Noise Cancelling Headphones: Do They Block Out Voices Completely

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Noise-canceling headphones were once only used by musicians when recording their instruments, but in recent years they’ve become increasingly popular amongst people who want to focus when listening to audio or making calls.

Do noise-canceling headphones block out voices?

The majority of active noise-canceling headphones are most effective at reducing the volume of sounds between 500 Hz and 1kHz. Therefore, they are ineffective at blocking voices that are higher pitched than 1000 Hz.

Voices vary dramatically in terms of their prominent frequencies, reaching as high as 400 Hz in pitch.

Noise-canceling headphones are great at minimizing many sounds, but unfortunately, the technology doesn’t currently do so well with higher-pitched sounds.

Even high-end noise-canceling headphones won’t be capable of removing the sound of people talking, particularly if the voices are relatively high-pitched.

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices?

If you’re hoping to completely block out all of the background noise in your office, home workspace, or any other environment where you need to focus, noise-canceling headphones may seem like a good solution.

Although noise-canceling headphones can certainly be effective at reducing the volume of many sounds, they’re not very effective at blocking out voices.

This is simply because they target a specific frequency band of sounds, which most voices don’t fall into.

Noise-canceling headphones are highly effective at blocking out sounds that fall within the frequency band of 500 Hz and 1 kHz. This means that they can block out the constant hum of traffic from outside your office space, or the sound of a dog barking in the street outside.

A person’s voice can sit anywhere between 500 Hz to 4 kHz, and therefore only a small percentage will be successfully reduced by noise-canceling headphones. The majority of voices will be higher than 1 kHz, and will consequently be audible even when the headphones are being worn.

Active noise canceling is an innovative feature that certainly improves headphones or earbuds in terms of blocking out background noise. This can help you to focus on the audio being played in the headphones without being external sounds.

Despite the undeniable benefits of active noise cancellation, the technology lacks effectiveness when it comes to reducing the volume of people’s voices, which can be frustrating if you’re trying to focus in a busy environment.

Which Headphones Cancel Out Talking

Although headphones with active noise cancellation are not going to block out all of the nearby voices, some are still more effective at this than others. The headphones that have the best passive noise cancellation are better at blocking out voices than high-end, active noise-canceling headphones.

These headphones are often called “noise-isolating headphones”, and they work by muffling background noise. Beyerdynamic produces some great noise isolating headphones, like the affordable DT 770 Pro 80 ohm set. Offering up to 35 dBA reduction, these headphones will significantly reduce the volume of nearby voices.

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones also provide excellent passive noise canceling, allowing you to hear the sounds being played through the headphones with clarity. These headphones reduce background noise by up to 30 dBA and are extremely comfortable.

With the HD 280 PRO, Senhesser proves that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to block external sounds like voices using passive noise cancelation. These over-ear headphones offer up to 32 dB of noise reduction, making them a great choice for ear protection too.

If you’d rather use in-ear headphones than over-ear ones, the Etymotic Research ER4XR will significantly reduce the volume of all background noises, including people talking. These headphones are designed for ultimate accuracy and are therefore a popular choice amongst audiophiles.

Offering up to 42 dB of noise reduction, the ER4XR in-ear headphones are a more practical solution for blocking out voices than many over-ear headphones. They can be easily stored away for transport, and feature detachable cables to minimize the risk of damage.

Here’s a summary of the headphones we’ve recommended for blocking out voices:

Headphones/EarbudsMaximum Noise ReductionStyle
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 ohm35 dBAOver-ear headphones
Sony WH-1000XM430 dBAOver-ear headphones
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO32 dBAOver-ear headphones
Etymotic Research ER4XR42 dBAIn-ear headphones
Comparison table for noise cancelling headphones

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out All Noise?

Noise-canceling headphones are effective at reducing the volume of certain background noises, but it is a common misconception that these devices can block out all noise. Even the most effective ear defenders will still allow a small amount of noise to be heard, so headphones also certainly will.

Active noise canceling has revolutionized the way that headphones block out background sounds. This innovative technology works by utilizing what is known as phase cancellation, where two identical sound waves are combined, causing them to be canceled out.

In other scenarios, such as audio recording, phase cancellation is usually avoided at all costs. However, when it comes to active noise canceling, manufacturers use it to reduce the volume of background noises. Almost all modern ANC headphones use this method to block out noise.

Although ANC is an effective tool for reducing the volume of background noise, it is most effective on lower sound frequencies, specifically those between 50 Hz and 1 kHz. The main reason for this is that low-end frequencies have longer sound waveforms, which means they can line up for phase cancellation more easily.

Higher frequencies have shorter waveforms, which makes them more difficult to line up exactly so that phase cancellation can cause them to be blocked out. This explains why headphones with active noise cancellation are much less effective at reducing the volume of high-pitched sounds, such as people’s voices.

There is a noticeable dip in the effectiveness of noise-canceling headphones at around the 1 kHz mark. Therefore, you’ll notice that they are great at reducing the volume of certain lower sounds, such as engines, but less effective at blocking out the sound of birds singing or people laughing nearby.

ANC has come a long way in the relatively short time that it has been around, so the signs would suggest that this technology will be improved until it is equally effective at reducing higher-pitched sounds as it currently is at blocking out lower-pitched sounds.

However, we’re probably still several years away from a set of headphones that will be able to block out all background noises.

Check out this YouTube Video for more information on noise-cancelling headphones.

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Microphones?

It’s become more common for people to use their headphones or earbuds when making voice or video calls. This can make it easier to hear the person on the other end of the call and allows you to keep your hands free rather than having to hold the phone to your ear.

If your headphones have noise-canceling capabilities, you may be concerned that this feature could block out the sound of your microphone and interfere with your calls. Thankfully, this won’t happen.

When you make a call, the noise-canceling will not be applied to the sound of your voice as you talk into your device’s microphone. The ANC may even be deactivated during a call, to ensure that there is no interference with the way you can hear your voice and the voice of the person you’re talking to.

Noise-canceling headphones do use a microphone to detect the external noise that they then attempt to block out, but this process will not be used when you are making a call.

The microphone capsule on headphones, earbuds, or your mobile device is designed to pick up sound from directly in front, and reject it from other directions. This prevents noise from spilling into the capsule which could make it more difficult for the other person to hear you.

Related Questions

Can you sleep with noise-canceling headphones on?

It is generally not advisable to sleep with a set of noise-canceling headphones on, as they are commonly quite large and designed to be worn over your ears. This could make you uncomfortable while sleeping and may result in you feeling tired the next day.

Does noise-canceling drain the battery?

Active noise-canceling headphones will use more power than standard headphones. This is because the feature will be constantly drawing power from the battery to ensure that external noises are being minimized.

Can noise-canceling cause tinnitus?

There is no evidence that noise-canceling causes tinnitus, but some people may experience their existing tinnitus more noticeably due to the reduction of other noises that may have masked the condition.

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