Noise cancellation [sometimes referred to as active noise control or active noise reduction] is a concept that’s only become accessible in the past 20 years, now becoming a part of everyday life.

Whether you’re looking to improve your productivity and focus better on tasks or protect the privacy of your private home space, noise cancellation provides the means for anyone to change the way they communicate. Online or not.

But before we get into common use cases…

What is noise cancellation? 

Noise cancellation is a technique for reducing or completely removing unwanted sound surrounding us or those that could otherwise be heard in the background of an important meeting. 

Noise cancellation is based on different types of technologies, each catering to different needs. So whether you need to reduce noise in a crowded place or want to completely remove background sounds or voices from a recording, there’s one digital tool or gadget to help you reach that goal.

Other common terms used in relation to noise cancellation include noise masking and noise blocking. However, these refer to covering up disturbing sounds or lowering their amplitude over time as opposed to removing arbitrary sounds in the control of noise process. There’s many broad types and benefits of noise blocking. Some use ambient noise and silencing features as a form of controllable noise to eliminate fatigue over time and decrease our exposure to noise as loud as aircraft engine noise.

To see how noise cancellation works, let’s see what noise cancellation types are available: 

Types of noise cancellation

Passive noise cancellation

Passive noise cancellation is done using noise-isolating materials like insulation, sound-absorbing tiles, or simple mufflers you can use alongside other recording hardware. This type of noise control works best with higher frequencies or when you need a quick fix. Headphone or earphone ear cups that seal out noise are some of the most common types of passive noise cancellation you’ll encounter.

For recordings, we’d recommend using passive noise reduction together with some of the methods below for improved audio quality.

Active noise cancellation

This type of noise control always makes use of a power source, making it impossible to use if you don’t have access to electricity. Active noise cancelling works well for handling lower frequencies.

It’s one of the most widely encountered types of noise cancellation and requires a mix of speakers and mics to reduce surrounding noises. This is the most known type of similar digital signal processing and has primarily been used in over-ear headphones. AirPods, for instance, have an Active Noise Cancellation mode. This relies on an outward-facing mic that analyzes and detects noise coming from the outside and an inward-facing mic that listens for and cancels noises that escape from the external mic.

Adaptive noise cancellation 

This is the most advanced type of noise cancellation, adjusting what you hear based on your surroundings. Adaptive noise cancellation detects the level of noise in your environment so you can stay safe in places [e.g. traffic] where you only need the noise to be lowered so you can stay aware of your surroundings.

Adjustable noise cancellation 

Most solutions allow you to customize exactly how much background noise you hear in different situations. This type of technology is the perfect choice for people who want to be in total control of external sound and manage frequency noises. Kind of like setting up your own digital algorithms for sound reduction.

If you’re unsure which type you should go for, check out our complete guide to picking among these options.

Early noise cancellation: A short history of noise cancelling headphones

These types of noise cancellation haven’t been around for that long though as we only got access to noise cancellation recently.

Real noise-cancelling headsets were invented in 1979 by Dr. Amar Bose to help pilots focus during flights. Prior to this, headphones were used by telephone operators as early as the 1880s, going through various growth levels, including electrophone tests and the first audio headphones in 1910, invented by Nathaniel Baldwin. 

The first pair of stereo headphones were invented in 1958 by John C. Koss, marking the first turning point in the history of headphones. Fast forward to 1979, Sony’s Walkman is worth a mention thanks to its widespread popularity. At this point though, noise cancelling was still a distant dream.

It was merely in 2000 that true noise cancelling became commercially available with the Bose Quiet Comfort set as we saw the increased ability of headphones.

Today, battery efficient commercial headphones or earsets are the only technology that can help you work from a quiet environment when your neighbors are throwing a party or there’s construction work going on nearby [see all the reasons why people are using noise cancellation]. Advanced headphones like the Hoomband Headband or Watotgafer Sleep Headphones are being designed for use during sleep as well, cancelling surrounding noises or making use of ambient sounds and audio wavelengths to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

The emergence of noise cancellation software

But noise cancelling headphones don’t fix all of your problems. While you won’t hear your dog barking or electronic devices making buzzing sounds, others will.

That’s where new systems come in to end the noise problem.

