This list should serve as a convenient and easy to understand way of choosing the right headphones for your particular application. Once you have your favorite selected, feel free to read our full review to learn even more them.
How to Choose Noise Cancelling Headphones?
Are you an office worker, student or a commuter who desires to reduce sound pollution and have his or hers own private space where concentration on any tasks becomes effortless? If yes, you’re in luck. Our comprehensive guide will help you choose your next pair of noise cancelling headphones, and teach you everything you need to know in order to make an educated purchase decision. Strap your boots, and let’s take a look at what makes noise cancelling headphones so special.
The Difference Between Noise Isolating and Noise Cancelling Headphones
Chances are that you’ve already heard about noise isolating headphones. It has lately become a popular marketing buzzword and a way how to get people pay a bit more for the same product. Essentially, all headphones isolate at least some outside noise. Some do it better than others, but there is not a single pair that doesn’t alter the flow of air from outside to your ears. The main difference between noise isolating headphones and noise cancelling headphones is that noise isolating headphones are passive while noise cancelling headphones use active electronic components to cancel out any unwanted noise.
We have already described in a great detail how each system operates before, so if you are interested, make sure to read our article titled Noise-Isolating vs Noise-Cancelling (What’s the difference?). It will tell you everything there is to know about these two methods of noise suppression. But just for completion, let’s recap the most important differences.
Noise isolating headphones work by placing an obstacle in front of or inside your ears, which reduces the impact of air on your eardrums. Your typical full sized cans can block up to 12 dB of sound, and earbuds, up to 15dB. Foam ear tips and leather earpads generally perform better than silicon and velour. The main advantage to passive noise isolation is its low-cost nature. Some headphones are able to accomplish quite a lot for a very reasonable price. On the other hand, the restricted airflow can lead to worse sound performance and even the dreaded “tin can” effect.
Active noise cancelling headphones have their roots in aviation equipment and date back to 1930s. They work by producing a wavelength with the same amplitude but opposite phase to the original sound. The original phase and the new antiphase meet and cancel each other out. This process is called interference and it ideally produces a complete silence. This technology isn’t exclusive to headphones. It’s widely used in aircraft, luxury cars, and even in large stadiums and concert venues.
Pros and Cons of Using Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Noise cancelling headphones have their pros and cons. Probably the most significant drawback is their higher cost when compared to noise isolating headphones. It’s very difficult to find a good pair of noise cancelling headphones for less than $200, whereas noise isolating headphones allow you to easily stay under $100 and still get a high-quality sound. The higher price, of course, means that the overall quality is well above average, but the initial investment can be brutal on your wallet.
Another disadvantage is the need for a constant supply of power. Most noise cancelling headphones use AA or AAA batteries and last approximately a week before they need to be replaced. When batteries run out of juice, one of two possible things can happen. Either the headphones stop working altogether, or they will continue to work without noise cancellation. Neither outcome is really welcomed, to say at least. Additionally, those batteries and electric circuits are not made out of thin air and add weight and size to the headphones.
Despite these few downsides, there are plenty of reasons why noise cancelling headphones are becoming more and more popular with each passing year. High-quality models from renowned manufacturers such as Bose are able to offer a reduction in noise of up to 30dB. They work best with lower frequencies and usually have several different modes that you can use to adjust their settings based on the environment you are in.
Most models are completely wireless (more on that later) and operate on Bluetooth technology. As such, you can easily pair them with your smartphone, tablet, laptop without messing around with, often unreliable, cables.
The bottom line is that once you get over the initial investment, you will be left with a very functional pair of headphones, which can accompany you on your journeys and during working hours.
Types of Noise Cancelling Headphones
Regular headphones come in many different form factors, and so do noise cancelling headphones. One of the most common and relevant distinctions is according to the size of their ear cups. There are supra-aural headphones (on-ear) and circumaural (over-the-ear or full-sized) headphones.
On-ear headphones don’t cover the entire ear and, generally, are not renowned for their ability to suppress unwanted noise. Chatter and rattle from outside can get in and your music is going to be audible to people around you. This makes them unsuitable for both very quiet and very loud places. They perform best when you use them at home or for shorter trips to work or to school since they are usually lightweight and portable. Their smaller size and the fact that they don’t cover the entire ear also mean that your ears don’t get as hot and sweaty as they sometimes do with full-sized headphones.
