I want to make an admission before I get too far into this article – until I started looking into purchasing a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones I’d never really considered the benefits of noise-cancellation technology, let alone thought about the difference between passive and active noise-cancellation technology. After a lot of research over the past several weeks it’s become clear to me that choosing the right set of headphones isn’t as simple as I first thought. Part of that decision process is deciding how important noise-cancellation technology is to you.

If you’re interested in listening to your music and phone calls in peace and quiet without having to worry about a noisy environment, then you’ll definitely want to consider the benefits of noise-cancellation technology. All headphones will block out the noise around you somewhat, but headphones with noise-cancellation technology built into their design will do it much more effectively. As we’ve already indicated, there are essentially two different types of noise cancellation technology available for Bluetooth wireless headphones – passive and active; this article explains the difference between the two different types of technologies.

Incidental Noise Cancellation

Most basic headphones and earbuds make no real attempt to actively reduce the effect of the noise around you other than introducing music and other sounds into your ears at close range, causing your ears to focus on the sound emanating from them. I refer to this type of technology as incidental noise cancellation, as it’s more of an afterthought. The manufacturers of these types of headphones haven’t really concerned themselves with noise cancellation at all. These types of headphones are usually less expensive models, which makes them attractive to a lot of people.

Passive Noise Cancellation

If you’ve ever worn a pair of earmuffs to block out the cold you’ll also have noticed that they do a pretty good job of blocking out the noise of the environment around you. That’s because they completely cover your ear, which by default will muffle any sounds around you. This is exactly how passive noise cancellation technology works. Headphones that are designed with passive noise cancellation in mind are made to completely cover your ear with extra padding that encloses your ear completely. The effect is to focus your ear in on listening to what’s coming out of the speakers built into the headphones alone. I have a pair of computer headphones that have a lot of extra padding, and when I listen to music on these they do an excellent job of completely drowning out the sound of what’s going on around me – especially when I crank them up. I find these headphones do a great job of canceling the noise around them, but the only problem is they’re extremely bulky and that’s the main knock on these types of headphones. Passive noise cancellation may work, but if you don’t like a bulky device sitting on top of your head, it’s probably not for you.

Active Noise Cancellation

The newest type of technology being used in Bluetooth wireless headphones, earbuds, and headsets to reduce the distractions of a noisy environment is something called active noise-cancellation technology. Manufacturers of these devices aren’t simply content with relying on extra padding to block out a noisy environment – they actually introduce different sounds designed to cancel out the noise around you. Usually, there’s a button you tap on to activate the active noise cancellation, which then cues into the sounds around you and releases counteracting sound waves directed at your ears; having the effect of eliminating the noise that’s distracting you. The great benefit of this type of technology is that it allows you to listen to your music at lower levels – you don’t have to crank up the tunes or phone calls to be able to hear them clearly. That means you have a better chance of maintaining good hearing into the future.

What Type of Noise Cancellation Is Right for You?

There is no simple answer to the question of what type of noise cancellation is right for you – it really depends on what you’re willing to tolerate and how you’re using the device. If you’re using headphones to plug into a laptop computer you may be quite satisfied with passive noise cancellation technology such as on the headphones I use with my own laptop. But if you’re looking for something more portable that you can take with you on the go, you may want to seriously consider looking at a pair of earbuds, headphones, or a headset with active noise cancellation technology.