Active vs. Passive Noise Cancellation: Which Is Better?

Last Updated: December 16, 2021By

Black Sony WH1000XM3 on Macbook

The world is full of noise. Whether it’s the sound of your coworkers talking, an airplane engine roaring overhead, or a car horn blaring nearby, everything has some kind of impact on our daily lives.

There are two types of noise cancellation that can help with this: active and passive noise cancellation models.

In this article, we’ll go over what each type can do and how they compare so you have a better idea as to which one will be best suited for your needs!

What Is Active Noise Cancellation?

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a type of noise filtering technology that uses miniature microphones to sense the ambient noise surrounding the user.

It then produces its own sound waves, which are inverted in phase and played through the headphones. This creates a “negative” sound wave that cancels out the original ambient noise.

Active noise cancellation is a more advanced type of sound-canceling technology because it requires the use of microphones and batteries.

While this means that active noise-cancellation headphones are heavier than average pairs, they also have lesser quality sound with distortion compared to passive ones.

What Is Passive Noise Cancellation?

Passive noise cancellation is a type of soundproofing that blocks out outside noises by creating barriers between the listener and the source of the noise. The most common materials used for passive noise cancellation are foam pads or earmuffs to create a seal around the speaker, blocking outside sounds from entering.

Passive noise cancellation headphones can be beneficial because they don’t require any power-they simply rely on blocking outside noises with barriers of foam, earmuffs, or the ear cups of the headphones themselves.

However, because passive noise cancellation only blocks sound, it can be less effective than active noise cancellation at canceling out ambient noise.

Which One of These Will Have a Better Sound Quality?

Sideview of black Sony WH1000XM3 on Macbook

Passive noise cancellation headphones are typically seen as the inferior option because they don’t cancel out ambient noise as well as active noise cancellation headphones.

Active noise cancellation headphones work by using microphones to detect ambient noise and then using that information to produce inverse sound waves. These sound waves work to counteract the ambient noise, ultimately canceling it out.

This means that active noise cancellation headphones can create distortion to your music. While this may not be a problem for some, it can be bothersome for others.

What’s the Difference in Price?

Passive noise cancellation headphones are typically much cheaper than their active noise cancellation counterparts. This is because active noise cancellation requires additional components like microphones and batteries that are not found in passive headphones.

Which Is Better for Travel?

Active noise cancellation headphones provide the most effective way to cancel ambient noise. This makes them superior when traveling, especially when you can’t be bothered by loud external noises like announcements or crying babies on planes.

Active noise cancellation headphones are the best way to cut out all that unwanted noise in your travels. Sony WH1000XM4 will last up to 30 hours and comes with a noise-canceling microphone.

Passive noise cancellation use materials like foam pads or earmuffs to block outside sounds from your ears. The problem with this kind of noise cancellation is that it can’t completely get rid of all the sound.

Which Is Better for Everyday Use?

When it comes to general everyday use, both active and passive noise cancellation have their pros and cons.

Active noise cancellation headphones are better for people who need to concentrate in a quiet environment. If you’re someone who works from home or needs to stay focused in a cubicle, then it’s best to get a pair of headphones with active noise cancellation.

Passive noise cancellation headphones are better for people who want to listen to music or watch TV without disturbing others.

If you want to be able to listen to your music at a louder volume without disturbing those around you, and you don’t care much about ambient noise, then passive noise cancellation headphones are a good option.

So Active Noise Cancellation Beats Passive?

The answer’s not that simple, and many audiophiles will disagree about which is better, but if we’re talking strictly about canceling out ambient noise, then yes-active noise cancellation does a better job.

Passive noise cancellation is not as effective as active noise cancellation because it just blocks the sound rather than canceling it out. And passive noise cancellation won’t always work on lower frequencies.

Which One Should I Get?

If you want a pair of headphones that can cancel out ambient noise, then the best option would be to go with active noise cancellation. If you simply want a pair of headphones for listening to music or watching TV without drawing any attention from others, then passive noise-canceling headphones are your best bet.


Both active and passive noise cancellation have their own benefits and drawbacks, so it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for in a pair of headphones.

Additionally, there are many different types of noise cancellation headphones on the market, so it’s important to do your research and find the pair that best suits your needs.