What Are Ambient Mode Earbuds?

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Updated June 27, 2022

The definition of what it means to have the best headphones is constantly shifting. Along with an audio quality that pleases the ear canal, a pair of headphones is now expected to come with a range of superb features. Many headphones can shut out or let in ambient noises at a moment’s notice. So below, we’ll provide you the rundown on what are ambient mode earbuds and how they can be helpful.


  • Ambient sound earbuds and headphones provide an option to allow outside noise to filter through.
  • By letting in external sounds, the ambient sound mode can be good for going on walks on busy streets, talking on the phone while driving, or in-office settings where you need to be aware.
  • Ambient noise mode does not reduce sound quality, but it can take away from the overall listening experience depending on your surroundings.

And conversely, we have another article that describes how noise-canceling headphones work for those looking to explore further what Bluetooth headphones are.

What Is Ambient Mode on Earbuds?

Ambient sound can be defined as background noise. Whether it be environmental sounds, such as people chatting, cars honking, background music at a cafe, or a scurry of squirrels at the park, ambient noise is ever-present and all around you.

Insider Tip

Using ambient sound mode drains your battery life faster than it does on normal mode.

Because of this, many headphones offer active noise cancelation features so that you can tune them out. However, some headphones and wireless earbuds also come with a feature that allows background noise to filter through. If sound cancelation is something you want to learn more about, we have an article comparing earmuffs vs noise-canceling headphones.

Some wonder why they would ever want to allow ambient noise in when they are trying to listen to their favorite song, but there are reasons why the ambient sound mode has become a desirable feature on headphones, especially on wireless headphones. (For more information on this, you can read our article that explains the question: what are Bluetooth headphones).

Uses for Ambient Noise Headphones

If you work in an office setting, you often need to be aware of external sounds, such as coworkers trying to get your attention. This is one situation where ambient technology comes in handy.

Ambient sound mode is also helpful for those who live in cities and need to be able to hear outside noise, such as cars, voices, subways, and emergency vehicles. They’re also great for those who need to pay attention to their kids in the other room while working from home on a Zoom call.

Ambient Mode’s Effect on Sound Quality

While it’s not entirely accurate to say that ambient sound mode makes music sound worse, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t make it any better. Deactivating active noise cancelation takes away the immersive element of your headphones. And some say that the external noise can sometimes distract from their favorite tunes.


Sometimes, using ambient sound mode makes people want to crank up the volume levels but this can cause permanent ear damage if listened to for extended periods.


Does white noise differ from ambient noise?

White noise is very similar to ambient noise in that it is a cocktail of frequencies. White noise is generally defined as sound that contains all frequencies, and while it can also be considered ambient noise, they are not quite the same thing. Sounds like honking cars, barking dogs, or even just the sounds of city traffic are all ambient noise, but they are not considered white noise because they are specific frequencies found in your environment.

What is adaptive noise cancelation?

This term is a form of active noise cancelation. Where active noise cancelation is constant, adaptive noise cancelation can pick up the volume level of unwanted background noise and filter it out on an as-needed basis.

What is passive noise cancelation?

Passive noise cancellation means that, instead of using technology to block out noise, your device itself blocks noise by physically preventing unwanted sound from reaching your ears.

STAT: Active noise cancellation cuts ambient noise by 30 decibels. (source)

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