7 Key Features to Consider Before Buying Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones are a worthwhile investment when the never-ending commotion of nearby construction or rushing traffic prevents you from enjoying your favorite playlist. Noise-canceling headphones reduce background noise and isolate you so you can get much-needed quiet or focus time.
But with so many noise-canceling headphone models on the market, it can be tricky to choose a reliable noise-canceling headphone that meets your needs. So, which technologies and features should you be looking for to maximize your sound and tune out the world?
1. Active and Passive Noise Reduction
First, it's important to understand the types of noise reduction techniques. Both Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and Passive Noise Cancellation (PNC) are designed to block out external noise. However, their approach is quite different.
Passive noise-canceling, or noise-isolating, headphones physically filter ambient noise. Around-ear PNC headphones rely on thick, padded earpads to fit snugly in your ears, while in-ear headphones insert into your ears and create a seal around them to reduce background noise.
Active Noise Cancellation, on the other hand, uses an internal microphone to analyze the structure of incoming sound. A tiny speaker then emits the same tone but inverts it to effectively cancel out the incoming noise. This is made possible by the instantaneous processing speed of digital signal processing (DSP).
If you prioritize high-quality sound and noise isolation in loud environments, use ANC headphones. However, if you're on a budget, prefer a more natural sound, and primarily need noise isolation in a quieter environment, then PNC headphones are what you need.
2. Choose the Right Form Factor
Headphones come in many styles, affecting sound quality, comfort, and even active noise cancellation. The form factor you choose depends entirely on your individual needs.
In-ear headphones or earbuds are usually lighter, smaller, and more portable than full-size headphones. They come in a variety of wired and wireless styles. Unlike circumaural headphones, earbuds provide passive assistance to active noise-canceling technology because they act like a seal for your ears.
Over-ear headphones and ear pads are known for their sound isolation, excellent bass response, and sound quality delivered by large drivers. Plus, they often have generous padding and better battery life than smaller alternatives. However, they take up more space than a pair of earbuds.
In-ear headphones are a hybrid of the two above and don't completely cover each ear. On-ear headphones don't sound as good as other headphones due to their loose fit, and they often don't have active noise cancellation. Avoid these if noise cancellation is your top priority.
3. Sound Quality
When it comes to headphones, it's obviously important to evaluate sound quality. To enjoy a wide range of media, you'd better test the headphones yourself. However, if this is not the case, you can always refer to online reviews. A good understanding of the sound characteristics of headphones can also help.
Try listening to a mix of genres and high and low-frequency sounds to spot potential flaws. It is recommended to test the earphones with songs that you often listen to because they are more familiar. You can give our headphone test playlist a try! Also, test the volume and watch for rattling or humming that might indicate a problem.
4. Comfort Fit
Headphones have to be as comfortable as possible because you'll be wearing them in or on your ears for hours on end. The right headset is important because ANC headphones have been known to cause ear pain. After prolonged use, some earphones can feel loose or too tight and heavy. If possible, try the headphones on in a store to see how you like them.
Wearing loose earphones can cause sound to leak and disturb others around you. If you're considering in-ear headphones, you need a good seal to ensure they stay in place and don't fall out. This also helps with passive noise cancellation, and you'll find that you don't always need to crank the headphone volume to the max.
Most over-ear headphones have adjustable headbands and swivel earcups, while some brands offer special sizes for men, women, and kids. Unfortunately, some headphones behave differently after being damaged, so it might be helpful to read other people's reviews.
5. Battery Life and Charging
You should consider how much time you use your headphones each day, as you will have to keep charging them. Battery life on rechargeable wireless headphones has come a long way, with premium models getting more than a day of playback on a full charge. Also, over-ear headphones tend to have better battery life due to their larger size.
If the earbuds use a charging case, you'll have to put them back in the case every few hours. Some cases support fast charging, giving you hours of playtime in minutes. However, both the charging case and earphones should have decent battery life to last a long time.
Keep in mind that active noise cancellation, high volume, and other advanced features use a lot of battery power and can drastically reduce battery life.
6. Features and Design
Besides the obvious factors like comfort and sound quality, there are some advanced features that you need to pay attention to. For example, some headphones include different noise-canceling modes that allow you to fine-tune your listening experience. Transparency mode is another common feature that lets you temporarily hear your surroundings.
Most noise-canceling headphones also feature voice integration with Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa for hands-free control on the go. Newer models feature high-quality microphones for enhanced voice assistant integration, active noise cancellation, and calling capabilities, even in noisy environments.
Depending on the model, the headset may also include touch controls and accessibility options. This allows you to switch between ANC modes, skip songs or answer calls without accessing your smartphone.
7. Price and Value
Your price range is the last factor to keep in mind, as noise-canceling headphones can be a little more expensive than standard headphones, depending on the features you're looking for. After all, if you care about advanced noise cancellation and audio quality, they come at a price.
Depending on your budget, determine which headphone features are critical to your use case before you start your search. This will help you narrow down the available options to those that meet all your requirements. Depending on your budget, you can also browse used or refurbished options. However, check its warranty and condition thoroughly.
Stay away from the hustle and bustle with noise-canceling headphones
Noise-canceling headphones are great, but you need to know exactly what you want. Some may prefer the convenience of earbuds, while others may prefer the performance of over-ear headphones.
ANC headphones usually cost a lot more than standard models, but that doesn't mean you have to break the bank or compromise on sound quality. Before you decide which type of headphones is best for you, find out how noise-canceling technology can improve your life.
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