with passive noise cancellation. This means they don’t completely eliminate outside noise but they do reduce surrounding sound to some extent, i.e. up to 20 dB. However, these numbers are fine for casual travel purposes but considering airways, active noise cancellation will offer you top-notch satisfaction.

Let’s discuss in brief now.

Passive Noise Cancellation (PNC)

Passive Noise Cancellation is also referred to as passive Noise Reduction. The main difference between PNC and ANC is that in PNC, there is no electrical equipment involved in the noise reduction process. This makes the headphones much less expensive than the ones with ANC.

Also, earbuds and headphones with PNC have more to do with the design. Noise reduction itself means that the ambient sound is trimmed to a certain limit and this is made possible by designing the earcups of headphones in such a way that it covers the whole ear.

Although, you will be able to get a better PNC experience with studio type and other professional yet in-budget headphones, it all narrows down to your personal preference. Some might even choose earphones/earbuds instead of over-ear music devices.

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)

The history of Noise Cancellation takes us back to 1933 when a doctor of philosophy, Paul Lueg from Germany submitted a patent for implementing phase-advanced waves (Sound Waves) to cancel sinusoidal tones (Outside Noise) in ducts and using inverse polarity which eliminates the noise around the loudspeaker.

In the 1950s, Harry Olsen came up with how ANC can be actually practiced in real life.

And in the year 2000, Bose figured out the answer to the question ‘What is active noise cancellation?’ and was the first brand ever to roll out ANC headphones.

Active Noise Cancellation varies from Passive not only in form of design but also in internal build. ANC headphones use a separate electronic circuit to cancel out the surrounding sound. And because of the demand for such ultra-modern design to achieve the accurate noise-canceling effect, these headphones are expensive.

Today from Sony to Skullcandy to even lesser-known brands are manufacturing ANC headphones, because that’s what people are pulled towards, even grand artists.

To explain it in short on ‘What is active noise cancellation?’, this is how ANC works. Let’s put it in the form of the physics term ‘Sound Waves.’ ANC audio devices are assisted with a special microphone that first collects the outside noise. This sound is converted into a noise-free signal and after phase shift, it is used as output with music and received by the listener.

But not all headphones/earphones provide the same quality of the noise-cancellation effect. It also depends on the type of processor chip, the number of microphones used, and most importantly the quality of the mic, i.e. how efficiently the mics can catch the surrounding noise.

ANC can be furthermore described by breaking it down into different types in which the ANC effect is accommodated into sound devices.

  1. Feedforward ANC
  2. Feedback ANC
  3. Hybrid ANC

Feedforward ANC

A feedforward ANC setup is designed in such a way that the microphone which collects ambient noise is placed outside the ear cup. The noise is then processed in a waveform, converted to anti-noise, and delivered to the music listener.

The supreme advantage of this setup is that since the mic is positioned outside, it gets more time to convert ambient noise into anti-noise which ensures perfect conveyance of ANC effect in the output.

Feedforward ANC is effective at both low and high frequencies.

Feedforward ANC Setup in what is active noise cancellation article
Feedforward ANC Setup

Feedback ANC

In Feedback ANC, the mic that accommodates surrounding loud sound is fitted inside the ear cups or the ears in earbuds, unlike Feedforward ANC. So, the mic hears what the listener hears which makes it more adaptive and if needed, even corrects the signal as required.

Since the microphone is placed inside, even if the headphone is worn out, the effect on ANC is not major. Although this setup doesn’t offer ANC as good as the Feedforward setup, Feedback ANC works prominently for low frequency.

So, if you prefer slow melodies for nighttime instead of drop songs, this ANC arrangement is what you should be looking for.

Feedback ANC Setup
Feedback ANC Setup

Hybrid ANC

The name explains itself, Hybrid ANC, which means it possesses the qualities of both Feedforward ANC and Feedback ANC. That is the prime reason why headphones with Hybrid ANC are so expensive.

Sound devices with this setup are built in such a manner that two mics, one inside the ear cup and the other outside the ear cup are calibrated without any discomfort to the listener.

Hybrid ANC offers the most powerful ANC effect, even in the environment with people chit-chatting things that you wish to avoid. Also, they work like charm in airplanes and other jet engine systems.

Since this is the combination of above mentioned ANC types, it works extremely smooth for numerous frequency ranges, both high and low. But all this to work out precisely, the quality of both the microphones should be superior and the processor used should be upgraded and advanced as well to carry out the required heavy functions conveniently.

Hybrid ANC Setup in what is active noise cancellation
Hybrid ANC Setup

Future Scope Of ANC

The world as we know it is getting better and advanced day by day. Tech brands are in cut-throat competition for being the No.1. Along with that, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the leading technology in this century because there’s so much that we can do with it.

The first-ever AI-driven noise-canceling headphones are the PLAYGO BH70, made by an Indian-based company is one such example where advanced automation proved its worth and involvement in our day-to-day life.

These headphones use a Qualcomm QCC chip processor which can perform and carry out Hybrid ANC effortlessly. Likewise, combining multiple advanced techniques and calibrating them is what modern technology all about.

Final Words

So, the answer to the question ‘What is active noise cancellation?’ is explained in the above article and it contains pretty much everything you need to know about ANC.

If you are someone who loves to travel the world, we would recommend you save and invest a few extra bucks on a pair of ANC headphones. Time to take off, after reading this article if you still get stuck on some minor doubts, feel free to comment below.

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