In-Ear Headphones (Canalphones)

Using passive noise reduction, in-ear headphones offer superb noise blocking and deliver excellent musical sound quality. Advantages over noise-cancelling headphones.

An alternative to noise-cancelling headphones and earphones is passive noise-isolating earphones, also called canalphones or in-ear headphones. Rather than using noise cancellation circuitry, they rely on the physical sound-blocking properties of the acoustic padding that forms a seal between the earphone and your ear canal. In effect, they are tiny speakers combined with the noise-blocking capability of high-quality earplugs.

Since canalphones don't have noise cancellation, at first glance you might think of them as a second-best alternative — but the reality is just the opposite. Passive noise-isolating earphones are markedly more effective at reducing external noise than are noise-cancelling headphones. This is true across the entire sound frequency spectrum, including high-frequency noise, which noise cancellation products aren't designed to handle.

Another advantage is that they add no sound-distorting signal, as noise cancellation circuitry must necessarily do. In fact, with properly fitting noise reduction earphones, you will be able to hear sound nuances and details that just can't be delivered with speakers or headphones.

Canalphones are used by rock stars and other professional musicians on stage as in-ear monitors, because they deliver a highly accurate musical signal, at a natural and safe volume, since crowd noise and other external sound is so effectively blocked out.

Advantages over noise cancellation earphones and headphones:
  • No battery is required.
  • You get much greater noise attenuation.
  • The noise reduction works on all external noise, not just low-frequency continuous droning sound.
  • The sound of music is not altered, and the ultimate in sound quality is possible.
  • For a similar level of noise reduction and sound quality, canalphones can be less expensive than noise-cancelling headphones.

  • You need to insert them deeply into the ear canal in order to achieve the best noise reduction. Some people find this uncomfortable.
  • Proper fit is crucial, not only for noise blocking but also for music quality, especially to get a good bass sound.
  • They require occasional cleaning.
  • They are not recommended for use in traffic (running, biking, or driving), where you need to be able to hear external sounds for your own safety.

Read more: Tips for choosing in-ear earphones

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