Why Noise Cancelling Headphones Don’t Block Voices & What You Can Do About It?

Every time we hear about a new type of device coming into the market, much speculation about its advantages and disadvantages begins to circulate everywhere. An excellent example is noise-canceling headphones, which still have a lot of questions being asked about them. One such question is this: Do noise-canceling headphones protect hearing?

To put it simply, yes, they do, but not always. If you are one of those people who have always thought about this, keep reading this article to understand this in greater detail.

The Importance of Hearing Protection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted research in 2011–12 to examine how long-term exposure to noise affects Americans. The research revealed that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) resulted in permanent impairment in 12.5% of children aged 6 to 19 and 17% of people aged 20 to 69. NIHL refers to hearing losses brought on by daily exposure to high-pitched noises.

The world is becoming quite loud thanks to technology. Long-term exposure to various sounds—from jet engines to automobiles to factory machinery—can, therefore, result in hearing loss. It only makes sense that one would want to protect themselves; for this, there is nothing better than hearing protection.

What Are Noise-Cancelation Headphones?

There are two types of noise-canceling headphones: passive and active.

If you are more interested to know about CVC noise canceling, read our article below:

CVC noise canceling

Passive Noise Canceling Headphones

The term “passive noise canceling” refers to headphones that block sound without the usage of an external power source, such as a battery. They just rely on the components that make them up, such as heavy padding. These headphones are like ear muffs that can also be connected to your media player. While it is true that regular headphones perform some noise cancellation, they are not considered real noise-canceling headphones.

Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Headphones with active noise cancellation produce sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase with background noise. In other words, if you’re near a construction site, the headphones’ sound waves will be 180 degrees out of phase with the waves coming from the machinery. 

Active Noise Canceling vs. Passive Noise Canceling

Before we begin, if you are here to find out why your noise-canceling headphones don’t block voices, click here.

So which one is better out of the two? Well, the answer may not be that simple. There are a lot of factors you will need to consider. First of all, it depends on the scenario you are in. When it comes to passive noise canceling headphones, they will be effective and offer some level of protection regardless of the situation. However, with active noise-canceling headphones, you can expect them to be more effective in certain situations than others. Let’s get down to explaining this difference.

Passive noise cancellation is like you are soundproofing your ear from the surroundings, using materials to block sound physically. This is often why these headphones tend to be heavier and might be uncomfortable if used for extended periods. Regardless of this drawback, these headphones tend to be useful during sudden disturbances like gunshots and fireworks.

So, do active noise-canceling headphones protect hearing? Well, active noise-canceling headphones work differently. Before they may truly start to work, they need time to “settle in” to the surrounding sounds. They will first measure the sound waves of outside noises and make sound waves that are 180 degrees out of phase.

Therefore, these headphones become really useful when flying in an airplane with persistent engine sounds. Active noise canceling headphones, however, are completely ineffective for sudden noises like gunshots and fireworks since they take some time to start working.

So, Do Noise-Canceling Headphones Provide Hearing Protection?

Again, this depends greatly on the type of noise-canceling headphones you are using. Passive noise-canceling headphones are effective for all-around hearing protection in a variety of settings. They are good at blocking out mid- and high-frequency sound waves but less successful at blocking out low-frequency ones.

On the other hand, active noise canceling headphones only work for consistent noises, that too when the battery life is enough to generate the sound pressure necessary to block out ambient noise. They work well for low frequencies like noise from motors, generators, appliances, etc. but are useless at high-pitch sounds and sudden noises.

Active noise-canceling headphones are excellent for low-volume music listening. Now, normally, if you were listening to music using normal headphones, you would have to crank up the volume to be able to hear it. However, the key advantage of this technology is that because of the noise canceling, you can listen to music at much lower volumes. This is very important for hearing protection.

If you want to know more about using noise-canceling headphones without music, read our article below:

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work Without Music?

Does The Sound Quality Of Active Noise-Canceling Headphones Suffer?

Theoretically, they do, and many users have noted a decline in quality. If you do not want to face this issue, headphones with passive noise cancellation are a better option than active ones.

As mentioned earlier, active noise-canceling headphones produce sound waves to filter out outside noises. This technology needs a high degree of precision and battery capacity to function correctly. However, active noise-canceling headphones are made to work with less-than-optimal battery life, which compromises sound quality.

In order to do active noise cancellation, the sound waves must first be transformed into digital form so that compensation may be made, and then they must be transformed back into analog for the listener. This, too, can lead to the deterioration of sound quality.


Do noise-canceling headphones protect hearing? We hope you now have your answer.

If you experience loud noises in your surroundings, investing in noise-canceling headphones is not a terrible idea. More or less, they do contribute to hearing loss prevention. However, if your main goal is to just protect your ears from noise pollution, you might as well go for the less expensive earmuffs. Make sure you choose whatever you are going to buy after carefully analyzing what you need these headphones for and the type of noise you will want to cancel.

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Paul Goral

I am the founder of North Creek Music and I have a master’s degree in Engineering Acoustics. Sound is my passion. I wanted to start this blog and share my passion with others.

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