Noise cancelling headphones are great at what they do, but despite their high prices, they can only do so much.

There’s an obvious limit to what they can do in terms of eliminating distracting noises, they are known to work best with continuous noise: noise that is constant, predictive and repetitive. 

Anything aside from that and you might as well save your money and get yourself a couple of cheap earplugs and a standard headphone.

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In this post, I’ll answer the question of who really needs noise cancelling headphones. I’ll also cover some of the most common disadvantages of noise cancelling headphones, and some situations where they won’t even work at all and some alternatives you can use in those situations.  

Who needs noise cancelling headphones?

Do you even need noise cancelling headphones? That’s the first question you need to answer before you decide whether or not you want to shell out the cold hard cash required to get one.

Let’s screen people out first, if you want to get a pair just because you’re curious and would like to have a feel for what noise cancelling headphones might sound like when you wear them in a noisy environment then you don’t actually need to buy one, simply go to a store and try on one of the test samples on display.

Okay, with mere curiosity out of the way, let’s look to more genuine reasons. 

noise cancelling headphones

If your own reason for wanting to buy these headphones is that: you get annoyed by unplanned and unpredictable high frequency noises like sudden shrieks of laughter, people talking loud, automobiles or trains honking and noisy co-workers then these headphones might not work for you, and you’d be better off with a pair of inexpensive earplugs or noise isolating earbuds 

So who actually needs these headphones?

To get a clear idea of those who will benefit most from this type of headphones we’ll need to understand the type of noises that these headphones are capable of eliminating.

There are roughly three types of noises viz:

CONTINUOUS NOISE

Continuous noise is usually just that, continuous, it’s constant and predictable and continues to run without stopping. An example of these are the heating and ventilation systems that keep humming non-stop or the continuous drone of an aircraft engine for the whole duration of a flight.

If you are constantly exposed to this kind of noise for extended periods at a time then you’re one of those people who need these headphones and it might be a good idea to consider getting noise cancelling headphones equipped with an active noise cancellation circuitry. 

INTERMITTENT NOISE

These are usually a mix of sometimes quiet and sometimes noisy periods. And they occur at irregular intervals. Examples of these are the noise from factory machinery that operates in cycles or sounds of a train passing by.

If you’re constantly exposed to this kind of noise then these headphones might help muffle the noise but aside that they won’t be able to change much for you. 

IMPULSIVE NOISE

Impulsive noises usually come in sudden and very high pitched short blasts. The noise from these unexpected blasts usually dissipates as fast as it came, and as such you only hear them for a split second and then it’s gone. Examples of this noise are blasts from various construction sites. 

If you work in this kind of environment, these headphones will not help you much and what you need are some effective earplugs.

Now that we know what kind of noise can be eliminated by the headphones, let’s talk about some situations where they won’t work.

What are some common disadvantages of noise cancelling headphones?

Cost

Noise cancelling headphones are not like your standard everyday headphones, the standard headphones simply transmit sound signals from your audio device to your ear cups and eventually to your ears and that’s all.

 The noise cancelling headphones do that too, but in addition, they are equipped with the technology to cancel, or at the very least, suppress background noise (noise from your surroundings).

This extra functionality comes at an additional fee, and that’s why noise cancelling headphones are a lot more expensive than the standard headphones.

Decent noise cancelling headphones on the market today will set you back by about $300 and unfortunately, not everyone can afford that.

Battery life

Another problem with these types of headphones is that they run on batteries.

 And as I pointed out earlier, these headphones are equipped with a technology that allows them to listen to background noises from the surroundings and then generate an anti-noise signal that cancels such noises.

But to power this technology, the headphones require a battery of their own, these batteries can either be disposable or rechargeable and they’re known to have a short span of uptime. 

With a full charge, most batteries will last for about 20hours and for some noise cancelling headphones, once the battery is flat the headphones die completely, you won’t even be able to use it as a normal headphone and that’s bad news.

Audio quality

Yes, noise cancelling headphones help to eliminate background noise, but at what expense? 

A lot of users have complained that it is usually a give-and-take game, the headphones give you audio devoid of distracting noises but in exchange, it takes away audio quality, so much so, that some have even suggested that they deliver audio quality that pales in comparison to that of a standard headphone that is within the same price range.

noise cancelling and audio quality

The active noise cancellation circuitry is best only at canceling repetitive, predictable sounds such as a constant noise from an aircraft engine. Noise cancelling headphones won’t help much if you’re in an environment that is rich with intermittent noise like unplanned, sudden shrieks of laughter every once in a while.

They have also been reported to be better at cancelling noises found in the midrange to lower frequencies rather than those at a higher frequency. 

