Qualcomm claims a fix for uncomfortable, underwhelming noise-canceling earbuds

Chris Davies - Sep 4, 2020, 8:41 am CDT
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Qualcomm claims a fix for uncomfortable, underwhelming noise-canceling earbuds

Active noise-canceling earbuds are set to get an upgrade, with a new auto-fit technology promising to deliver the best possible ANC performance without having to train or calibrate out of the box, and with an uptick in comfort. Increasingly commonplace in fully-wireless earbuds, getting the best out of noise-cancelation depends not only on the ANC system, but how the earbud itself fits in your ear.

With the right fit, you get blissful isolation from the hubbub around you. Get it wrong, however, and you might wonder if the noise-cancelation was actually switched on, if ambient sound is sneaking in around a poor ear seal or the system was set to counter the wrong frequencies.

Most earbuds offer some sort of ANC setup, such as a fit test, calibration, or multiple ear tip auditions. Even once you’ve got the earbuds in place, they can often require being pushed firmly into the ear canal, which can be uncomfortable for extended wear. Qualcomm’s new Adaptive ANC system, however, claims to do away with all that.

It automatically configures the settings, tweaking the performance of the ANC system depending on the tightness of fit and how much leak-through audio from outside is getting into the wearer’s ear. “Qualcomm Adaptive ANC is designed to reduce the dependency on forming a tight seal,” the company says, “so a user doesn’t need to push or twist the earbud into the ear.” That should make for more long-term comfort.

Meanwhile, it also addresses a shortcoming of many ANC earbuds, where they can’t keep up with all the ways people actually use them. If you train the initial configuration while you’re inside, sitting down and staring at your phone screen, that won’t be the same situation as if you’re speed-walking to catch a train, or out running. The tightness of fit will change in each of those circumstances.

Qualcomm says Adaptive ANC will address that too, taking into account the fit adjustments as you’re doing different activities or even just moving your head. It’ll also work across usage modes, such as transitioning from listening to music, to taking a voice call, to speaking to a virtual assistant like Alexa or the Google Assistant. It can also auto-adjust its ANC performance based on the environmental conditions, such as notching it down when you’re in quiet rooms, but then cranking it back up again when ambient sound levels rise.

Adaptive ANC will work with a variety of earbud types – whether fully occluded, semi-occluded, or non-occluded – as long as they’re based on the company’s latest high-end QCC514x Bluetooth Audio SoC. That was announced back in March, with Qualcomm saying at the time that it expected earbuds based on the chipset to be available shortly after.


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