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How Do Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

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After doing a lot of plane travel with the annoying drone of the engines, Joanne Manaster found herself in need of some noise cancelling headphones. According to her post on PsiVid:

“Although I understand the physics (and accompanying math–specifically trigonometry) of how the earphones work, I was uncertain if the technology was sophisticated enough to cancel ambient noise for the average flyer (at a reasonable price).”

So just how do they work? James May at HeadSqueeze has a great video to explain it:

Carin Bondar About the Author: Carin Bondar is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. Find Dr. Bondar online at, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page: Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist. Follow on Twitter @drbondar.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Johnay 12:17 am 03/2/2014

    I remember reading years ago how active noise cancellation would allow auto makers to make cars run more quietly than ever, while simultaneously eliminating power-robbing mufflers thus improving performance and efficiency. There was even speculation that such a silenced car could then have custom engine noise added in by the same means, letting you have a virtual growling muscle car, a whining turbo-jet, or even a squeaking hamster wheel.

    So where are those mufflerless cars?

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  2. 2. pedrores 10:26 pm 03/3/2014

    I remember a short story I read years ago: “Silence please”, written by Arthur C. Clarke.

    The story tells about an inventor who made a machine for sound cancellation and… it is better if you read it from the original story.

    Link to this

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