Everybody appreciates the need for a silent environment. Constant noises can elevate your stress levels over time. However, noise-cancelling headphones are an excellent way to eliminate outside ambient noises and help you relax. For example, you might want to block that low hum in a plane or vehicle while traveling.

Image used under Creative Commons from Fe Ilya

What You Need to Know About Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Noise Reduction vs Noise Cancellation

Let’s start with the distinction between noise reduction and noise cancellation. The first one is a passive process that occurs every time you put your headphones on. By putting them on you automatically reduce the amount of outside noise that gets to your ears simply because you covered them with something. Noise reduction has its limitation though. The better the noise reduction the tighter the fit of the headphones has to be as they work as a barrier between your ears and outside sounds. Obviously, they tighter the fit the least comfortable the headphones. And you don’t want to choose a pair that’s great at reducing noises but you can only use it for 20 minutes at a time because after that period your ears hurt and beg you to take those headphones off.

Noise cancellation comes to the rescue here. It’s an active process that, in short, picks up outside noise and generates a pitch that negates that noise. So by the time the outside noise gets yo tour ears it’s nullified by the pitch created by the headphones which results in you not hearing the noise even though it’s there. The process of negating the sound is referred to as destructive interference. Headhpones with noise cancellation have a small microphone that picks up ambient noises and generates the mentioned nullifying pitch. To do that theose headphones are equipped with batteries and additional electronics that create that pitch on the fly. Similarly to noise reduction noise cancellation has its limits as well. First of all, it nullifies the lower-frequency portions of the noise while it doesn’t do that great of a job for higher-frequency parts. That’s why you’ll often hear speech unchanged. Because of the way active noise cancellation works some headphones offer different modes (.e.g airplane mode, stuy mode, etc.) that you can switch between to work best in the circumstances you’re in.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to noise cancellation is that is allows you to listen to music on a fairly low volume and not hearing most of outside noises. Using normal headphones you would have to switch the volume to high or even very high to achieve the same result.

You can read more about noise-cancelling on Wikipedia and How-To Geek.

Differences between typical headphones and noise-cancelling ones

As mentioned before, noise cancellation is an ative feature that requires additional electronics and batteries for the electronics to work. That results in increased weight of the headphones. Please note that most headphones can work without batteries but if that’s the case, the noise-cancelling feature is disabled. Some of the headphones don’t work without batteries at all. Also, it’s important to remember that in some situations the noise-cancelling feature might result in a bit worse sound quality as the nullifying pitch interferes with the actual audio.

Price range and expectations

In electronics the quality almost always depends on the price of a product. You can’t expect great sound quality and noise cancellation from a product that’s below $50. In most cases the product will simply be ‘good enough’ for its price. So the higher your expectations are the more you’ll have to pay to fulfill them. On the other hand, not everyone has to invest 300 bucks to get the top-notch model. For an average listener with typical needs a model from the middle-of-the-pack is something that will both meet their needs and won’t break the bank.

Reading reviews

Almost all noise cancelling headphones have a bunch of critical reviews. While obviously some people might not like certain headphones much, you’ll often see reviews in which people complain about the noise cancellation not working. Please note that many of those reviewers don’t really know how and in which situations the feature should work so they’ll complain they still can hear other people talking, etc. That’s why earlier in this guide you can find a simple explanation of the feature to give you a bit of context so you’ll know what you will buy.

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones under $50

There’s not that many noise-cancelling headphones below $50 out there. At least not many worth considering. Below you can find a few models that aren’t noise cancelling headphones but do a good job of reducing outside noises. It might be worth considering buying those instead of choosing cheap headphones with active noise cancellation. Please remember that you can’t expect ao $50 headphones to be of as great quality as high-end $300 ones. Choosing in this price range you should be okay with the quality of the headphones not being top-notch.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23

PROS

  • lightweight (therefore great for traveling) and affordable
  • cancel reqular noise (e.g. on an airplane) well
  • not dependent on battery

CONS

  • cord length

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 headphones are definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for affordable in-ear headphones with active noise isolation. All the electronics responsible for generating the noise-wave that cancells the outside noises and batteries are placed in the control box. It includes 1 AAA battery that’s included in the package. These headphones work when the battery is dead although the noise-cancellatino feature is obviously gone. They work best in environments where the outside noise is regular – sudden or high-pitched sounds aren’t being cancelled well.

