Noise-canceling headphones guide

Music sounds a lot better when it doesn't have to compete with other sounds


David Brown

David Brown is a member of Crutchfield's Home A/V writing team. He studied writing and politics at Ithaca College in upstate New York, where he grew up. He spent 12 years in Washington, D.C., where he earned a Masters degree in journalism and wrote an award-winning humor column. David relocated to Charlottesville, VA, in 2012. He enjoys listening to music, playing the guitar and piano, and hiking with his wife and children.

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If you want to get away from distractions and focus on your music, try a pair of noise-canceling headphones. While any closed-back headphones help keep some ambient sound out of your ears, noise-canceling headphones are considerably more effective at putting the outside world on “mute.”

How noise-canceling headphones work

Travel and office companion

If you’re a frequent traveler or commuter, noise-canceling headphones are great for minimizing the loud hum of an airplane engine or the rumble of a subway car. They’re also effective in busy offices, so you can block out noise to concentrate on your work.

Noise-canceling headphones

Protect your hearing

If you’ve ever listened to headphones in a noisy environment such as an airplane cabin, you may not realize how loudly you’re turning up the volume just to hear your music. By actively blocking out ambient sound, noise-canceling headphones allow you to better hear your music at normal volume, thus protecting your ears from potentially damaging volume levels.

Battery powered

Because of their sophisticated circuitry, noise-canceling headphones require battery power. Some use replaceable “AA” or “AAA” batteries, so it’s easy to keep spares with you. Others have a built-in rechargeable battery and come with a USB charging cable or AC adapter so you can recharge with a computer or wall outlet.

Power switch for noise-canceling headphones

A button or switch activates battery-powered internal circuitry to counteract external noise.

What happens if your battery dies?

If you find yourself stuck with a dead battery, you won’t be able to activate noise cancellation. However, some noise-canceling headphones offer passive listening. This means that even though the battery is dead, you can still listen to your music without noise cancellation. This is a valuable feature for travelers who may forget to bring an extra battery or a commuter who can’t recharge while on the subway.

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