Noise canceling headphones are all the rage online right now and you don't have to look hard to find a review which is either talking them up or tearing them down. A lot of people, however, don't know how they differ from normal headphones, or why people are spending hundreds of dollars to get their hands on a pair.
What are noise canceling headphones?
Noise-cancelling headphones reduce the impact of ambient sounds from reaching the ear. This happens because they use active noise control. This is very different from normal headphones, which simply blast sound to cover up ambient noise. This is done in regular headphones due to increasing the volume (which is bad for hearing) and superficial soundproofing which is often minimal (especially with earbud-style headphones).
Noise cancellation headphones stop people from having to overcome ambient noise by raising the volume.
For low-frequency sounds, noise canceling headphones use active noise control. This means there is a microphone which is measuring and monitoring ambient sound levels. In response, it generates a frequency to negate the ambient sound. If you are listening to something at the time, this will be mixed with your Spotify playlist or your favourite podcast.
Some people have complained that this process makes the content through the headphones sound 'metallic' compared to regular headphones. On the bright side though, you no longer have to compete with all the murmuring voices in the open plan office or the school kids on the bus.
What are noise canceling headphones used for?
If you want to listen to music at levels no longer harming your hearing, then these are a product for you. They are also great for air travel. Have you ever thought about how damaging the sound of the cabin might be for your ears?
The jury is out on whether the earphones are comfortable enough for in-flight sleeping, it depends on the individual and whether they can cope with something on their head for long periods of time.