Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices? (Find Out Now!)

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices? Noise-cancelling headphones can be very useful if you work in a noisy office and need to concentrate on what you're doing, or if you travel frequently and want to enjoy a quieter experience.

However, do noise cancelling headphones block out voices?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Noise-cancelling headphones can be useful in canceling out low-pitch noises from your surroundings; however, voices and conversations are higher-pitched random noises that you may still hear even if you are wearing your brand new noise-cancelling headphones.

Continue reading to find out more about noise-cancelling headphones, how they work, and how they can benefit you.

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices?
Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices?

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Voices?


You could be listening to your favorite music with regular headphones until ambient noises interrupt your enjoyment. When you're on an airplane with loud, roaring engines, simply plugging in ordinary earbuds or headphones to your device to listen to music or watch a video can be difficult to hear.


This is why a lot of people prefer noise-cancelling headphones. They can block out background noise, allowing you to enjoy the clarity of the sounds you want to hear. There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones: active and passive.

While all headphones provide some level of passive noise cancellation due to the materials used in their construction, which block out higher-frequency sound waves, you're better off with circum-aural headphones that are designed to filter out as much noise as possible.

These will have many layers of materials to drown out unwanted sounds, such as sound-absorbing materials like high-density foam.

As you might expect, this makes them a little heavier than standard headphones. However, if you want to drown out noises from jet engines, buses, subways, and other sources, these heavier models can reduce noise by up to 20 decibels for a higher quality of listening enjoyment.

However, passive will not suffice. While it does help to create a more quiet environment for your listening pleasures, it cannot completely mask the engine's roar. As a result, active noise-cancelling headphones are an excellent option for frequent flyers.

These include microphones that detect noise and then counteract it with the same frequency. For ambient sounds like those you get on an airplane, this is perfection. However, noise-cancelling headphones don’t block out voices. Why is that? Keep reading and you’ll soon find out!


No matter which noise-cancelling headphones you get – from most to least expensive – they won’t completely block out certain noises. Voices, for example. If you know someone who has a pair, try them on and turn on the noise-cancellation without playing any music.

You'll notice that you can still hear everyone talking around you. Those random sounds may even appear to be amplified. It stands to reason that you'd wonder why you'd pay for noise-cancelling headphones if they don't prevent you from hearing conversations.

Unfortunately, no technology exists at this time that can block out random sound waves, such as those produced by a nearby conversation or a baby who bursts into tears at the first sign of trouble.

Why can you hear voices even when wearing noise-cancelling headphones? It's really that simple. When the frequency falls below 500Hz, the technology works flawlessly. It is somewhat (but not completely) effective for sounds up to 1000Hz.

Engine noises and the rumble of a bus or subway train on your commute are typically below 500Hz (save for the random honking of horns). As a result, active noise-cancelling headphones can effectively make them disappear or minimize them to the point where you won't notice them at all.

Why Noise Cancelling Headphones Don't Block Out Voices?
Why Noise Cancelling Headphones Don't Block Out Voices?

Conversations, on the other hand, begin in the 500Hz range. It all depends on how close someone is to you, how loud they are speaking, the pitch of their voice, and many other factors. As a result of these factors, a conversation could range from 500Hz to 4000Hz.

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The current technology for active noise cancellation is incapable of dealing with noise frequencies above 1000 Hz. Yes, even with the best, most expensive brands. Perhaps this will change in the future, but for the time being, no technology can prevent you from hearing Janice's hyena-laugh from across the office.

If you looked at a graph comparing noise cancellation to passive isolation, you'd be able to see the difference in Hz. When using active noise cancellation at 1000 Hz, you may notice that you can hear the unwanted sound whether you have it turned on or not. It could even get worse.

The good news is that noise-cancelling headphones that combine ANC (active noise cancellation) technology with noise-isolation technology can help you drown out Janice and her cackles. It can certainly help you find peace in any noisy environment, turning it down so you can effectively tune it out, with ear cups sealing and isolating your ears.

Active noise-cancelling headphones with passive sound isolation are your best line of defense for blocking out conversations (and cackles). This has nothing to do with the electronics built into these headphones, but it will add an extra layer of noise cancellation.