Full-sized headphones are your best bet if you seek the best noise cancelling performance available. Their padding is large and comfortable, and there is plenty of room for big 50 or even 60mm drivers. You can expect maximum sound performance and great bass response. The obvious downside is their larger weight and size. Some full-sized headphones are foldable, which definitely helps, but you still cannot simply toss them in your pocket and forget about them, as you can with in-ear headphones.
Wireless vs Wired
Most noise cancelling headphones operate wirelessly via Bluetooth technology. The latest Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 4.0 uses higher transfer rates and manages to provide audio quality that will be more than sufficient more most listeners. Additionally, technologies such as aptX help to reduce the size of the audio files so they can be squeezed through the wireless pipeline without affecting the sound quality. You will be able to enjoy CD-like quality over Bluetooth without any issues with latency or data compression.
Some noise cancelling headphones also offer the option to use a regular audio cable. This is very handy for you with a device that don’t support Bluetooth pairing, like portable mp3 players.
Chances are that are going to expect a little bit more from your newly purchased noise cancelling headphones than to just mute outside noise. When selecting a pair of good sounding noise cancelling headphones, the same factors determine the overall sound quality as with any other pair of headphones.
The term “sound signature” is often used to describe the overall feeling you get when listening to a particular pair of headphones. Some tend to sound dry, and others shine with a distinct musical glee. There are headphones that match perfectly with certain music genres and headphones that work best with just a certain type of music.
Bass is an essential component of modern music genres, including hip-hop, EDM, and post-rock music. It should be well-mannered and accurate, with plenty of oompf to rattle with your brain when the music demands it. You don’t want it to bleed into other frequencies and make your music sound muddy and lack detail.
Noise cancelling headphones are sometimes prone to introduce high pitched hiss, and we strongly recommend you to read a reputable review to find out if the model that you are interested in is also affected. Most modern high-end headphones will operate without any issues and give you an amazing sound quality.
When it comes to any pair of headphones, you should always pay as much attention to your source of music as you pay to the headphones themselves. The low-quality audio source will easily make even better sounding headphones into something unworthy of your hard-earned money.
A regular old-school audio CD uses a bit rate of approximately 1,411 kbit/s. For comparison, popular audio streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music use only around 128 kbit/s. This difference can cause an audible loss of details and overall degradation of sound quality. If you want to have the best listening experience possible, make sure you stay above 192 kbit/s. Or better yet, stick with uncompressed audio formats like FLAC.
Build Quality and Design
We advise you not to underestimate build quality and design. Since you are going to be spending a substantial amount of money, you should feel like you are getting a good value in return. A great design that pleases your aesthetic senses is definitely a part of that. Most noise cancelling headphones are geared towards business professionals who use them during aeroplane travels, and their look definitely reflects that. There are, however, a few exceptional models with stylish looks.
High-end manufacturers tend to use the best material available, and you most likely don’t have to worry about finding hidden flaws and construction defects. The one thing that you should pay a close attention to is the fit and comfort. Even the best noise cancelling or noise isolating headphones won’t be able to function well without a proper seal. Everybody has a slightly different head size and shape, and what works for one person might not work for you. If you can, go into a store and try them out in person. Don’t rush, take your time, and try to spot even the smallest signs of irritation or discomfort. These small issues could grow into large problems after just a few hours of continuous listening.
Make sure that you also test the noise cancelling functionality. Use the headphones as you would normally and try turning the noise cancelling on and off. Listen for changes in background noise and see how it compares to regular noise isolating headphones. If you feel like it doesn’t perform up to your expectation, move on. If you intend to use your new headphones in the office, have somebody talk to you and see how they deal with speech.
Most noise cancelling headphones use regular AA or AAA batteries. These are easy to find, and you can also use rechargeable ones to save some money. On average, you can expect around 35 hours of continuous playback time. This translates to roughly one or two weeks without a battery change. Some headphones use built-in lithium-ion battery charged via USB port. The advantage of this solution is that you can conveniently charge your headphones from your laptop, wall charger or portable power bank. The downside is the loss of battery capacity over time.
