What Are ANC Headphones? (Active Noise Cancelling)

What are ANC headphones (1)

If you're a regular headphone user, then you've probably wondered about ANC, or active noise cancellation, headphones at one point or another. These cancelling headphones have the ability to block out any noise nearby so that nothing filters through to what you're listening to. This feature has become increasingly popular, and it's really not surprising that headphone users are turning to this option more than ever.

In this article, we will be going over exactly what ANC headphones are, how they work, who they benefit, and the different types of ANC headphones that you should be aware of before purchasing a set for yourself. If you want to understand the technology behind the high-quality noise cancellation ability of these headphones, then keep reading to learn more.

What Are ANC Headphones?

ANC stands for "active noise cancellation." While some headphones with noise cancelling abilities can isolate or block out external active or passive noise with padding or special headphone cups, ANC headphones actually use a special feature to actively cancel out the noise completely once powered on.

This ability makes them a highly sought-after headphone option, but it's important to understand their technology and the different types of ANC out there before settling on a pair for yourself.

Related Content:

How Do ANC Headphones Work?

When powered on, ANC headphones generate a subtle ambient noise that is meant to reflect similar ambient noise that would typically be coming through the headphones from outside, cancelling it out completely. They use small microphones, either inside or outside of the ear cup, to process incoming noise and respond to it accordingly.

To understand this technology better, you should know that there are a few different ways that active noise cancellation can actually be achieved. Where the microphone is placed on the ear cup plays a huge role in how to headphone operates and how effective it is at different frequencies. Below, we've listed the different types of ANC headphones and the pros and cons of each form of active noise cancellation.

Feedforward ANC Headphones

Feedforward ANC headphones feature a small microphone that is installed on the outside of the headphone cup. As external noise travels towards the headphone wearer, it reaches this microphone before it reaches the ear canal itself. This gives the microphone time to cancel out the ambient noise before the headphone user ever hears it.

Once the noise reaches the external microphone, the ANC headphones process it and create an "anti-noise" to mirror it and cancel it out. All of this should happen rapidly and without the listener ever hearing the incoming noise or the headphone-generated noise.

The downside to this process is that an external microphone doesn't allow the headphones to ever hear their own generated anti-noise, making self-correction impossible.


  • The exterior microphone notices noise before the listener does
  • Great at reducing and blocking high frequency noises
  • Anti-noise is generated immediately


  • Less effective at picking up and reducing lower frequency noises
  • No ability to self-correct

Feedback ANC Headphones

Feedback ANC headphones work similarly to Feedforward ANC headphones, featuring a microphone that processes incoming external noise so that the headphones can generate their own anti-noise in response. The main difference here, however, is that the feedback version of ANC headphones have their microphone inside the ear cup, rather than outside.

The benefit to the microphone being right in front of the internal speaker is that it actually gets to hear the generated anti-noise. This means that if there was any weird feedback or issues, the headphones are able to self-correct.


  • The ability to self-correct the generated anti-noise
  • Works at filtering out a wider range of incoming frequencies


  • May not have as much time to respond to incoming noise as feedforward headphones
  • Not as effective at filtering out higher frequencies

Hybrid ANC Headphones

Hybrid ANC headphones feature microphones both inside and outside of the headphone cup, making them both feedforward and feedback in nature. These are probably the most effective type of ANC headphones you can get, because all of the disadvantages of both previously mentioned types are accounted for in the design.


  • All of the advantages of feedback and feedforward headphones with none of the disadvantages
  • Effective at an extremely wide range of frequencies, both high and low
  • The ability to self-correct
  • Double the chance of picking up on and processing external active noise


  • The most expensive of all three noise cancellation headphone types

Who Can ANC Headphones Benefit?

Noise cancellation is a great feature that we all wish we had in our headphones, but who can headphones with actual ANC technology benefit the most?

If you're someone who doesn't wear headphones that often or simply uses them in already quiet places, then noise cancelling headphones may not be worth the investment.

Active noise cancelling headphones greatly benefit people who wear their headphones in loud, busy environments and people who take the sound quality of whatever they're listening to seriously. These headphones work great when trying to block out the noises on public transportation, on busy streets, at the gym, and any crowded space where all you want to hear is your own music or other audio.

There's no doubt that the ability to block out active noise during headphone use is a great feature we all want while listening to music or other audio. We hope that this article helped you better understand ANC, or active noise cancelling, headphones and the technology that they use. Understanding the different types of ANC headphones can help you better decide what type would be best for you and what set you are willing to invest in.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.