What’s the difference between Active Noise Cancelling earbuds and Passive Noise Reduction earbuds?

When making a purchase and comparing products, it’s easy to get confused by technical terms so you don’t always know what you’re choosing between. Marketing slogans often encourage you to make an emotional decision instead of an educated decision. There are lots of fun examples we can analyze (my wife wrote an eye opening article about the “A Diamond is Forever” slogan), but for now let’s stick with the difference between Active Noise Cancelling earbuds and Passive Noise Reduction earbuds, which can also be called Noise Isolating earbuds.

First, what is Active Noise Cancellation?

It’s a real technological breakthrough, and it has become very effective in recent years. From a physics standpoint, the concept is simple—opposite soundwaves will cancel each other out leaving you with nothing but silence. Physicists would call it a frequency that’s 180 degrees out of phase, but the idea is the same. Active Noise Cancellation seeks to implement that principle, so that your headphones or earbuds monitor the ambient background noise and literally produce counter-noise so you don’t hear anything! It’s weird, but it does work when implanted properly. There is a catch, though.

It’s a lot easier to monitor, and therefore negate, continuous ambient noise because it’s predictable. Sharp frequency spikes are too sudden for Active Noise Cancellation to account for, process, and cancel out with the counter noise. Also, in quiet environments where there isn’t much ambient noise to get rid of, Active Noise Cancellation will still attempt to monitor and negate noise that we don’t even notice. The result is a low, steady white noise instead of silence.

There’s more to say about methodology for implementing the technology, but I’m no scientist, nor is this an academic paper, so let’s move on.


More on ANC Earbuds

What is Passive Noise Reduction?

It just means that your earbuds or headphones are physically blocking out noise from entering your ear. It’s not untrue, but it doesn’t mean anything you don’t intuitively know. It’s like marketing Noise Reducing Earmuffs.

Hmm… not a bad idea, make that DAK’s Noise Reducing Earmuffs™ (all rights reserved). 🙂


So is that it? Passive Noise Isolation is a load of crock?

Not at all. Especially now that you know the difference. And remember, there are times when you might even prefer regular Noise Isolating earbuds over Active Noise Cancelling earbuds. It really depends on your need. And how loud your partner snores.

Remember, when it comes to marketing, the secret is learning how to read between the lines. What is the description telling you, and more importantly, what is it not telling you? It’s easy to see once you know what to look for.

And now, please excuse my shameless self-promotion.

Surprise, surprise. Here at DAK, we sell both Active Noise Cancelling Earbuds AND Passive Noise Isolating Earbuds. I think you’ll love them as much as I do, and tons of other DAKonians like you agree with me on this one. For your convenience, I’ve included a comparison chart below so you can decide which one better suits your needs.

BSR Earbuds

More clarity and depth than the average earbuds could ever give you.

They may be inexpensive, but they’re not cheap. The secret behind the BSR’s superior sound is in the comfortable, secure fit. They won’t fall out, they’re comfortable to wear and they create a seal in your ear canal so that the bass doesn’t leak out of your ears.



Active Noise Cancelling Earbuds

Like Hitting ‘Mute’ on a Jet Engine.

DAK’s Super 36dB Active Noise Canceling Earbuds use a total of four built in microphones to convert external noise into silence. Find out for yourself why these might just be the best darn earbuds you’ve ever owned, for a fraction (about 1/3) of the price the “premium” brands are charging. Of course, you’re guaranteed to love them.



And if you made it this far down the page, you might be like me and enjoy learning about the ins and outs of audio and tech related topics.