Some headphones are able to keep playing even without any battery power, but other models simply refuse to function at all. We would highly recommend you to look for such a model that can continue playing even when you run out of power. You will lose the noise cancelling feature and maybe experience a change in sound quality, but that’s preferable to being stuck without music.
It doesn’t really matter which type of batteries you decide to use. Both alkaline and NiMH batteries work fine and neither is superior to the other one. Alkaline batteries can be purchased inexpensively in bulk, but they tend to last less than NiMH batteries. A high-quality charger with, at least, two pairs of rechargeable batteries is a very good investment that will give you longer playback time and save you some money in the long run.
It’s also a good idea to consider extra features and accessories as a part of the overall package. Some headphones come with a protective case. These travel cases can be soft or made out of hard material that is capable of protecting your headphones in case you accidentally drop them or just carelessly toss them into a backpack. Hard-shell case can be purchased separately, but it’s nice to have one made specifically for your headphones.
If you travel a lot and cannot afford to take with you any bulky luggage, you should look for headphones that fold. It’s a simple way how to reduce the size and make headphones much more portable. Pay special attention to how the hinges feel when you try to fold and unfold the headphones. They should operate smoothly without requiring too much or too little force. Once on your head, they need to snap in the place and don’t make any sound.
As already mentioned, a detachable cable adds an extra versatility, as it allows you to use your headphones with portable or desktop audio players not equipped with Bluetooth transmitter.
Some headphones feature control buttons for comfortable music and volume control. These buttons should be easy to locate and provide a good tactile feedback. A voice confirmation is often included, but we don’t find it to be a necessary feature.
And last but not least, make sure to check whether your headphones come with a built-in microphone. It’s annoying to always have to take the headphones down whenever you receive a phone call.
When it comes to headphones, you get what you pay for. A high-quality active noise cancelling headphones are a sophisticated piece of technology and more you pay the higher quality you can expect. Chances are that those $50 budget noise cancelling headphones that you saw on sale won’t perform even half as well as $250 headphones from Bose or Sony.
If you cannot afford to spend such money, it’s not a bad idea to wait and save, rather than buy something that wouldn’t perform up to your expectations. Budget headphones often lack in build and sound quality and their noise cancelling performance is not much better than what you would get with regular passive noise isolating headphones. Of course, a good pair of noise isolating headphones will also sound amazing and not cost much more than what you would pay for a mediocre pair of noise cancelling headphones.
The good news is that once you cross that $200 mark you will have to work very hard to find any problems or annoyances with all noise cancelling headphones. At that price point, high quality is expected and manufacturers do their best to deliver upon their promises. Of course, unfortunate exceptions happen. That’s why you should always carefully read reviews before you decide which pair is the right one for you.
What Are The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones?
The design of the MDR1000X is low-profile and has a classy feel to it thanks to the faux leather that covers both earcups. You can get the headphones either in black or grey beige, with the grey beige version usually being cheaper because most people go for the black version. Regardless of which color you go with, the headphones are always made entirely from plastic, but this doesn’t negatively affect their durability in any way.
Sony expects a large percentage of the buyers of the MDR1000X to be business professionals who often travel by plane and want a comfortable solution how to minimize the engine noise so they can focus on work or relax. To make the MDR1000X easier to carry, Sony made the headphones fully foldable, making it easy to neatly store them inside the included hard-shell carrying case.
The large rechargeable battery that powers the headphones provides up to 20 hours of continuous, wireless music playback. Thanks to the integrated microphone and Bluetooth profile connectivity, you can accept a call with just a…
BÖHM is a new manufacturer of Bluetooth headphones, earbuds, and speakers. Their products combine elegant, luxury design with modern technology. The same approach is also found in their noise-cancelling headphones.
The main component of these headphones is their lightweight aluminum housing that uses zinc alloy metal detailing to add a few points to the style department. Both the headband and the earpads are padded with artificial leather that is smooth to the touch and comfortable even during long listening sessions.
