With ANC getting so good, we need a new set of rules

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in a case.

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) was once a feature reserved for expensive, high-end headphones. This wonderful attribute can block out unwanted external noise, allowing the user to focus on what they are listening to. The technology continues to evolve. ANC has since become much more affordable and widely available, and good ANC is getting frighteningly good.

I recently wrote about how I tried the best ANC in the world and almost got hit by a bus. Simply put, such an efficient ANC is unsafe most of the time. With that in mind, we need to set some ground rules and maybe change some habits as well. Let us talk about that.

The dangers of good ANC

A woman wears the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

The best of modern day active noise cancellation is getting so good it would be unsafe to have it on all the time. I recently reviewed the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which Bose claims have “the world’s best noise cancellation”. While I was amazed at how good the technology was, it quickly became a problem.

Suddenly I couldn’t hear what people around me were saying or hear cyclists passing me. It was even more concerning when I realized I couldn’t hear cars, motorcycles, or larger vehicles on NYC’s busy streets. Once a bus zoomed right in front of me and I never heard it coming. I missed most of the announcements during the flight back from the NYC launch event.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to hear my distressed child if she had an accident while I was switched off.

Problems arose when I got home. My wife’s frustrated screams sounded like a distant hum. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to hear my distressed child if she had an accident while I was switched off. We won’t even go into gadgets, alarms, and other important sounds that you definitely want to hear at all times.

Bose QuietComfort earphones II

What is the solution to all these worries? Let’s talk about some possible fixes.

Adapt to good noise cancellation

I used ANC irresponsibly as a rookie mistake. Unaccustomed to such efficient noise-cancellation, I did what I always do – leave it on at all times. If your next pair of noise-cancelling headphones or true wireless buds is as advanced as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, you might want to consider being a responsible ANC user too. After having these issues, I changed the way I use my ANC earbuds. In fact, I rarely leave noise-cancelling on now and mostly use Transparency Mode (or Aware Mode, as Bose calls it).

I only use ANC when I’m alone in my room or working in the office.

I only use the sleep mode alone in my room or in the office while working. When I’m on the road or on public transport, I’m either using Aware mode or using just one earbud at a time. The idea is to always be able to listen if there’s a chance it might need to. In summary, we should all use ANC responsibly.

The road to smarter ANC

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in the ear

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

But what good is great ANC if you can’t use it? Is there a way to improve ANC and make it “smarter”? There could be. Some manufacturers have started thinking about ways to improve ANC to make it more secure.

Related: The future of headphones is an operating system in the ear

ANC modes

For example, you can adjust the noise cancellation levels of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in the app. This can help you choose what types of noise you want to filter and be able to hear some types of noise. You can create and customize modes for commuting, running, exercising, and more.

ANC cannot be a single setting. Different modes and levels are needed.

Similarly, Anker has played with ANC modes, including options like transport, outdoor, and indoor modes on its SoundCore Liberty 3 Pro. Transport minimizes engine noise, outdoor mode reduces noise like traffic and wind, while indoor mode eliminates random office noise and people talking.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 modes on the smartphone

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Machine learning and artificial intelligence

These custom modes work well enough, but they’re not enough. You may still miss some important sounds or hear unimportant ones. The problem is that these are preset noise filter modes. They don’t really adapt or use any form of machine learning. Integrating artificial intelligence into ANC headphones could be a solution. A smart ANC could be able to detect approaching vehicles and let the noise through. Likewise, it can likely determine when an aircraft announcement is being broadcast. Or maybe even recognize voices asking for help or in distress. There are many other sounds that smart headphones can detect, including sirens, dogs barking, babies crying, car alarms, etc.

Adding AI to headphones could help them interrupt ANC when they detect nearby vehicles, announcements, or crying babies.

While this may sound like a far-fetched idea, it has already been tested and used. Google’s Pixel Buds have an experimental feature called Attention Alerts. This feature will alert you when listening to audio with both earbuds connected. She can make out a crying baby, a barking dog, and an emergency vehicle siren.

The idea that ANC is getting “too good” is only a temporary problem. Hopefully, as technology advances, ANC will not only get good, but also smarter.

A world ready for ANC?

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 in a case

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

This might be a bit of a stretch, but is there a way to make our environment more adaptable to insanely good ANC? Think about it. We’ve tried making cities, buildings, and vehicles more visual for the deaf. Similarly, we can also improve our surroundings to help people who can’t hear with good ANC headphones.

Flight announcements can come with a flashing light, for example. These indicator lights may be more common in places where ANC headphones are likely to be used, such as B. in trains, buses, offices, etc. Alarms are also often only audible; Adding flashing lights is an obvious solution.

Imagine a world with more visual alerts everywhere.

Here’s a crazier idea. What if we create a standard in which some announcement, alarm, or anything else can transmit a frequency that we cannot hear with the naked ear? Then we can program all devices to turn off ANC when picking up that frequency. It sounds crazy, but something has to give way.

Of course, we can customize our environment in many ways, but it might take too much work and too many resources. It seems the best solution is still to make headphones smarter, using artificial intelligence to help with ANC security. Until technology advances, make sure you stay safe and use ANC responsibly.

https://www.androidauthority.com/anc-good-new-rules-3212156/ With ANC getting so good, we need a new set of rules

Chris Barrese

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