Comfort

Noise cancelling headphones can be a little less comfortable than standard headphones, how? Well, some are quite heavier because they clearly contain a lot more, others are a little too tight around the ears because they were designed to achieve a good seal (or a noise-tight seal, if you want) with the ears in order to block out external noise and prevent noise leakage from the headphones. The earpads on some others can start to feel hot to the ears on prolonged use.

Some people have complained that the active noise cancellation functionality produces a non-stop hissing sound that they find disconcerting, others have said when they wear noise cancelling headphones they feel as though their inner ear is under pressure.

So I suppose it’s safe to say that some just aren’t made for noise-cancelling headphones.

Some situations, where noise cancelling headphones will not work

PODCAST

Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular these days, Apple alone, features over 500,000 active podcasts, broadcasting content in more than 100 languages.

But regardless of how many podcasts there are in the world, let’s be honest here, would you listen to a podcast that has distracting noises in the background? No? I thought so too. I wouldn’t bother listening myself, in fact, nothing encourages me to hit the unsubscribe button more than the bad sound quality and unpleasant audio noises of a podcast.

Noise cancelling headphones are fantastic, but let me ask you a question. As a podcaster can you use them while recording, to rid your podcast of those characteristic noises like constant hisses, buzzings, and hummings that some podcasts are known for? NO. 

To do that, you would need something else. something that has the ability to separate noise from your audio as it goes into your microphone. Something like the artificial intelligence-powered noise cancelling app called Krisp 

How do you do that? 

Well, before I tell you how you can get Krisp to do your bidding, here’s a short LinkedIn video of how it works by LinkedIn expert Isaac Anderson.

Now let’s get to it.

Download and install Krisp and then choose Krisp as your microphone while you record.

SCREEN RECORDING

A Deloitte survey of about 2000 users in the U.S reveals that a whopping 91% of them simply agree to “terms and conditions” documents without reading through.

When was the last time you patiently read through a 14-page long  “terms and conditions” document of an online tool before checking the “I have read the terms…” box and clicking “I AGREE”? Not many times, right? You are not alone, I hardly read it too, and as it turns out, the vast majority of people never read it either. Why? It’s simply too long and too jargon-heavy and people have a pretty short attention span.

The same thing happens when people are asked to read a jargon-heavy product description or just about any other unappealing text. They hardly read it.

So what do you do to help as a business? Do you onboard new customers by sending them pages upon pages describing what you want them to do, or do you simply get a screen recording app like Loom, record your screen and send the recorded video to your customers?

Going by the stats above you would agree that going the video route would turn out to be more beneficial to your customers and by extension your bottom line. But there’s a common problem with screen recording apps, although most of them do a fantastic job with the video quality the audio is usually sub-par. 

How do you solve that problem, again your noise cancelling headphones are powerless here and you’ll have to turn to an app like Krisp

Once you download Loom and Krisp, all you need to do is open up Loom and as you’re about to start recording you’ll find a menu bar on the right that reads “Microphone source” select Krisp as the Microphone and you’re good to go.

CUSTOMER SERVICE CALL CENTER

Customer Service Representative: Hi thanks for calling (insert name of company), we aim to provide you with the best energy… this is Steve speaking, how may I help you today?

Mr. James: (obviously angry, cuts him short and yells). You folks must have been defrauding me all this while, and I only discovered because I got overcharged this past month. I left the country for the whole month, emptied the refrigerator and turned off all the appliances yet I still got charged a $200 bill. How do you explain that?

Customer Service Representative: May I have your account number so I can run some checks on our end?

Mr. James: Sure it’s xx-xx-xx-xx and I hope a get a refund for this month and a re-calculated bill for the past couple of months too. 

Some call centers handle nearly 200,000 calls a day, so imagine 200,000 different conversations like the one above or even a different one every day, and you’ll begin to get an idea of how much noise call centers are capable of generating every minute of every hour that they are open (and some call centers are open 24/7).

Again noise cancelling headphones might help a little, but it definitely won’t stop the noise from getting across to your customers, So what to do? Download Krisp for free and let it filter out the noise from your voice before it gets to your customer.

REMOTE WORKERS 

The world is gradually going remote, 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time, and 36% said they would choose it over a pay raise.

However, working remotely is not as glamorous as it looks on the outside, especially if you’re a parent with little kids and you happen to be working from home, you will have to put up with a lot of noise, your dog is barking, your twins are screaming and playing in the bath or your two-year-old is making a fuss over her toys. These are noises that will definitely affect your conference calls with clients(if you’re a solo freelancer) or with other team members if you’re part of a remote team.

Headphones will not help much and again Krisp is your best bet as demonstrated in this YouTube video.

CONCLUSION

Noise cancelling headphones used alone can only do so much, thus they are best used in conjunction with other recording and noise cancellation apps.