What’s the difference between Passive and Active noise cancellation?

One crucial difference but with a big impact

What’s the difference between Passive and Active noise cancellation?

We all tend to use a pair of earphones/headphones when travelling, and want to drown out the noise of traffic and people around us with music. But even if you don’t play a song or listen to something, these audio products tend to cancel out some degree of ambient noise. Some might use passive noise cancellation to drown out the noise, while others use active noise cancellation. So, what do these terms mean, and how are they different? Read on to find out.

Differences between passive and active noise cancellation

1) Technology: Passive noise cancellation or simply PNC works based on the design of the earphones and headphone. The cushioning of the ear pads creates a seal to drown out the ambient noises. In the case of ANC, a combination of microphone, speakers, and dedicated processing work together for a more sophisticated level of noise cancellation.

2) Sound quality: This is purely subjective, and despite the different ways in cutting the noise, the difference in sound quality is minute at best.

3) Power Consumption: Headphones with PNC are more power efficient as they don’t need to actively process things and consume battery for any tasks other than playing audio. Headphones with ANC require more power as they actively create anti-phase to cancel out ambient noises. This also impacts the battery backup in one charge.

4) Effectiveness of noise cancellation : Headphones with ANC have better noise cancellation. Having the tech onboard to dedicatedly cancel noise is better than a design-based noise cancellation.

5) Affordability: Due to the sophisticated components used in headphones with ANC, they are relatively more expensive than normal wireless earbuds or headphones. PNC wearables, on the other hand, are available at almost every price point.

6) Portability: Headphones and earphones with passive noise cancellation don’t have to incorporate small mechanisms, and thus are more portable and lightweight. At the same time, there isn’t a huge difference in weight and size but small things over a long time can create huge differences.


The choice of headphones or earphones, apart from the budget, depends largely upon your needs, preferences, and what you want out of the headphone themselves. People who frequently travel or are exposed consistently to a high level of noise in their surroundings should go for ANC. Apart from this, if you only listen to them at home then there is comparatively less need for ANC for you.

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