Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Which one is better?

Last Updated on 21 March, 2023 by Darshan Chana

Are you on a spree of finding yourself the Best Bluetooth Earphones? Well, you certainly have come across a few technical terms then. Do they sound a bit confusing to you? Frequency response, codecs, drivers, sensitivity, noise cancellation and more. Have you tried researching each one of them?

Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Active vs Passive noise-cancelling headphones? My blog is explicitly on this subject today. What I am really surprised about is how unaware most users are of these terms. You want to get yourself a pair of the best earbuds, but you don’t know how the noise cancellation features play a role in determining the gadget’s efficiency.

The term noise-cancellation may sound like some futuristic technology, but it’s the most important aspect in determining the sound quality.

What is noise cancellation? What are the types of noise cancellation headphones? Which one is better? Be ready to meet all your tall expectations with my detailed illustration.


What are noise-cancelling headphones?

What are noise-cancelling headphones

Noise cancellation headphones diminish unwanted sounds with the help of their control technology. This pivotal feature blocks the entry for all redundant sounds without raising any volume inordinately.

Broadly speaking, noise cancellation headphones let you hear your favourite music without any disturbance from external factors. Let’s get into the details of the types of noise-cancelling headphones – active and passive.


What are active noise-cancelling headphones?

What are active noise-cancelling headphones

Also known as ANC, active noise-cancellation headphones use microphones to diminish blaring sound from the background. The microphones carefully hear the ambient noise and work by effectively cancelling the sound before reaching the user’s ears. To put it simpler words, ANC headphones cancel the environmental noise by creating equal and opposite noise.

Active noise cancellation can be attained with the help of feedback, feed-forward and hybrid filter, depending upon the brand. The headphones generate a inverted phase sound to do their job successfully.

What are the advantages of active noise-cancelling headphones?

What are the advantages of active noise-cancelling headphones

  • Active noise-cancelling headphones help in enhancing the clarity of sound, regardless of how noisy the environment is.
  • ANC headphones can boost user concentration.
  • It can help you have better phone conversations by amplifying the vocal delivery.
  • These headphones protect hearing senses to a great extent by attenuating loud noise.
  • ANC headphones provide customize cancellation by giving the leisure of turning on and off the feature as per the user requirement.
  • Using these headphones while sleeping can help in improving sleep quality. Please turn it on and be sure of not waking up with an unusual sound.
  • They are designed for maximum user comfort.

What are the disadvantages of active noise-cancelling headphones?

  • The active noise-cancelling headphones charge you for the luxury they provide. They are expensive.
  • The mechanism of these headphones can lower user alertness to the environment.
  • Working on ANC headphones rely on batteries and consume a lot of power.
  • Active cancellation encounters the ambient music with sound waves. This may distort the music a little bit.
  • Sharing these headphones can lead to ear infections.
  • The presence of a microphone makes these headphones sensitive to electromagnetic interference.
  • The inexpensive models can feel ineffective.


What are passive noise-cancelling headphones?

What are passive noise-cancelling headphones

Passive noise-cancelling (PNC) headphones make use of their natural material and shape to block external sounds. Unlike active noise-cancelling headphones, these do not require additional microphone power for any noise isolation. The organic mechanism does not counteract any environmental sound by generating sound waves or destroy ambient frequency.

Users do not have to opt for a special passive noise cancellation headphone especially. All headphones and earbuds have passive noise isolation to some extent. These headphones require no source of power or built-in battery to block any sound. They simply act as ear-muffs to soften the noise by covering the ears perfectly.

What are the advantages of passive noise-cancelling headphones?

What are the advantages of passive noise-cancelling headphones

  • Passive noise-cancelling headphones do not require an additional source of power to function.
  • These headphones do not emit any radiation in the process of blocking environmental noise. Therefore, they are absolutely safe for users hearing senses.
  • They are compact and light in weight.
  • The headphones are custom moulded and fitted. Hence, they are extra comfortable.
  • Expect less sound escape to the environment.
  • Regardless of how thick the earmuffs are, you can easily find pocket-friendly passive-cancelling headphones.
  • These headphones deliver a truer depiction of the music.

