it’s probable that many of you already know about and understand the idea of active noise canceling headphones, (ANC). They’ve been around for a while. The idea is that beyond natural noise cancellation, more accurately called noise isolation, you get from closed back headphones. Headphone models that offer active noise cancellation have microphones on the outside that do some acoustic magic.
You may have experienced where when listening to a radio to a station whose signal isn’t coming in the best either becomes stronger or weaker when you move in respect to the radio, or move the radio in respect to its environment. This is an example of constructive and/or destructive interference. Going deeper in explaining this is very doable, it’s also all math, it’s also how noise canceling headphones work.
Microphones on the outside of your headphones, probably closed back, take in the sounds of your environment, create an opposite wave form to those sounds, and then feed them into your headphones. They aren’t perfect, but many are very good, which I have realized over time is in this case good enough. If noise canceling headphones can reduce sounds by say more than 50-60DB, even the loudest sounds are more bearable.
Then, years later it seems, a clever person working at a headphone company thought, hey we could also take the sounds taken in by those microphones and make a mode where listeners can actually hear what’s going on around them. This is transparency mode. Also some times called, ambient, or pass through modes. Some models actually let you vary between full transparency, and full noise cancellation. Some, like the Microsoft Surface (headphones), or the Sennheiser Ambeo smart headset, even have transparency amplified modes. Not quite a hearing aid, but probably enough to help someone with mild hearing loss.
I had never really liked closed back headphones, because already being totally blind, now they also block my hearing; completely isolating me. Now, with transparency mode, it’s almost like being able to switch between closed back and open back on the fly.
Transparency mode is not at all silly, or useless, like some might try to tell you; but instead, is the beginnings of augmented reality from an audio perspective.