Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones have rapidly risen in popularity over the past few years as frequent fliers and bus commuters opt to cancel out the sounds of airplane and bus engines. Noise-cancellation technology doesn’t merely block out noise from your ears, but actively cancels out extraneous noises by generating anti-noise signals that effectively destroy the sounds before they reach your ears. For more information on how noise-cancelling headphones work, click here.
When comparing noise-canceling headphones, there are three main things you should look for.
- Travel-Friendliness – Do the headphones fold down to take up less space? Do they come with a hard-shell travel case to protect them while you travel? Since noise-canceling headphones usually cost around $300, it’s important to know that your luggage won’t bend or break your headphones mid-transport.
- Batteries – AAA or rechargeable? Having your AAA batteries die mid-flight can be a huge inconvenience. If it’s a rechargeable battery, does it come with an airplane adapter so you can charge it mid-flight?
- Noise-Cancellation – this one seems obvious, but since most of these noise-cancellation technologies are patented, there’s a big difference in effectiveness of each of these headphones.
Without further adieu, here are the best of the best noise-canceling headphones:
#1 Bose QuietComfort 35
If your buying headphones for noise cancelling, then it is really hard to beat the world-class technology that Bose has developed in this category. The QuietComfort 35 headphones exhibit the best noise cancelling performance over all other headphones on this list. You’ll get reliable Bose-quality sound as well, with a little help from the built-in volume-optimized EQ processing.
- excellent noise cancellation
- good talkback mic sound quality
- good overall music playback quality
- pivoting ear cups allow for very comfortable long-term use
- good Bluetooth connectivity range and device connectivity
- slightly brittle sound characteristic
- highest price point on this list
- build quality not as robust as some other models on this list
- headphone jack uses smaller connection so replacement cables maybe be more difficult to find for wired-headphone users
#2 Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless
Superior sound quality gives the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 wireless noise cancelling headphones a big advantage over other headphones on this list. If your main requirement is accurate music reproduction and quality listening to a variety of music styles, then you’ll want to strongly consider these headphones. The noise cancelling technology is not as refined as the Bose headphones, but the reproduction of musical nuances will certainly impress critical listeners. While the vintage-looking style may appeal to some users and not others, the construction is very sturdy and durable.
- Solid metal band construction
- foldable and very compact
- excellent sound quality and musical reproduction
- great Bluetooth wireless range
- tight fit with good outside noise isolation
- Noise cancelling not as good as the Bose headphones
- may feel a little heavy for some users
- finish on the headphones can tend to wear off in some cases
- perceived loudness may be lacking for some users
- built-in talkback microphone is lower quality than other headphones on this list
#3 Bose QuietComfort 20i
With the Bose QuietComfort 20i you get superior Bose noise cancelling technology in a compact earbud-sized package. These headphones are perfect for someone needing noise cancellation technology without the bulky over-the-ear style of more traditional models. The soft Stay Hear+ eartips are comfortable, easily accommodating several hours of use. And the sound quality is good, especially considering the outside noise isolation that this style provides. There are a few different options to chose from when it comes to cable selection: no talkback microphone, microphone for Apple devices, or microphone for all other devices.
- excellent noise cancelling technology in a compact package
- great for very active users
- good sound quality
- comfortable for wearing long-term
- cord sets with the built-in microphone can exhibit some cable noise (as is common for this construction style),
- slight audible hiss when noise cancelling is turned on,
- no belt clip for the battery/control box.
#4 AKG K495 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones
Of all the headphones on this list, the AKG K495 headphones come the closest to matching Bose’s noise-cancellation technology. In fact, you would probably only notice the difference when listening to both headphones side by side. The obvious advantage the AKG’s have is that you can listen to music with the noise-cancellation turned off, and indeed these headphones were the best sounding headphones with NC turned off (the Sennheiser’s were a close second). This, plus the fact that these headphones look slick, means that you could use these headphones as your every day headphones and take them travelling with you on airplanes.
The large leather earcups and headband are comfortable, and headphones contort every which way to make them fit into your backpack. It does comes with a hard carrying case for airplane travel, as well as three different travel adapters (the headphones charge via USB).
All in all, these headphones come within a hair’s breadth of matching Bose’s noise cancelling effectiveness, while giving you headphones that you can use anywhere at anytime.
#5 Sony H.ear On MDR-100ABN
These Sony noise cancelling headphones feature the perfect balance of audio quality, style, and noise cancellation technology. They rival the higher price point of the #1 rated Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones, but you still get great performance and overall quality for the price. The noise cancelling technology for the H.ear On MDR-100ABN headphones is better than the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, but not quite at sophisticated as the Bose solution. Music playback sounds warmer than the Bose, but perhaps not quite as detailed as the Sennheiser. The construction of these headphones is solid and they feel well built. With an average 20+ hour battery life, the Sony H.ear On is a great choice for long-term wearing.
