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What is adaptive ANC?

Active Noise Cancellation has grown in popularity over recent years, but you may not know that there are different types of ANC solutions in the market. So what is Adaptive ANC?

How does active noise cancellation work?

Before we get on to what adaptive ANC is, it’s worth going over how active noise cancellation works in the first place. ANC is different from passive noise cancellation (also referred to as noise isolation), a term that’s often confused with active noise cancellation.

Passive forms of noise cancelling/isolation simply refer to the suppression of external sounds through the design of the headphones. Essentially if a headphone maintains a good fit, or can create a good seal, it can block out some environmental sounds for a less intrusive experience. Over-ears are the best at this, but wireless earbuds can create a good seal too.

Related: Best noise cancelling headphones

ANC works on top of a passive/noise isolating design. It uses microphones to detect the frequency of the sound coming at the listener, with the ANC chip creating an inverse wave (i.e. opposing sound) to suppress any unwanted noises.

Not all ANC headsets are born equal and headphones tend to use either feed-forward (microphone is outside the earcup), feed-back (mic is inside the earcup) and hybrid (mics inside and out). Hybrid is the best solution as it detects noises from both outside and within your ear to generate the most optimum noise cancelling experience.

What is Adaptive ANC?

That brings us to the latest trend in the active noise cancelling area of the headphone market. An adaptive solution is not to be confused with ‘adjustable’. The latter is something you can control by adjusting ANC levels through onboard controls such as the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Adaptive ANC automatically changes the levels of noise cancellation on its own, detecting changes in the frequency of sound coming at the listener and adapting in real-time for the best possible performance. This trend is becoming more popular with a number of premium headphones including it such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 and JBL Club One.

Qualcomm announced its own Adaptive ANC solution for true wireless earbuds, and according to Qualcomm this solution constantly adjusts its performance based on the tightness of fit and the level of outside noise leak-through for a more consistent performance, while also remaining comfortable to wear.