Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) has been a standard feature on true wireless earbuds for quite some time. Due to the nature of the earbud design, noise cancellation has to account for ambient noise differently than traditional over-ear headphones. Instead of sealing off your entire ear, earbuds rely on replaceable tips to achieve a solid closure or some type of software-based calibration to ensure the sound quality remains pristine when your listening environment isn’t. Typically this setup is done once, usually when you first purchase your audio accessory. However, Qualcomm has a solution that will automatically adjust the ANC levels when the fit of your earbuds changes or with variations in outside noise.
The company calls its new tech Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation, a feature that is now available on its QCC514x Bluetooth audio chip. Alongside support for voice assistants, “premium” audio quality, “extended” battery life and more, the Adaptive ANC can adjust in real time to changes in how the earbuds fit in your ears. And since everyone’s ears are different, Qualcomm says this tech can help companies deliver high-quality audio performance for more users. Qualcomm explains that Adaptive ANC is less reliant on that tight seal that headphone companies have been so focused on for years. Instead of pushing or twisting earbuds into place, or taking the time to cycle through a full set of silicone tips, users can wear the buds and the hardware will adjust to variations in fit.
Qualcomm says its adaptive noise cancellation system can also account for changes to fit during activities like running. And when the noise level of your environment gets louder or softer, it can increase or decrease the level of ANC needed to keep things sounding clear. The company explains that its Adaptive ANC does all of this by automatically responding to any alteration to tightness of fit, the level of “leak-through” noise and both how and where the earbuds are used. You may no longer have to calibrate a set of buds to your ears with an app or try out several sets of tips before settling for the best — but probably still not ideal — option.
The company promises the Adaptive ANC will work across different use cases, from music and podcasts to calls or speaking to a virtual assistant. Qualcomm says switching between any of those modes can be done with no interruption of the ANC.
If adaptive ANC sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because Sony has offered its version of it for a while now. The company calls it Adaptive Sound Control: a feature that senses your physical movement (sitting, walking, running or transit) to automatically apply the noise-cancelling preset you’ve customized. With a recent update, Sony will also make the change based on your location (home, office, etc.) — if you’re willing to give its app permission to monitor your whereabouts. While the names are similar, Sony and Qualcomm aren’t doing the same thing. The former’s technology is responding to your movement (and the movement of the headphones themselves) across a range of headphone styles, while the latter is primarily making adjustments based on how earbuds fit inside your ears.
As is typically the case with announcements like this, Qualcomm doesn’t mention when we can expect to see the Adaptive ANC tech in new devices. However, given the chipmaker is revealing details on it, and taking into account that it’s available now on the company’s premium Bluetooth audio SoC (System on a Chip), you probably won’t have to wait long for headphone companies to put it inside new products.