- Good noise cancelling
- quality audio reproduction
- several color options to choose from
- sturdy construction
- Higher price point than most other headphones on this list
- slight static noise when in noise cancelling mode
- some users may feel like the headphones are too heavy or tight
#6 Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Audio Technica has an ingenous solution to the drawback of most noise-cancelling headphones. They are usually only good at cancelling out certain frequencies. Bose’s are good at blocking out low frequency sound, which is good for airplane engines. But what about a crowded cafe? These are my personal favorite NC headphones because you can choose between 3 modes of noise-cancellation: the first is low-frequency, then the mid-range (for busy environments like coffee shops) and then a ‘home’ mode for making quiet environments even quieter. This is great if you work at home and want to block out distractions like the hum of the fridge, noisy neighbors or the sound of garbage trucks passing by your house. I found it to be an effective concentration augmenter.
It’s also mobile friendly, with an inline remote that will work for both iPhones and Android phones. The one drawback is that it’s powered by AAA batteries (like the QC15). But if you don’t mind these (you could always get rechargeable batteries!) these headphones are quite a treat.
#7 Philips NC1/27 Fidelio
The Philips NC1/27 Fidelio headphones feature a very sleek and modern design, making them perfect for traveling professionals not concerned with flashy colors or bulkiness found in some other headphones. The NC1/27’s have good quality sound reproduction and a long lasting 30-hour battery for noise cancelling. It should be noted that these are not Bluetooth wireless headphones, so if you want to listen to music, you’ll need to plug in. The ultra compact size of this model makes it a great choice for space-conscious travelers. While these headphones are very comfortable, the headband may feel a little weak for some users, causing the headphones to slip a little bit, especially for activities like exercising.
- very compact
- great for travel
- professional-looking design
- quality construction
- good sound reproduction
- not Bluetooth enabled
- may not clamp to your head very tight
- microphone sound quality is not great
- relatively small ear cup size
- lower quality audio when noise cancelling is turned off
#8 Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Audio Technica’s second entry on this list is kind of like that prize fighter that fights above his weight class. The ANC7B headphones retail for around $150, about half the price of the other entries on this list, and yet offers noise-cancellation technology that gives them a run for their money. While most budget NC headphones block out around 75-85% of external noise, the ANC7B’s block out over 90%. The ear cushions are big and plush, and these headphones come with the same travel case and accessories as the ANC9 listed above. It does not have the three types of noise-cancellation, which is the main reason for the price difference, but the noise-cancellation mode it does have is more than enough for a restful plane trip.
#9 Philips Fidelio NC1
The Fidelio NC1 is a slightly older model and has many of the same features as the more enhanced NC1/27 model. The biggest differences are in the styling notes and the musical fidelity of the headphones. While the NC1 still delivers great sounding audio, the NC1/27 provides a little extra boost in clarity and sonic precision. Noise cancelling capabilities are about the same between the two models, and the compact package of the NC1 make it an affordable travel-worthy set of headphones.
- very compact
- provide with a nice carrying case
- good audio quality
- will play audio even if batteries are dead
- audio cable required for audio playback (noise cancelling works fine without cables)
- small ear cup size
- minor hissing noise when noise cancelling function is engaged
#10 Parrot Zik 2.0
The Parrot Zik 2.0 is a colorful set of headphones, and the minimalist design with brushed-nickel accents has a slight retro throwback appearance. The “concert hall” EQ effect provides quality playback sound, and the noise cancelling technology is actually pretty decent. Another fun feature is the Parrot Zik 2.0 mobile app, which allows the user to customize the audio experience with several different EQ settings and even a library of more advanced custom presets.
These headphones do fold flat for travel, but they are not collapsible, so they are not as compact as other headphones on this list. The battery life leaves something to be desired, providing only 6-hours of wireless audio listening and noise cancelling usage. If you’re looking for a stylish set of headphones to use around the house or on your commute, these might be worth checking out.
- Good noise cancelling
- lots of audio presets and listening modes
- Bluetooth connectivity
- colorful and minimalist design
- Short battery life
- not very compact compared to other units
- construction is a little cheap
- multi-device Bluetooth support is intermittent for some devices
#11 Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR
The Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR headphones feature the largest drivers in this group, coming in at a whopping 50mm instead of the traditional 40mm size found on most other over the ear headphones listed here. Like the Parrot Zik 2.0, the Creative Sound Blaster headphones have a mobile app that allows some control of music presets, monitoring battery life, and selection of virtual surround sound modes.
