Noise Cancelling Headphones FAQs

Q: Do noise cancelling headphones block all ambient noise?

A: Different models have different noise cancelling capabilities but generally speaking, 100% of ambient noise cannot be blocked out, especially higher frequency sounds. To get close to 100% cancellation, noise cancelling should be used while listening to music.

Q: Do noise cancelling headphones run on batteries?

A: Most noise cancelling headphones run on a AA battery which come with the pair. You can replace these batteries with your own rechargeable ones.

Q: Are there in-ear noise cancelling headphones?

A: Yes. Though not as common as over ear headphones, in-ear headphones are also manufactured by brands such as Audio Technica, Bose and Sony, to name a few. In-ear headphones may not be as effective in cancelling out noise as its over-ear counterparts but for the most part, they do an admirable job.

Q: Can noise cancelling be used without playing music?

A: Some models have passive modes that allow you to use noise cancelling even if the cord isn’t connected to any music source.

Q: How does noise cancelling work?

A: Noise cancelling headphones use digital signal processing technology. In a nutshell, this technology uses an internal microphone to listen to outside ambient noise. The different frequencies picked up are then analyzed by the audio processor which then emits frequencies that will cancel out the external sound. This process is called wave displacement.

Q: Is noise cancelling different from noise isolating when it comes to headphones?

A: Yes. Noise isolating headphones only blocks out sound through the coverage of the ear cups while noise cancelling headphones use an internal microphone to listen to external noises and the audio processor uses sound of opposing frequencies to cancel out the noise.

Q: Are all effective noise cancelling headphones expensive?

A: Though most of the higher quality headphones like Bose’s QuietComfort 15 or Sennheiser’s PXC 450 NoiseGard are on the expensive side, there are also models that are less expensive that also provide good quality noise cancelling. Examples are Solitude Design’s XCS Active Noise Cancelling and Amplifier headphones and V-Moda Crossfade LP

Q: Do noise cancelling headphones work in busy terminals like airports and train stations?

A: Most models of noise cancelling headphones were designed with commuters and travelers in mind so they have the right engineering to drown out sounds that are inescapable when travelling such as the whirrs of airplane engines or the hums of trains.

Some models of noise cancelling headphones also have an additional mode that would allow you to hear outside sounds such as PA announcements without removing your headphones by pausing the music you’re playing or lowering its volume.

Q: Can noise cancelling headphones be used with mobile phones?

A: Most noise cancelling headphones are plug-and-play so as long as your mobile phone has a dock for standard headphones, the headphones can be used on your phone to listen to music. Some in-ear models such as Bose’s QuietComfort 20i come with a microphone that you can use for calls and were optimized for use with smartphones and tablets.  Not all noise cancelling headphones come with microphones so if you’re planning to use one with your smartphone, go for a model that has one.

Q: “Should I invest in noise cancelling headphones?”

A: Noise cancelling headphones are a good investment if you travel or commute a lot and you listen to music while in transit. Noise cancelling headphones make for a good listening experience. They are also useful in the office where air conditioning hums are a nuisance or if you want to blot out office chatter.

Please see my Reviews of Top Rated Noise Cancelling Headphones

Over Ear Headphones:

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Sony MDR10RNC Premium Digital Noise Canceling Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Sony MDR-NC100D Noise Cancelling Earphone


-Robert Walsh

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About Robert Walsh

I travel internationally on a frequent basis for work and the only way I have found to be able to rest on a plane is by using noise cancelling headphones. I have used quite a few over the years and have reviewed the ones I like best here.