There are many scenarios in which the outside noise can interfere with music listening experience, even when headphones are being used. One doesn’t have to leave home in order to experience the damaging effects of the surrounding noises to a music listening session, as there is plenty of sound that can come from the outside and seep behind the headphones. But the rise of mobile music devices and application has put an emphasis on the importance of developing solutions that will allow people to enjoy quality sound even in a noisy environment. The two usually implemented solutions that are seen in headphones are noise isolation and noise cancelling.
The technology behind noise isolation is fairly simple – the headphones themselves are used to block some of the surrounding sound from getting through. This happens both with on-ear headphones and in-ear headphones, or earphones. However, because the in-ear headphones are more efficient in creating a tight seal that prevents the ambient sounds from getting into the ear canal, they perform considerably better than on-ear headphones. This technology uses a passive approach to reducing the perceived levels of ambient noise.
Noise cancelling, on the other hands, takes an active approach to stopping ambient noise from seeping behind them. Each pair of noise cancelling headphones is equipped with a microphone which captures the ambient sounds. They then used sound processing to create inverse sound waves to those of the ambient sounds, and they feed that sound into ear along with the sound they are actually reproducing, thus cancelling out the ambient sound.
Each technology has its pros and cons. The quality of noise isolations depends on the seal made by the earphones, and since every ear is different, it might be hard to find a pair of headphones that produce really good results. However, manufacturers like Schultz include interchangeable earphone tips of different sizes, allowing for customers with different sized ear canals to choose the tip that makes the best seal for them. Another problem with earphones is that some people might simply find them too uncomfortable to wear.
Noise cancelling has even more flaws. First of all, good noise cancelling headphones can be a bit pricey, and they on average cost more than their noise isolating counterparts. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to find reasonably priced noise cancelling headphones, it’s just that it requires a bit of research to determine the quality-price ratio. Another problem is that noise cancelling headphones are battery powered, so there is a possibility of them running out of juice when they are most needed. The biggest problem with them, however, is the amount and type of noise they actually cancel. The very good ones will make the user feel like being in an actually quieter place, but they work best with cancelling low sounds that tend to drone like car or airplane engines. Bursts of sound might be a problem for them, as could midrange and high frequency noise. So they aren’t the best at cancelling sounds like human voice, although their overall impression might compensate for the shortcomings.