What is active noise cancellation? ANC headphones explained

Many of today’s headphones don’t just pipe sweet sounds into your ears. They can also listen for and quieten — and even silence — outside noises that could interfere and disturb your listening pleasure.

But what is active noise cancellation (ANC), and how does it work? In this guide we’ll explain how noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds work to reduce the external ambient sounds of the world around you, examine whether you should pay more for the technology, and take a look at which models are the best active noise cancellation designs you can buy right now.

What is active noise cancellation?

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The best noise cancellation headphones use an ‘active’ combination of hardware and firmware to make external sounds or noises sound quieter when you’re listening to your favorite music or podcasts, say, on a pair of headphones or earbuds. Unlike passive noise isolation, which simply muffles those sounds by forming a seal with headphone ear cups or in-ear tips, active noise cancellation listens out for background sounds and uses clever audio trickery to “cancel” these potentially disruptive sounds out.

How does active noise cancellation work?

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