People with large heads will find the headband to be very accommodating, and the folding earcup design makes storage in the provided hard-shell case a breeze. The cable has an inline remote with microphone, while the left earcup houses playback controls and the power button.
Everything is powered by the built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery with 290 mAh capacity. It takes just 3 hours to charge it to 100%, which translates into 16 hours of uninterrupted playback time. The one thing we cannot understand is why somebody over…
SMS Audio STREET by 50 Cent
SMS Audio STREET by 50 Cent headphones promises to be different from other designer headphones on the market. Promotion material speak about rich, dynamic, high definition audio with comfort, style, and durability. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that these headphones truly do not disappoint in any of these aspects.
SMS Audio Street have a sleek looking modern design with many beautiful colors you can choose from. Their
lightweight construction and exceptionality soft earpads with memory foam cushions perfectly mimic the shape of human ear and provide a great fit that enables extremely long use without any discomfort whatsoever. You really do not need to worry about their build quality since every aspect of these headphones is made to last a long time of hard use.
In terms of their sound, there is really only a little to complain about. They feature professionally tuned 40mm drivers and enhanced bass without going overboard in the bass department as many other headphones in this category do. It is almost effortless to drive these headphones from any audio source from iPhone to your average portable audio players. This gives you a lot of room for volume adjustment and overall pleasant listening experience.
Unlike other headphones on this list, SMS Audio STREET use passive noise cancellation technology as opposite to an active one. This means that you do not need to use…
vQuiet from Velodyne are over-ear noise cancelling headphones that utilize Velodyne’s proprietary noise cancelling technology that promises to remove up to 90% of all unwanted sounds while still offering deep accurate bass, expressive mid tones, and detailed high tones.
Their innovative collapsible design and great build quality make vQuiet the perfect headphones for travel. The blue logo on the side not only adds to their design but also serves as a button that you can use to activate special audio enhancements to make your music sound even better.
vQuiet Over-Ear Noise Cancelling Headphones are
comfortable even after hours of use thanks to a generous use of soft padded leather on earpads and on the head bridge.
The most noticeable aspect of their sound is how excellent and well-balanced the bass is. It gives you that full sound that is such a fun to listen to and works great with all genres of contemporary music.
Both passive and active noise cancellation do a great job at reducing all unwanted background noise and you can safely use them in public spaces even at higher volumes because of…
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 QuietPoint
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 are a successor to the very popular ANC7b. There are priced slightly higher than the predecessor but promise to offer even better performance and build quality.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 are incredibly comfortable thanks to their soft headband made out of memory foam and
very soft leather that feels great on the skin and provides a good ventilation so that your ears do not get too hot even after extended wear. Their extra-thick earpads additionally add comfort and eliminate the pressure on the top of your head.
ATH-ANC9 have a mainstream sound that is very fun to listen to. They have slightly more bass than ANC7b which is generally a good thing because it gives them a nice warm coloring while also preserving all clarity in low frequencies. The overall sound signature could be described as musical.
Noise cancellation has three different noise modes corresponding to various frequencies (airplane, office, and library) and can be turned on or off with a switch located on the left earpad. With any noise cancellation headphones, you cannot expect them to block 100% of all outside sounds, but Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 come very close and let you easily focus on your music even in louder environments. The headphones can last up to…
Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic
Bose QuietComfort 25 (or QC 25) are engineered with a true attention to detail which is seen in all aspects of these headphones. They a have a stylish look that manages to be both modern and elegant but also youthful and sporty. This makes them accessible to all generations of potential users.
Owners of previous generation of these headphones, Bose QuietComfort 15, will definitely appreciate that QC 25 can be used without battery power so you no longer have to result to using backup headphones when you run out of
juice. Speaking of noise cancellation, it just works great. It provides a truly immersive experience when listening to music or playing games. Those of us who have to travel a lot will appreciate the excellent noise isolation that enables a high degree of concentration on any task.
When it comes to build-quality and comfort, Bose QC 25 are excellent. They are lightweight and can be worn even for a longer time periods without any discomfort. The headband is made out of cotton instead of letter resulting in less heat and sweating.