Current top-tier noise-cancelling headphones can reduce noise by up to 25dB from 500 to 2000Hz, which won't completely eliminate noise, but it will make a significant difference. If passive noise isolation is your primary concern, industrial earmuffs, noise-isolating in-ear earphones, or foam earplugs would be ideal.

These are designed to passively isolate noise, but they may not be very comfortable. For example, industrial earmuffs can be difficult to get used to because they clamp on tightly. In-ear items, on the other hand, can be uncomfortable to insert into your ears.

However, if you want something to use for comfort and don't want to insert anything into your ears, and you find yourself in an office or café where it would be beneficial to further drown out the regular sounds of conversations, noise cancellation headphones can indeed help, with a few tricks.

Avid travelers should invest in them and then use them in these regular applications to help reduce the conversations that swirl around them.


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It can range from 50dB to 75dB during a normal close-range conversation. Passive noise isolation – even on the best noise-isolating headphones – can't compete. While active noise-cancelling headphones are not effective at blocking out conversations, they are excellent at canceling low-frequency sounds, such as bass in music.

But what can be done to block out speech in active noise-cancelling headphones so you can hear your music or your own thoughts?

Assume you're in a coffee shop, trying to work on your laptop remotely while sipping an espresso. Very trendy and hip. Every coffee shop has a cacophonous environment – a mix of all kinds of sound.

You have low-frequency noise that your noise-cancelling headphones will drown out mixed in with high-pitched sounds like neighboring conversations about last night's antics, loud chewing from the guy across the table, and the clacking of fingers on other keyboards as they, like you, try to work in what should be a more peaceful or creative environment.

White noise, particularly in the form of water streams, can help with this. By using noise masking, you can drown out any offensive noises by topping them off with a constant noise that is far more pleasant than that guy chewing over there.

Consider a raging whitewater river. Or perhaps Niagara Falls. These minor annoyances would never be heard. True, you could turn up the volume on your music, but that would only irritate your eardrums. Instead, use a white noise machine to effectively mask speech without turning up the volume too high.

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This one by Adaptive Sound Technologies gives you a range of adjustments to battle any noise so that you can effectively block speech frequency bands even at 4000 Hz.

Block Speech With Noise Cancelling Headphones
Block Speech With Noise Cancelling Headphones


If you're wondering whether it's better to choose an alternative to noise-cancelling headphones, the answer is that it really depends on a number of factors. For starters, there's your budget. There's also the issue of your applications, whether you can plug up your ears, and your level of comfort to consider when making a decision like this.

If you travel frequently (via planes, trains, or automobiles – as long as you're not driving them! ), we believe you should invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These will aid in the suppression of engine noises, rumbling, and other low-frequency noises.

Though we do caution that if you need to protect your hearing, you should look for noise-cancelling headphones that have a noise reduction rating (known as NRR when you’re looking on the packaging).


1. Earmuffs

Industrial earmuffs are most likely your best option. The earmuffs from Decibel Defense do an excellent job of blocking out nearby speech. They also look great and are available in seven different colors, ranging from black on black to sky blue, a more subtle brown, fiery red, orange, yellow, and even pink.

These earmuffs completely cover your ears to provide proper noise isolation at an NRR of 37dB, one of the highest I've ever experienced. When you get them, make sure to stretch the head rest by clamping your earmuffs onto the box they came in or a similar sized box to make them even more comfortable.

Unlike other brands on the market, I believe Decibel Defense tried to ensure portability by allowing you to fold the product to make it super compact. That's a plus in my book! I've broken a lot of earmuffs over the years, partly because I just throw them in my backpack, but that's not an issue with this model.

If you're in an open-office setting with a lot of loud talking going on around you, pair them with a pair of premium noise-isolating earbuds, such as the Betron B25, and play white noise to get the peace you need.

Because of the noise isolation provided by the muffs, you won't have to turn up the volume on your earbuds to enjoy your favorite music. Setting the volume to 20% or 30% should give you a great listening experience without the headaches.

Other earmuffs, such as these by Pro For Sho, are excellent for blocking out conversations while sitting in a coffee shop or on the subway. They're ideal for people who don't want to hear what's going on around them and want to pretend that no one else exists, at least for the purpose of completing work or studies in a crowded environment.

