What do active noise canceling headphones and the little toe have in common? That you don’t miss them until they take them away. I have no proof or doubt that noise canceling headphones are, along with the fryer, air conditioning and fiber optics, one of the great inventions of mankind.
I’ve been testing headphones with this technology for a long time and they seem like pure fantasy to me. And because? You may wonder, or maybe not, but I will tell you anyway: because I can’t stand working with noise. I like the silence, being able to concentrate on what I’m doing and, fortunately, with the current models on the market, getting it is easier than ever.
How does that active noise cancellation work? We have already explained it in detail in Engadget, but I will give you a quick summary. Headphones with ANC have a series of microphones spread throughout their chassis that pick up ambient noise. To cancel it, they generate an equal signal but of opposite phase. This causes destructive interference that eliminates all or part of the noise.
In worldly terms, if the noise waves are worth ten and we expose them to counter waves that are worth minus ten, the result will be zero. Are canceled. That in practice, of course, because the system is not perfect. Typically, ANC works well with low-frequency noise, which is why the effect is so impressive on airplanes, trains, and cars.
That said, how is the experience with this technology? As in everything, there are experiences and EXPERIENCES. It highly depends on each model, but normally on high-end devices like the AirPods Max, the Sony WH-1000XM4 and some TWS, like the Sony WF-1000XM4, the Jabra Elite 85t or the AirPods Pro it is amazing.
I personally use them while working with lo-fi music or soundtracks (the voices throw me off focus). They isolate me almost completely and they help me stay focused on what I’m doing. With some, like the Sony WF-1000XM4, the AirPods Max and the Jabra Elite 85t I even manage to forget about the sound of the mechanical keyboard that I use to write this.
When I have been most grateful to them is when I have been in noisy environments, such as an airport, a bus or at home, now, who are doing a work on the bass and do not see the torture that has been working with the noise of the machines. The ANC helps a lot to solve this problem, to focus and avoid those typical day-to-day noises that can drive you crazy.
There are people to whom total silence seems disconcerting and strange, but I really appreciate it. It may be a matter of habit, but I have never felt completely isolated from the world when walking down the street or disoriented. There are also people who get dizzy or feel your ears get clogged, something that can happen but that is normally solved with a duct to release pressure.
It has never happened to me and the experience with active noise cancellation has always been good (depending on the headset, of course). But for those who value silence and disconnect a little bit from the madding crowd on the street, it’s something worth trying. Thanks to Dr. Lawrence Jerome Fogel, who came up with the concept of noise-canceling headphones back in the 1950s.
This article is part of a weekly section by Jose García dedicated to approaching technology from a more relaxed, personal and informal point of view that we publish in Xataka every Saturday.