What are the disadvantages of passive noise-cancelling headphones?

  • Passive noise-cancelling headphones will not be effective if the fit is not right. Your ears should be perfectly covered.
  • The capability of blocking the external sound may fall short if the frequency is above 1 kHz.
  • These headphones can feel uncomfortable when worn for a long period at a stretch.

Recommended Reading: Headphone Buying Guide- How to Find the Perfect Headphones?


Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Which one is better?

Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Let me now compare the two types of headphones based on some crucial parameters.

1. Affordability

Headphone Affordability

I am sure the cost of headphones/earbuds can dramatically influence your buying decision. You can find some economical headphone options with an active noise cancellation feature. However, it will be with dubious sound quality. Also, these models will have less capability of blocking environmental sounds. Investing in these headphones makes no sense.

The top-notch models with high power come at a high price value. On the contrary, passive noise-cancelling headphones with good quality ear cup designs are relatively cheaper.


2. Size and weight

headphone Size and weight

In general, headphones are compact and light in weight. But when we compare the two, active noise-cancelling headphones are bigger and bulkier. The reason behind it is the presence of a microphone. However, the size of each one of them could vary depending upon the model.


3. Power consumption and battery life

Power consumption and battery life

Active noise-cancelling headphones come with a built-in battery which needs frequent powering. This means that there is a substantial consumption of power. In the case of passive noise-cancelling headphones, there are no batteries and hence no power consumption.


4. Safety

headphone Safety

Lots have been spoken about how headphones can brutally damaging the hearing senses. Therefore, it is important to look into the safety aspect as well. ANC headphones nullify the ambient sound by generating an equal and opposite soundwave. On the contrary, PNC headphones naturally block the environment sound and allow no more noise decibel to enter your ear. So, the latter is safer for overall hearing.


5. Sound quality

If you are a music enthusiast, sound quality is certainly your primary concern. PNC sound quality is far better than ANC, and this is pure science. Active noise-cancelling headphones create sound to block the ambient noise. In the process of doing so, there are high chances of the sound quality getting distorted.


6. Comfort level

Comfort level

While you are hooking on to your pair of headphones for elongated hours, scrutinizing the comfort level is important. Earbuds/headphones with passive noise-cancellation technology are custom-fitted and can feel restful when placed on the ear. On the contrary, headphones with active noise-cancelling technology can put some amount of pressure on the ears.


7. Ambient sound isolation

Ambient sound isolation

The entire debate on noise cancellation relies majorly on how good they are at isolating ambient sound. Which one’s better? Who’s more capable?

Well, each of them does a great job in isolating environmental sound within their capabilities. The disparity lies in the range of frequency they can work in. Passive noise-cancelling headphones can beautifully shrink mid to high-frequency sounds. Meanwhile, active noise-cancelling headphones work amazingly with low-frequency sounds. But what deserves a mention here is that ANC headphones are capable of eliminating constant background sound.

Recommended Reading: How to use earphones without damaging your ears?


Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones: One Last Thought

Admit it or not, owning a pair of the best headphones has now become a matter of great importance. This indispensable device is a part of our daily routine. Therefore, you must choose one with sensibility. The right pair can be different for each one of you. That’s because each of the headphones come with their set of strength and weakness. So, it totally depends on what your concerns are. Let me quickly run you through the gist of it.

The best passive noise-cancelling headphones are fabricated with dense material and provide extra padding support to block external sounds from reaching the ear. Also, the quality of sound is unmatched due to the absence of microphone radiations. I would totally recommend you getting this one if you are a passionate music lover. Just remember to get the right ear-fit. Or else, it will be completely down the drain.

The best active noise-cancelling headphones are true companions for frequent flyers. These headphones can efficiently create a stable sound environment by cutting off the flight engine sound completely. Also, ANCs can be magical for the ones working in a noisy environment.

Basically, the word ‘best’ differs depending upon what the requirements are. So, what are your needs? Identify them and chose your companion smartly.

Hey, it’s about time you head to our blogs for some cool options!

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