Their sound quality is top notch. Your music will sound amazing without any noticeable sound coloration despite being a slightly on the warmer side. QC 25 maintain a great balance and…
Sennheiser PXC 450
Sennheiser PXC 450 are built specifically for travelers and people who need to concentrate in louder environments like busy offices and trains. There are jam-packed with modern technology that focuses on delivering pristine audio production and audiophile-grade sound on the go.
Sennheiser PXC 450 fit snugly on your head and offer a premium comfort that will make you forget that you even have them on your head. You can fold them up nicely and store them in the included carrying case for maximum protection.
These headphones have a tight fit which results in a good noise isolation without being uncomfortable even after longer periods of use.
When you combine the effective passive noise cancellation with the active noise cancelling, these headphones become truly ideal for really loud environments where other less effective headphones would fail.
Sennheiser PXC 450 can give you a gorgeously detailed sound that will make you notice new details even in songs you know by heart. Many Sennheiser headphones are somewhat moderate when it comes to bass and PXC 450 is no exception. Their overall sound is well-balanced and absolutely not fatiguing, but if you are looking for heavy, full sounding bass then you should probably avoid this model. The bass is definitely there, but it…
Noise-cancelling headphones are earphone are in great demand, but their high price puts them out of reach of many people. The NoiseHush i7 Active Noise-Cancelling Headset promises the same performance as headphones that cost 3-4 times as much. Read more to find out if there is any truth behind this claim.
The predominantly plastic build of the i7 headphones is simple but strong enough to support heavy daily use. The headband has a support metal band inside, which enhances the overall rigidity without adding too much extra weight.
The design is quite similar to headphones by Sennheiser. The silver and black combination looks professional and will suit most people no matter where they intend to use these headphones. The shiny plastic part shows fingerprints, so it’s a good idea to keep a microfiber towel in the included carrying pouch.
We have found these headphones to be very comfortable, thanks to the use of genuine leather for earpads and the headband. Under the leather is a high-density memory foam, which conforms to…
Monoprice is at it again with their newest noise cancelling headphones. They combine affordable price with a proven track-record of success when it comes to building great headphones for the fraction of what competing manufacturers charge. Will they match the high-quality standard that we’ve grown accustomed to, or will they show that not everything can as affortable as we would like?
The overall design follows Monoprice’s tradition of reliable simplicity. Both earcups have a shiny plastic finish that attracts fingerprints, but looks very nice when it’s clean and polish to perfection. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to keep the headphones looking great, as all other plastic surfaces are matte and resistant to scratches.
The headphones definitely look much heavier than they actually are. They weigh just 6.3 ounces, which makes them very comfortable to wear. Their grip is just about right – not too loose and not too tight. The memory foam earpads feel nice on the skin and let…
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 are a rare breed of in-ear headphones that combine high-level of passive noise-isolation with active noise-cancelling functionality to greatly reduce the total amount of outside noise.
The strange shape of these earphones helps to achieve a deep insertion, thus increasing passive noise isolation and allowing listeners to reduce playback volume and protect their ears from damage caused by prolonged exposure to overly loud music.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint earbuds play it safe and stick to the combination of silver and black. Their appearance is professional, easy on the eyes, and it’s safe to say that it won’t go out of fashion anytime soon.
Somewhere in the middle of the cable is the QuietPoint box that houses a single AAA battery, a power switch, and a volume control wheel. Sadly, all that stuff takes quite a bit of space and makes the box feel pretty heavy. You can really feel it tugging on the cable, when you walk with the earbuds in…
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic
When it comes to high-quality noise-cancelling headphones, no other company is as widely recommended as Bose. Their first pair of noise-cancelling headphones hit the market in the year 2000, and they have since then become synonymous with premium quality and performance for a premium price.
Most design elements are purposely chosen to accommodate company’s TriPort design and proprietary StayHear+ eartips, which securely hold the earbuds in place without causing any discomfort or painful sensation.
Right at the joint of the Y-cable is an in-line remote controller with high-quality microphone for voice calls and voice commands via Siri or Google Now. The remote has four buttons: three for playback control and one that activates the so-called Aware Mode. This special mode temporarily switches off the noise cancellation and uses the built-in microphone to let you…