The Sony Xperia Z2 comes with built-in active noise cancellation. Here is how it works

Noise can be distracting, annoying, even harmful in some cases. No wonder that people tend to dislike its presence. It is especially unwanted when there are better things to treat our ears to – the latest music album by a favorite band or artist, or the "sound" of silence on a lazy Sunday afternoon, to give a few examples.

However, while surrounding noise is difficult to kill off entirely, it is possible to reduce its level to a great extent through the use of a clever algorythm known as active noise cancellation. This fundamental technique is used in premium noise-eliminating pairs of cans. But it is also what enables the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone to "reduce up to 98% of the ambient noise" when paired with Sony's light and compact MDR-NC31EM earphones.

Here's how the magic happens in the Xperia Z2's case. Each earphone in the Sony MDR-NC31EM set has its own outward-facing microphone. The two mikes pick up background noise and send it for processing to the Xperia Z2. Then a signal processor inverts the noise's phase, thus creating a "negative" of it – an anti-noise wave, if you will. This gets mixed with whatever audio is being played on the phone

As a result of the treatment, a significant portion of the background noise reaching the user's ears gets cancelled out by the anti-noise wave that is carried along with the audio signal. In other words, the noise and anti-noise wave eliminate each other, and the user hears neither of them. Clear, noise-free audio is what's left after the processing.

On a side note, while checking out the Sony Xperia Z2 at MWC 2014, we had the chance to personally test the effectiveness of Sony's noise cancellation tech. We can confirm that it works not only in theory, but in practice as well. Just keep in mind that results may vary depending on your environment. Noise that is too loud will be harder to reduce, and high-pitched sounds could be also tricky to eliminate.

If you're wondering how Sony has managed to put active noise cancellation in a pair of earphones so small, then allow us to elaborate on the matter. You see, a stand-alone active noise-cancelling headphone set usually has a battery and a digital signal processor built into it. These extra components, obviosly, take up some space. The Sony MDR-NC31EM earphones, on the other hand, don't have a built-in battery or any DSP circuitry inside of them – sound processing and battery power are provided by the device they are plugged into. This, supposedly, has also made the headset much cheaper to manufacture.

This solution, however, has both its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are pretty clear – a Sony MDR-NC31EM set can be easily carried in any pocket. It weighs just 21 grams and won't mess up your hair while in use. Furthermore, the only battery you need to worry about is the one inside your audio source. 

But on the downside, you can't get active noise cancellation by plugging these earphones into any gadget. Currently, only the Sony Xperia Z2 and the Xperia Z2 Tablet support active noise cancellation with this particular earphone set, although future Sony products with a 5-pole headphone jack should be compatible as well. Also, the noise cancellation feature on the Xperia Z2 and Xperia Z2 Tablet won't work with an ordinary pair of headphones, so don't even bother trying. Note that if that is needed, the Sony MDR-NC31EM can be used as a standard headphone set with any product offering a 3.5-millimeter headphone output, even though active noise cancellation won't be available.

After reading all this, some of you are probably wondering whether or not Sony will bundle a pair of noise-cancelling earphones with each Xperia Z2 and Xperia Z2 tablet. Unfortunately, we can't give you a clear, universal answer since this will vary from one market to another. In some countries, the two devices will come with a Sony MDR-NC31EM out of the box, while in other markets, the headset will be offered as an optional accessory. 

But either way, it is impressive to see active noise cancellation – a feature reserved only for costly, brand-name headphones – making its way into smartphones and tablets. Does this make you want to own a Sony Xperia Z2 or an Xperia Z2 Tablet? Let us know down in the comments! 

Related phones

Xperia Z2
  • Display 5.2" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 20.7 MP / 2.2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2300 MHz
  • Storage 16 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3200 mAh(19h 3G talk time)
Xperia Z2 Tablet
  • Display 10.1" 1920 x 1200 pixels
  • Camera 8.1 MP / 2.2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2300 MHz
  • Storage 16 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 6000 mAh



1. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

I'm curious to test them out in person. One drawback I have is leeching power from the battery life.

5. istitch

Posts: 181; Member since: Mar 19, 2013

Can't be sure if it's actually a drawbrack, the power consumption might be fairly low and negligible

7. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Noise cancellation would put a strain on the battery. Hopefully Sony optimized everything correctly so it isn't a worry.

11. JMartin22

Posts: 2372; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

Don't hold your breath, Sony is among one of the least optimized experiences you can ask for.

15. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Lol I didn't want to be 'that guy,' but they're the worst when it comes to optimization.

2. hassoups

Posts: 473; Member since: Jun 06, 2013


14. Charlie_boy

Posts: 71; Member since: Jan 04, 2013

awesome? I agree. but it looks like sony is getting a page out of HTC's and Beats' books. Front facing speakers and now noise cancellation headsets. (not sure if it's a coincidence, but I used to own an HTC, now I own a Sony). Let's hope Sony succeeds with the marketing where HTC has failed....


Posts: 650; Member since: Nov 20, 2011

no but a great feature and wish htc would've went with bose instead of beats during it's earlier times...but the sony phone seems to be impressive with what it packs...i just hope the screen isn't washed out and feels confortable in the hand...i did'nt like the brick feel from the previous models...looking forwared to the one plus and iphone 6.

6. emadshiny

Posts: 1144; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

I think Z2 has one of the best screens so far and the issue of washed out colors is totally solved.

4. Amir1 unregistered


8. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

Sony should have release Walkman smartphone and also Cyber-Shot smartphone to attract more people.

9. Anshulonweb

Posts: 468; Member since: Feb 07, 2014

xperia z2 > Samsung s5

12. JMartin22

Posts: 2372; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

They could stick a DSLR in it and I still wouldn't buy it. A new handset from them would just predate it in a couple months.

19. ArtSim98

Posts: 3535; Member since: Dec 21, 2012

So you admit that you're a blind hater of Sony? Piss off man

13. imparanoic

Posts: 88; Member since: Oct 15, 2012

I have this on my 2009 nwz-x1050 Walkman, it works like a treat, most exterior sound are cancelled ie, aircraft, train, machinery,

18. janekkubek

Posts: 14; Member since: Mar 10, 2014

Thats cool, but what about music purity? Isn't it obstructed by this "antiwaves"?

16. Lauticol

Posts: 404; Member since: Jun 25, 2011

The drawback in this, is that other people can hear loudly what you're listening to!

20. docxx

Posts: 63; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

Not at all!! For instance in the plane or train the volume required is much lower due to the noise cancellation, therefore the contrary is true.

23. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

Good job sony!!! By the way htc's beats is not the first noise cancelation device . Ever heard of Walkman phones by sony ericcson ?

24. mixedfish

Posts: 1560; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

"Currently, only the Sony Xperia Z2 and the Xperia Z2 Tablet support active noise cancellation with this particular earphone set," Incorrect, these earphones have been out for over 2 years now and have already been included and supported on Sony's Walkmans since the F800. Also I have these, they work as advertised, you just need to select the profiles: plane, train, office to best fit your situation and maximise the cancellation.

25. Karriope

Posts: 148; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

This is painfully useless to me because I wont accept much else than my XBA-3 earphones.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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