2. Foam Earplugs

Stock up on foam earplugs to prevent loud chatter from piercing your brain pan on your next transatlantic flight. They're inexpensive and simple to obtain in bulk. If a baby starts crying on the plane, you won't be able to hear it.

Foam earplugs are effective at reducing noise from human speech, but they will not completely block out louder voices. This is due to the fact that some of the vibrations from those annoying voices are carried through your bones.

They will undoubtedly dampen it. And if you want more peace and quiet to fall asleep (whether on an aircraft carrier or simply next to a partner who snores the entire night), you can listen to white noise on your headphones for the blissful feeling.

If you are not used to wearing earplugs, they will take some getting used to. They can be quite comfortable once you've gotten used to them.

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3. Noise-Isolating Earphones

Another option for those who don't mind putting things in their ears is to use noise-cancelling earphones, such as the Betron B25, which are also very affordable. The key is to get a good fit deep into the ear, which will seal out noise, including everyday chatter, without increasing the volume.

Play white noise through these to drown out any residual noise, and you will find your own center of peace and calm in any noisy environment.

Alternative Video: Best Noise Cancelling Headphones To Block Out Voices

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones To Block Out Voices


There are a few more things you should know about the disadvantages of noise-cancelling headphones. For starters, they are more expensive than standard headphones. Of course, this is a worthwhile investment in order to reap the benefits of a quieter environment.

If you're just listening to music in your room or at home without anyone else around, noise-cancelling headphones may not be necessary. However, if you frequently visit busier, noisier areas, they are well worth the extra money.

Furthermore, noise-cancelling headphones with active noise cancellation require power from a battery or a USB port. Without the power provided to it, it may not even function as ordinary headphones.

You'll always need to keep the battery charged or have a place to plug in to get enough juice to use the ANC feature. With the batteries to keep them powered or any other additional electronic sources to supply it, the size and weight increase.

This means that your noise-cancelling headphones will be heavier than other options on the market. Again, if you truly want to block out everything else, this is well worth it.

Finally, and this may sound a little contradictory, but the noise-cancelling circuitry may degrade your audio quality. You may hear a hissing sound, but the reduction in noise may give you the impression of higher audio quality.


What truly matters in the end is why you're wearing headphones in the first place. When you're not being distracted by other noises, simple headphones can suffice for listening to music. Noise-cancelling headphones, on the other hand, can be useful if you're constantly traveling or in a noisy environment.

However, for voices, you should consider the model's noise isolation capabilities in addition to active noise cancellation.

It may also be necessary to use earplugs or pipe in some white noise to white out every other sound around, but for the sake of finishing your projects by deadline, noise-cancelling headphones will definitely be an effective tool for getting the job done.

How Does Noise Cancelling Headphones Works?
How Does Noise Cancelling Headphones Works?

FAQs About ANC Headphones Blocking Voices

Why does noise cancelling not work on voices?

Because of the air trapped between your audio device and your eardrum, noise-cancelling technology cannot completely isolate sound. However, you must be able to hear music in order to hear it. If you were able to remove the trapped air, the net result would be silence, regardless of how loud your music is.

Do noise-cancelling headphones interfere with microphones?

Active noise-cancelling headphones use tiny microphones on the inside (and sometimes outside) of the earcups to process sound directed at your ears and immediately play the opposite phase of that sound through the headphone drivers.

Does noise cancelling cancel all noise?

The best noise-cancelling headphones merely reduce noise and are most effective with low-frequency droning sounds. As a result, a loud hum becomes a quieter hum. An airplane roar is a quieter roar on an airplane. They also don't work well with all types of sounds.

Is noise cancellation harmful to one's hearing?

Overall, noise cancellation in headphones has no negative impact on your hearing. When you turn on the ANC, you may hear a slight hissing sound, but that's all. However, for some people, this can be annoying and even cause dizziness.

Barry Moroney

Hi, Barry here. I'm a tech writer and blogger. I write about the latest technology, gadgets, and software. I also provide the best how-to and guides on the latest sound systems. I'm always excited to share my knowledge with others!


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