Passive Vs. Active Noise Cancelling

Passive Vs. Active Noise Cancelling

There is no question that noise-canceling headphones can help considerably enhance your listening experience. You see, you may not always be sitting or lounging in an area where there is zero to slightly mild external and ambient noises. You may not always be in your room, with the windows shut, the AC turned, listening to your favorite track at full volume.

That is why, to ensure audiophiles are never bothered when they are listening to music, anywhere, anytime, they go for noise elimination earphones. These headphones are designed to cancel out outside noises by generated inaudible patterns of sound waves.

Illustration Of Noise Cancelling Types

However, they are models that just come with foam fitting and ear canal sealing so that noise leaks into your ear, but they have no electronic components to eliminate the sound.

This blog essentially focuses on two types of noise elimination methods that are being widely used by people today. They are known as Active and Passive noise canceling headphones.

Active Noise Cancellation

These are cutting-edge headphones fitted with a sophisticated mic and a digital signal processor. An internal battery powers them. So, the microphones inside the headphone pick up a different ambient or external sounds around you.

As soon as the headphone start picking up noises like the dog barking, cars whizzing by and whatnot, the DSP or digital signal processor absorbs those sound waves and fire a wave of inaudible sounds matching those ambient noises at a 180-degree phase-out, effectively canceling the noises.

The technology and theory behind the technology should effectively work to negate all types of sounds, however, in the real world; these types of headphones will never always perform perfectly. Why? Well, the only way to truly benefit from active canceling earphones is to listen to music where the noises are consistent.

Active Noise Cancelling Headphones On Table

For example, if there is a loud mouth sitting behind you, the headphones should be able to cancel the noise. However, if someone slams the door behind you, you will hear a loud thud because the noise canceling technology and process isn't fast enough to create and bounce sound waves to match the sound the door makes.

Similarly, you will also be able to hear high-frequency noises, such as a car suddenly screeching to a stop and whatnot.

Sure, there are active noise elimination headphones you can use to cancel out ambient noises to a larger degree completely, but those products are quite expensive with some ranging over $500.

Passive Noise Cancellation

The alternative to opting for active noise canceling headphones is passive noise elimination earphones. These are more simple and easy to use regarding the fact that they aren't battery powered. Moreover, passive headphones have everything to do with the design of the earbuds to disallow or cancel any sound from leaking inside your ear canal.

Closed-back headphone or open-back earphones – all to a certain degree, perform well to block ambient noise from entering your ears. However, because they are equipped with a digital signal processor or any other electronic component to cancel outside, they will never be able to block ambient sounds 100%.

Passive Noise Cancelling Headphones On Table

In simpler words, these types of headphones are designed to block outside noise instead of actively deflecting them – like active noise canceling headphones do. If you are opting for a pair of passive earphones, the best thing to do will be to go for a closed-back design or in-ear headphones.

The materials used to manufacture passive sound elimination headphones is most high-density foam or any other type of insulation material – like leather. These materials work pretty well to cancel high-frequency noises, but you can't count on them all the time.

Active Sound Eliminating Headphones

Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do, but the downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries. Here are more pros and cons of this headphones:


  • Active headphones block almost all types of sounds – These headphones are designed to eliminate or deflect a majority of different types of sounds. However, there are certain limitations to the types of sound they can eliminate. But speaking, they are topnotch.
  • Not need to rev the volume to the max – Because these headphones feature electric components that are actively working to cancel sound, you don't need to turn the volume up to beat ambient sounds with louder, more powerful sounds.
  • Lower volume can prove to be a richer experience – There is music that you have to listen to at max volume, but there is music that allows for a more classic and immersive experience when listened to a low volume. Using active noise canceling headphones, you will always be able to hear such music without having to worry about ambient noises.


  • The headphones are quite expensive – These headphones are manufactured using sophisticated electrical equipment and components. Not to mention they are battery powered. And because considerable research and development go into designing cutting-edge active headphones, it is natural to expect a mind-boggling price tag for a pair of headphones.
  • They use a lot of power – The internal components of the active noise eliminating headphones suck a lot of power to keep on functioning. You will also run out battery time based on the frequency of use, which means you will need to keep charging the headphones.

Passive Noise Cancelling Headphones

Passive Noise Cancellation is the noise that headphones block out based on the physical design of the earcups. Let's look at pros and cons of this headphones:


  • The headphones aren't that expensive – Passive headphones are nowhere near as expensive as their active counterparts. Why? Well, that is because they feature sophisticated technology. Passive headphones comprise sound blocking materials such as high-density foam and soft leather, which passively seals your ear canal, disallowing any sound to leak in.
  • No batteries – Passive headphones do not come fitted with independent battery units – they are just like a regular pair of headphones, but with sound blocking features.


  • You will have to listen to your music at high volumes – Unlike passive headphones, they earphones do not deflect sound. They merely block it, which means if the sounds are too loud, you will be able to hear them – and in turn, you will have to turn the volume to max.
  • You will have to listen to your music at high volumes – Unlike passive headphones, they earphones do not deflect sound. They merely block it, which means if the sounds are too loud, you will be able to hear them – and in turn, you will have to turn the volume to max.

Bottom Line

So there you go – everything you need to know to make a wise selection between active and passive noise canceling technology.

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