ATH-ANC23 headphones are a great choice for a someone who is looking for headphones great for traveling, as it offers really good (for the price) noise cancelling features while remaining lightweight and easy to carry with.

Here’s a quote pulled from Amazon from on of the buyers.

thought that surely i’d be returning these with disappointment but thought affordable, active noise-canceling earbuds would be great if they worked so it was worth the risk. Not only do they work, they work like a miracle. I haven’t used these on an airplane yet but i’ve been finding noisy stuff to test them around. My apartment’s A/C is completely muted when these are on, in fact if i leave them on over the course of an hour i can only tell the A/C is on because air starts blowing on me.

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Sony Noise Canceling OH Headphones

Sony Noise Canceling OH Headphones

PROS

  • affordable
  • really good sound quality
  • you can fold these headphones which makes traveling with them not that big of a deal

CONS

  • sound quality drops significantly when you turn of the noise cancelling feature

Sony Noise Canceling OH Headphones is another model of inexpensive active noise-cancelling headphones. Reviewers like the sound quality of these and are pretty happy about the noise-cancelling abilities. Obviously they won’t cancel outside noises as good as Bose headphones do, but Bose cost a few times as much. The thing might be a bit of an issue is that these headphones aren’t full over-the-ear ones, so the noise reduction they offer isn’t that great and could be better if these were covering entire ears. When it comes to batteries, it needs 1 AAA battery in order to work.

Here’s what one of the buyers wrote about these headphones in a review on Amazon:

A good alternative to the overpriced Bose. Trying them at the store, the Bose did block more background noise (like things went SILENT when I put them on). However, for 1/4 the price, these work just fine! They do make a big difference on a plane.

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Koss QZ-99 Noise Reduction Headphones

Koss QZ-99 Noise Reduction Headphones

PROS

  • really good sound reduction
  • great alternative if you need to reduce all outside noises (e.g. when mowing the lawn)

CONS

  • offers only passive noise reduction

The Koss QZ-99 Stereophone is a passive noise reduction headphone that offers great noise reduction. Initially designed for use with metal detectors and radio scanners the Koss QZ-99 has become a choice for people who need to cut down on ambient noises. The headphones also feature a 3.5mm and 6.4mm plug to enhance a connection with most radios and scanners. Built to endure the harshness of outdoor or indoor use, the QZ-99 feature a sport neodymium magnet structures that convey exceptional clarity and definition.

Priced at around $50, the Koss QZ-99 headphones also feature a volume control mechanism that enhances easy sound level adjustment. Additionally the Q7-99 are filled with Pneumalite ear cushions and a more secure headband seal to create a complete seal around the ear eradicating all external noise from getting through. Please note that these headphones don’t offer noise cancellation, they only offer passive noise reduction. They got their way to this list as they are an alternative to noise-cancelling headphones in a similar price range. Please note that they’re quite heavy and put some pressure on the head (as many headphones that reduce outside noises passively).

Here’s a quote from one of the reviews on Amazon.

They passivly block external sounds thru extremely effective sound silencing. and the audio is not bad either. the cable is curly so it does not get caught up in my chair’s wheels or drag on the floor.. yet it has the reach where i can stand up and move around the room a bit so i love the cord.

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Best Noise Cancelling Headphones under $100

Solitude XCS2 Active Noise Canceling Headphones

Solitude XCS2

PROS

  • stunning sound quality
  • good noise cancellation

CONS

  • not as good as models that cost 2x the price

XCS2 is a new model of headphones presented by Solitude. The previous model(XCS) received a lot of positive reviews and people at Solitude took the feedback they got and decided to come up with an even better product. First thing most people mention about these headphones is the sound quality, which is exceptional for a sub $100 pair of headphones. Please note that if you switch off the active noise cancelling feature the quality degrades substantially (as it does in pretty much all headphones of this type). That means running on batteries all the time is a must if you want to enjoy the best sound quality (and I’m sure you do). The noise cancelling feature is also really effective, but make no mistake, it’s obviously not as good as in $100+ and $200+ headphones described below. When it comes to what you get for your money, Solitude XCS2 comes with a carry case, microphone, dual pin adapter, microphone cord and a stereo adapter, so it has all the bases covered.

If you’re looking for a set of noise cancelling headphones that don’t break your budget, Solitude XCS2 is definitely worth considering. Just read what one of the Amazon buyers wrote about this model:

Are they as good as Bose? No! Are they 90% as good? HELL YES!!!! The quality of them isn’t Bose, but then again they’re a third the cost. Time will truly tell, but I’m currently very happy with them. I gave it 4 stars because of the slightly cheap feel of them, but I’d buy them again.

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BÖHM Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones

PROS

  • Bluetooth-ready, but you can plug them in as well
  • rechargeable battery

CONS

  • not that comfortable

First thing worth mentioning about these headphones is that with them you can go wireless (via Bluetooth) or decide to plug them in. That’s a feature many people love. Most of us don’t mind the cord while working or watching TV, but that changes when we want to work out or need to commute. That’s the time when the cord is really annoying and going wireless is a godsend. The sound quality is overall really good. Please note that quality is a bit worse when you go wireless, which is understandable. People find these quite comfortable (although definitely not the most comfortable set on the market) and the noise cancelling feature does it’s job.

BÖHM headphones feature an inline remote and a microphone, so they are ready for talking hands-free call. They come with a male-to-male cord, a case and a USB charger. Charging the battery takes about 3 hours and that last for up to 18 hours of usage (obviously depending on the volume and whether you’re only listening to music or talking as well).

If you are looking for wireless ACN headphones that don’t break the bank BÖHM Bluetooth headphones are definitely worth checking out. Here’s what one of the reviewers wrote about these:

All I can say is that I’m buying another pair this month to give as a gift, and will probably purchase a third before the end of the year so that I can keep an extra pair in my office. If you’re trying to decide between this and a more expensive brand, I’d strongly recommend giving the BOHM headphones a chance first. They’ve exceeded my wildest expectations so far, and I’m just really glad I got a chance to try them before shelling out a lot more money for something else that probably wouldn’t be as great as these have been!

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Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B QuietPoint

PROS

  • really good noise cancellation for the price
  • well balanced sound

CONS

  • sound leaking – not a great choice if you don’t want other people to hear what you are listening to
  • obviously, the sound and noise cancellation quality isn’t as good as in $200+ headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B headphones are big, bold and get the point across — sometimes you don’t just want to drown out the daily grind in life, you want to completely obliterate it and feel like it just doesn’t exist at all. With advanced noise cancellation circuitry, you can get up to 90 percent reduction in the environmental noise all around you. So you don’t necessarily have to crank up the volume to push away the noise, you can cruise on regular sound volume and let it be. With large apertures and 40 mm drivers, you have pounding bass, fidelity that sounds like you’re right there and treble that may or may not be able to break glass — if you’re into that sort of thing.

ATH-ANC7B comes with very cushioned padding and several adapter types. This way you can play it on large sound systems, airplanes and regular devices. The components of these headphones are all solid and well built, so you know you’re rocking high quality. This can get a little heavy at times, and if your head is larger these can hurt if you wear them for an extended amount of time. There is also a slight lack of sealing from the outside — while you might not be able to hear them, there’s a decent chance that if you’re in a library they can hear you. Otherwise, this is a solid deal on some great headphones.

Here’s a quote pulled from a review of these headphones on Amazon.

Wanting noise canceling but not ready to cough ˜$200 more the Bose QC25 hence went with the ATs and couldn’t been happier. Nice sound, great cancellation, very much like the fact audio keeps going if running out of batteries, as happened on a 10 hour trip. The ANC7B’s were not only good isolating from plane’s engine, but also muted a couple of unrest children nearby.

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Plane Quiet

PROS

  • great noise cancelling for the money
  • easy to carry while traveling as they fold nicely and the cord is detachable

CONS

  • material quality isn’t that great – not the best choice if you plan to use those extensively

These Plane Quiet noise cancelling headphones are very good for listening to the sound of nothingness on a flight. You can also use them with most kinds of electronic devices with ease since they are both FAA compliant and brings up to 18 dB of noise cancellation to the table. So you don’t have to crank your music to really enjoy it, even if there are other people or machines in the same area with you. You can use the airline adapter, 1/8 in or 1/4 in adapter to use just about any kind of device with these headphones. If the cord ever breaks, you’re in luck because it’s detachable and can be replaced.

The reviews of Plane Quiet headphones are good on the whole. They fold up very easily, and if the cord gets shorted because of too much bending for travel you can just use another one for awhile until you can get a good replacement. You don’t have to be listening to music, either, as these are what they claim to be — headphones that are to be used while traveling on an airplane to cancel out noise. To use the noise-cancelling feature you need one AAA battery (included in the package). Their sound quality is better than what you’d get with the really cheap headphones, but it isn’t the best out there. And while comfortable, some call these headphones a little tight.
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Best Noise Cancelling Headphones under $200

Monoprice Hi-Fi Active Noise Cancelling Headphone

PROS

  • combine passive and active noise cancelling
  • allows you to easily make and take calls

CONS

  • sound quality isn’t that great

Monoprice Hi-Fi headphones combine passive and active noise reduction really well. When you put these on you notice the passive isolation right away. That’s half of the magic. The other half happens when you activate active noise cancelling. In combination, they provide great ambient noise reducting, ideal for a busy work environment like an open space environment where everyone seems to not care that you’re trying to focus and actually do your job. Obviously, the noise cancellation aren’t as great as in $200+ headphones, but for most people it’s more than enough. When it comes to using these at work, you should be happy to hear that they are comfortable enough to use for an extended period of time without your ears getting sweaty or in pain. Built-in microphone is also something you might appreciate in an office environment. The sound quality these offer is decent, so unless you consider yourself an audiophile, you likely will be happy about it.

Here’s what one of the buyers wrote about these:

I decided to give these a try. Generally, I am pleased, especially since they are $185 less than the Bose. They are simarly comfortable and unlike the Bose these can still work without Noise Cancellation, though sound quality suffers. The Monoprice are a notch below the Bose in sound quality and more in noise cancellation, but for the price they are a good deal.

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Audio Technica ATH-ANC9

PROS

  • top-notch noise cancelling and comfort of use
  • amazing sound quality

CONS

Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 is a more powerful and more expensive version of ATH-ANC7B mentioned above. The noise-cancelling technology is even more advanced here – you can choose from one of three modes: airplane, office or study. Different modes target different frequencies so for example the airplane mode (used for trains and busses as well) targets low frequencies (as they are dominant in that kind of environment). For the noise cancelling feature to work it requires 1 AAA battery. The sound quality is even better than in ATH-ANC7B and you can use the headphones with the battery dead, but please note that the sound quality seems to be better when the noise cancellation is on. When it comes to things that people complain about, similarly to ATH-ANC7B, is that they leak sounds so if you’re in a very quiet environment it’s important to keep the volume fairly low. Overall, ATH-ANC9 seems like on of the best options when it comes to just under $200 headphones with noise cancelling.

Here’s a quote from one of the reviews of these headphones on Amazon.

I normally use it on a train ride but also used it for a flight from SF to NY. Peacefully quiet. You’ll still hear a faint distant engine hum but if you take it off, you will see how loud that hum really is! No wonder NC headphones are so popular with the folks that fly often.

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JVC HANC250 Noise Cancelling Headphones

PROS

  • good value for the price
  • travel-friendly: lightweight, foldable and come with a carring case
  • good noise cancelling despite the on-ear design

CONS

  • cable is fairly short for using with home stereo

If you’re looking for middle-of-the-road headphones with noise cancelling then JVC HANC25 are worth taking a closer look at. They offer good noice reduction (even though they are on-the-ear, not over-the-ear headphones) and require 1 AAA battery for up to 50 hours of using. They’re lightweight and their cable cord is detachable so if something happens to the cable you just buy a new one. They fold flat and go into a slim carrying case, ideal for traveling. When it comes to comfort and sound quality they are decent but you definitely can find better ones in a similar price. Reviewers are really happy about how the noise cancellation works so if that’s your primary concern these seem to be a very good choice.

Here’s quote from one the reviews posted on Amazon.

These headphones gave me a nice quiet flight from the US to India, which alone is worth quite a bit. They’re pretty low profile as far as noise cancelling headphones go, which I appreciate – I hate wearing huge cans on my head.

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Best Noise Cancelling Headphones over $200

Here are the most expensive and, in most cases, the best noise cancelling headphones available on the market. As you can see Bose headphones are pretty much dominating the list and for a reason. Many people once they decide to buy headphones with active noise cancellation simply searches for Bose headphones and buys one of the newer models. That’s because Bose headphones are well-known for their quality of sound, comfort they provide and the ability cancel almost all of the outside noise. If you’re looking for top-notch noise cancelling headphones you’ll find them below for sure. If you’re not sure you’re ready to spend over $200 on headphones feel free to go through the models listed earlier as many people find those good enough for the job without breaking the bank.

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

PROS

  • probably best noise cancelling earphones on the market
  • amazing sound quality
  • comfort, obviously
  • rechargeable battery charged via USB

CONS

  • price
  • sound quality degrades when the battery is dead

If you’re looking for noise cancelling earphones and you are ready to pay about $300 for a set of headphones, Bose QuietComfort 20 is the choice for you. Everyone knows Bose headphones are of the best quality on the market. Generally speaking, when buying noise cancelling headphones, people are looking for three qualities: great sound quality, good noise cancellation (obviously) and comfort. And if you decide to buy Bose QuietComfort 20, you will get all three of them. Plus, since these are earphones, they’re small and lightweight – perfect for carring around and using while commuting, or taking with you to the office so you don’t have to overhear your coworkers. Obviously, about $300 for a pair of earphones is quite a bit, but if you need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and can afford those, thousands of happy buyers will certainly tell you they are worth the price.

Here’s a quote pulled from one of the reviews on Amazon.

I don’t use the word “revolutionary” casually. Truth is, a product rarely qualifies for that accolade. But knowing as much as I do about noise-cancelling technology, I would not have believed that what Bose has accomplished with the QC20 series was even possible. In fact, I’d say they’ve created the best all-around earphone or headphone on the market today for everyday use with portable music players.

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Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones

PROS

  • amazing sound quality
  • top-notch noise cancelling
  • comfortable

CONS

  • price
  • few people complain about these headphones using AAA batteries (like almost all other do) instead of charging via USB

If you’re looking for the absolute industry leaders when it comes to noise cancelling, Bose is the company you’re looking for and QuietComfort 25 headphones are one of their core products available on the market. While QuietComfort 20i have a rechargeble built-in lithium-ion battery QuietComfort 25 use an AAA battery like most other headphones do. The battery being dead isn’t a terrible tragedy as you can still listen to the music. Please note that many people mentioned that the quality of sound without the battery is much lower so better pack a spare battery. With QuietComfort 25 you get pretty much everything you need – comfort, great sound quality and most likely the best noise cancellation available up to date. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.

Here’s a quote from Amazon from on of the reviews.

The QC25 represents the best Bose noise cancelling headphones to date. If you are considering upgrading from the QC15, the improvements are incremental and I would think twice about parting with $300. If you’re looking to supplement a set of QC20 earbuds, this is a great buy. If you have no Bose noise cancelling headphones, this is THE clear choice

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