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What is active noise cancellation? ANC headphones explained

Many of today’s best headphones don’t just pipe sweet sounds into your ears. They can also listen for and quieten — and even completely silence — outside noises that could disturb your listening pleasure.

But what is active noise cancellation (ANC), and how does it work? In this guide we’ll explain how noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds reduce the volume of ambient sounds, examine whether you should pay more for the technology and take a look at which models are the best at active noise cancellation.

What is active noise cancellation?

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Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a combination of hardware and firmware that makes outside noises sound quieter when you’re listening to a pair of headphones. Unlike passive noise isolation, which simply muffles those sounds by forming a seal with headphone ear cups or in-ear tips, ANC listens out for these sounds then uses some clever audio trickery to “cancel” them out.

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