Music playback is good, and the larger drivers definitely provide a boost in the bass response, which may be a little too much for some listeners. The built-in EQ is a great way to help compensate for any frequency response preferences. Noise cancelling is pretty decent for headphones at this price point, and the large ear cup size should be able to fit most heads and ears.
- Good noise cancelling in a low-cost set of headphones,
- several EQ options and virtual surround sound listening modes,
- large ear cup size.
- 8-hours battery life,
- music can be a little bass-heavy without any EQ adjustments,
- headband construction is on the cheap side and hinge connections may be prone to breaking under stress.
#12 Plantronics BackBeat Pro
For the price and features available, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro features the longest battery life of the lower-tier products listed here, coming in at around 24 hours of usability. The music playback quality is pretty good and they are fairly comfortable. The noise cancelling technology is OK, but it isn’t going to rival some of the other headphones ranked higher on this list. Perhaps the biggest complaint with this set of headphones is the talkback microphone. It just doesn’t produce a good quality sound for listeners on the receiving end of a call. These headphones do fold “flat”, but they are not necessarily compact for frequent travel considerations.
- long 24-hour battery life
- good quality music playback
- multi-device Bluetooth support works very well
- audio pass-thru function can allow outside sounds to be amplified instead of cancelled at the push of a button
- not very compact
- poor talkback mic quality
- noise cancelling is ok but not great
- ear cup covering may be torn easily
#13 Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones
Overall, the Samsung level On Pro wireless headphones are very functional and will serve their purpose for many casual users. Music playback sound quality is good, noise cancellation is decent, there are advanced controls available with the mobile app, and they fold up into a rather compact package. However, the build quality, comfort level, and so-so battery life of 11 hours are enough to cause these headphones to rank lowest on this list. They aren’t bad, but they just don’t perform at the same level as some other similarly priced units.
- good music playback quality
- reasonable noise cancellation
- mobile app for advanced control
- convenient touch controls on the side of the headphones, pairs well with Samsung Bluetooth-enabled Smart TVs
- cheap physical construction and design
- not comfortable for wearing beyond a couple hours
- 11-hour battery life is on the low side
#14 Bose Quietcomfort 15 Headphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
It’s no shocker that the company that first invented noise-cancellation technology has the most effective noise cancellation (it was originally created for pilots to block out engine noise). There are a lot of rival headphone makers who have great headphones with more features and better build quality, but Bose still takes the cake because their headphones can still block out extraneous noise better than any other. Bose also gets points for its travel-friendliness. The headphones fold down neatly and come with a hard shell case that will let you pack them into a stuffed suitcase and still be worry free.
The knocks against these headphones are the cheap plastic build that should not be on headphones priced at $300.
The other is the fact that if your AAA batteries should die, the headphones die with them Most other NC headphones will still let you listen to music with NC turned off, but not these. The noise cancellation works best on constant background noise, but does not work well against voices.
All in all, Bose QC15’s excellent noise-cancellation is what keeps them on top of this list.
#15 Sennheiser MM-450 Flight Bluetooth Headphones (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
With the extra cost of these headphones comes all the features you could ever want. Sennheiser’s excellent headphones also have the added benefit of being the only noise-cancelling headphones that are also wireless bluetooth headphones. The headphones are compatible with both Apple and Samsung devices (like the iPhone and Galaxy). There’s several different modes to these headphones: plugged in, wireless, and noise-cancelling on/off. Most noise-cancelling headphones sound atrocious when you try to listen to the music with NC turned off, but these ones sound a little bit better. They also have a neat ‘talk-through’ button, where you can have a conversation with a flight attendant without having to take off your headphones.
The best part of these headphones are the powerful battery. If you use noise-cancellation only, it will give you 20 hours on a single charge (rechargeable Li-ion battery). With bluetooth they will last 12 hours, and with both NC and bluetooth the headphones will last 8 hours. If you have an airplane adapter, then no matter how long your flight is you’ll never have to worry. The headphones are also very travel-friendly. They fold down flat and fit neatly into their carrying case (included). If I have one complaint it’s the blue light on the outside of each earcup that doesn’t serve a function. It’s there to look cool. But in a darkened flight cabin that light can be distracting.
Overall the NC is good (it boasts Sennheiser’s new Noisegard 2.0 NC technology), but not quite as good as Bose’s Quietcomfort. But these headphones give you everything that premium noise-cancelling headphones should: lots of features that all work well together, powerful batteries and it’s even wireless.