Noise cancellation apps improve the quality of your audio during video and audio calls either in real-time or post-production. So active speakers can get a steady sound wave during conference calls, without bursts of sound or constant noises disturbing them.

This type of software is commonly paired with virtual communication apps like VoIP platforms to suppress surrounding noises like heavy traffic or even people speaking loudly in the background. Besides the most common video or audio conferencing software use cases, these tools are also used for live streaming and recordings.

Krisp is the pioneer and creator of the noise cancellation software category, filling the gap of no available digital tools.

krisp app

Krisp’s noise cancelling technology:

  • Removes background noises from both incoming and outgoing video calls, audio recordings, and streams.
  • Removes background voices in real-time with ground-breaking AI-powered voice cancellation technology.
  • Works with over 800 other video and audio conferencing software, VoIP, audio recording software, and streaming apps.
  • Supports a variety of hardware, including head/earsets, microphones, and speakers.

In addition to minimizing ambient noise, Krisp comes with complementary features such as echo removal and HD voice management, so you can provide high-quality audio, even when you’re not in a professional studio. Its functionalities extend beyond noise cancellation with extra features for meeting insights, talk time monitoring, and more.

4 common scenarios when you’ll need noise cancellation

Getting rid of unwanted noise has its place in all of our lives, but there are four core use cases where it’s mandatory:

For remote workers and teams

Whether you’re a freelancer, individual contributor, or part of a team, you’ve likely had to deal with unwanted background noise or voices you want to remove or lower. 

Your next interview, one-on-one, standup meeting, or conference just doesn’t need more stress. With noise cancelling apps, you can focus on running these events properly and stop worrying about whether people are hearing you properly.  These solutions give your team the added peace of mind and the added self-confidence so they can run smooth meetings that drive higher levels of engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

Noise cancellation holds its ground for all kinds of teams, from on-site and hybrid ones to remote organizations. You can use it to improve the quality of your calls internally [e.g. with colleagues and collaborators] as well as externally [e.g. when running client demos or partner calls].

For podcasters and content creators

Let’s face it: Whether running a live webinar or recording a podcast, we all worry about how our guests are hearing us and what the final audio quality is like. And who doesn’t want to take advantage of a portable recording studio even when they’re not in one? Particularly, when you’re just getting started with a podcast, you might not want to invest a ton of money right off the bat.

We’ve gone over how you can improve the quality of your podcats in the past several times. But one thing to keep in mind is that modern noise cancellation tools with HD voice features can cut down on production costs, resources, and time.

No need to spend hours editing out background noises or room and acoustic echoes. Just perfectly clear audio right after you’re done recording it. 

For call centers who need the clearest calls

How would you like to decrease your average issue handle time, increase your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), and see a considerable drop in noise complaints?

All this is possible by simply ensuring you’ve got a tool to clear up random sounds running in the background. Better call quality makes for more efficient calls, so your agents can fix customer issues faster and also improve customer satisfaction.

Happier customers are more likely to make future purchases and recommend your product or service. Plus, the more positive the brand interactions and perception are, the higher your chances of scoring an award for top-notch customer experience. After all, healthy business growth is only possible when you enable the customer service experience to become a strong lever for retention.

For basic noise reduction

For day-to-day use, a simple noise cancelling tool can help you protect the privacy of your own space. So whether you’re at work or just need to catch up virtually with some friends, free noise cancelling solutions will do the trick.

Pair software with a good pair of headphones so you can finally focus on your tasks without being distracted by other people or surrounding noises. Don’t forget to opt for a solution that lets you adjust the noise levels you’re willing to accept. This way, you can stay aware of your surroundings and use noise cancellation without worries.

Tip: We’ve got a step-by-step guide to help you decide which headphones are the right ones for your different use cases.

Where to start with noise cancellation?

The very first step is to decide why you need noise cancellation technology. In most cases, you’re going to have two or more use cases. For instance: 

  • For reducing disrupting background noises while doing deep work
  • For removing background voices during calls
  • For ensuring the quality of a recording

Once you’ve listed these, go over our guide above to decide which type of noise cancellation is best for you. For the example above, you’ll need at least a mix of active and passive noise cancellation. That is a good pair of head/earphones and a tool like Krisp to clear sounds for both meetings and recordings.

For more insights into specific platforms, here’s our best resources to help you get started with using noise cancellation: