Skip to main content

Qualcomm’s latest chips aim to radically improve noise cancellation

When well-implemented, active noise cancellation (ANC) can be a big plus on a set of wireless headphones or wireless earbuds. But the technology has its challenges, not the least of which is a fairly strict requirement for a tight seal, to keep outside sounds from entering the ear canal.

In an attempt to help headphone manufacturers deliver more effective ANC that requires a little less of the buyer in order to get it working well, Qualcomm has announced a new version of the feature that it calls adaptive active noise cancellation (AANC).

In addition to making existing ANC earbud designs more effective, it has the potential to let new designs — like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live — deliver the same level of ANC without the need for silicone eartips that penetrate the ear canal.

It will be integrated into the company’s QCC514x Bluetooth chips, which already support longer battery life, ANC, and hands-free voice assistant access should manufacturers choose to implement the feature.

In addition to being able to compensate when an earbud doesn’t fit perfectly, AANC can also dynamically adjust to conditions as they change, which Qualcomm claims will make for a seamless user experience.

It’s not uncommon for ANC-equipped models like Apple’s AirPods Pro or the Amazon Echo Buds to ask buyers to take an in-app fit test. This is partially to ensure the best sound quality, but it’s mostly intended as a way to guarantee that folks will get the full effect of the earbuds’ ANC capabilities. Right now, the difference between a good fit and a great fit can be considerable in terms of ANC effectiveness.

With Qualcomm’s AANC, the hope is that these fit tests can become a thing of the past, or at least not a requirement for ANC that still performs acceptably well.

The news came during the IFA show in Berlin, Europe’s largest technology show, which kicked off (virtually) on Thursday.

As a way of introducing its AANC announcement, Qualcomm shared the results of its 2020 “State of Play” survey, in which it polled 5,000 smartphone users, ages 18-64 years, from the U.S., U.K.,Germany, Japan, and China, about their wireless headphone priorities.

The respondents indicated that sound quality and price were their top considerations. And while ANC only showed up in sixth place, comfort and fit were in the number three spot.

If Qualcomm’s AANC reduces the need for people to twist and shove earbuds into their ears to get a better seal, that’s going to make a lot of people happy.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
Beyerdynamic adds noise canceling to its Blue Byrd neckband earbuds
Man wearing Beyerdynamic Blue Byrd ANC neckband earbuds.

While most of the attention these days is on true wireless earbuds, it's easy to forget that some folks much prefer the older neckband style for its simple convenience and longer battery life. Beyerdynamic clearly hasn't forgotten. Despite launching its first true wireless earbuds in 2022 -- the Free Byrd -- the company is continuing to develop its original Blue Byrd neckband-style buds with the introduction of the second-gen Blue Byrd ANC ($149).

As the name suggests, the new earbuds have active noise cancellation (ANC), a feature that remains fairly rare in the neckband earbuds category. You can buy them now from Beyerdynamic or Amazon.

Read more
Anker Soundcore says its new wireless buds will block up to 98% of external noise
Woman wearing Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC.

Anker's Soundcore division has got a new set of wireless earbuds. And while the name may sound familiar -- they're called the Liberty 4 NC -- their price is a nice surprise: just $100. That buys you a set of hi-res-capable wireless earbuds that Anker claims have really impressive active noise cancellation (ANC) and battery life.

Anker calls it "Adaptive ANC 2.0" a system that uses two mics -- one inside your ear and one on the outside of the earbuds -- to adapt ANC performance instantly in any environment. The company must be confident that the system works well; it claims it blocks out up to 98.5% of external noise. Not even the superb Apple AirPods Pro 2 claim that kind of performance.

Read more
Sony debuts the WF-C700N, its most affordable noise-canceling earbuds
Sony WF-C700 with charging case.

Sony has announced its latest wireless earbuds, and they bring the cost of the company's excellent active noise cancellation (ANC) technology to a new low price. At $120, the WF-C700N are a step up from the entry-level $100 WF-C500, which lack ANC, yet they're considerably more affordable than the $200 Sony LinkBuds S or the $279 WF-1000XM4, the company's only other ANC models.

The WF-C700N can be preordered immediately in one of four colors (black, white, lavender, and sage green), with an expected delivery date of April 17 to April 18.

Read more