The Science of Silence: How Noise Cancellation Works

March 15, 2014 6:34 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

If you’ve ever gone shopping for high end sound systems in Chicago, you’ve probably come across a few devices that feature noise cancellation, but have you ever wondered what that means, or how it works?

We’ve all had the fantasy of being able to push the mute button on life for a few minutes. We are constantly bombarded with sounds in our day-to-day lives, and ambient noises can have a greater effect on you than you may think. Constant bombardment from ambient noise sources can increase stress levels, contribute to feelings of dread, hopelessness or depression. It seems like we’re all dying to take a break from the continuous stream of noise that creates a soundtrack for our lives. If that sounds a little over the top, take this opportunity to really listen to the sounds that are present around you as you read this. You can probably hear the whirr of your computer, the high frequency hiss of fluorescent lighting or the monotonous dull whooshing sound of your building’s ventilation system.

Noise cancellation devices can cancel out these sounds, allowing you to hear your music clearly, without being distracted by ambient noises.

Passive and active noise cancellation

There are two basic types of noise cancellation: passive and active. Passive sound cancellation uses baffling to absorb sounds before they reach your ears. This is a common technology in headphones. It is basically like putting on a pair of headphones, then tying a pillow around your head.

Active noise cancellation is a little more futuristic than passive cancellation. Active cancellation can effectively “listen” to the noises in your environment, and then generate the exact inverse of those sound waves. When the outside noises interact with these inverse waves, the two cancel each other out, resulting in silence. Active cancellation works well for environments in which there is a constant, steady source of noise pollution. It is somewhat less effective against random, noisy environments, like parades. In order to give you the best of both worlds, many headphone companies are combining the two types of noise cancellation.


There are some drawbacks, however. Listeners sometimes complain that active cancellation systems can have difficulty distinguishing between sounds that are produced by a song, and the environmental sounds they are meant to eliminate. This can result in the system cancelling certain desirable frequencies in your music, making it sound dull or muffled. However, as the technology becomes more and more advanced, it is getting a lot better at distinguishing between music and ambient noise.

As it stands right now, noise cancellation is an exciting technology that you can find in some high end sound systems in Chicago. As this technology is further developed, we may be able to look forward to a future in which we can eliminate all environmental noises with the push of a button. Think of how relaxing, and how amazing it would be to have the power of silence at your fingertips. When such technology does become available, you can be certain to find it at Quintessence Audio Ltd.

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