by Adam MolinaMarch 18, 2017

Sometimes listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of the people around you can be an enlightening experience, but sometimes it isn’t. As someone who rides subways everyday, I know how necessary it is to block out the world sometimes just to keep your sanity. Whether you’re always in crowded areas, working at your desk, or a frequent commuter noise cancelling can be a much needed feature. Not to mention that they help you focus on what’s important: the music.

Besides sound quality, a good pair of noise cancelling headphones do two things: provide a comfortable fit for extended use and also accurately cancel out unwanted outside noise. Without getting too technical, Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) is achieved by using of built-in microphones that pick up what is going on around you. The headphones then produce their own out of phase sound waves that negate any outside sound. With so many options out there (and a lot of them quite expensive), we decided to make a list of the best noise cancelling headphones you can get.

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Best All-Around

Sony MDR-1000X

If you’re looking for the best ANC headphones period, the Sony MDR-1000x should be the first you try out. Not only do they have some of the best active noise cancelling we’ve seen (good enough to rival the famous Bose noise cancelling), but they come with a ton of cool features that make these really easy to use. The build quality is top notch with synthetic leather ear cups that also have touch controls built in. You can swipe up or down to adjust volume, tap to pause or play, and swipe left or right in order to skip between tracks. We found in our full review that the controls were a little too sensitive, but it’s better than constantly swiping and nothing happens. Of course these wouldn’t be best all-around headphones if the sound quality wasn’t also really good. If you enjoy a ton of bass these might not be for you, but there is a healthy low end that makes most genres enjoyable and vocals in the mids shine. They also feature a 20 hour battery with Bluetooth and ANC turned on. Speaking of the noise cancelling, these also feature a passthrough mode which will let you hear voices coming from outside of the headphones if you want to. Or you can just block everything out. You’re call.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
Yes
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Water-Resistance
No
Battery Life
20 hours
Size/Weight
6.3 x 4.5 x 9.5 inches/9.8 ounces
Pros
Active noise cancellingSound qualityBattery life
Cons
PriceKnown creaking issues

CB3 Audio Hush

If $400 is way more than you’re willing to pay (and who can blame you), then maybe the CB3 Hush will be more up your alley. They’re an inexpensive pair of noise cancelling headphones that are the definition of bang for your buck with more than a few solid features all packaged into a pretty modern design. Starting with the build and design, these are very comfortable. The padding on the headband and ear pads feels nice to the touch and allows them to rest comfortably on your head for even the longest listening sessions. If you need to pack them in a bag they’re also fairly flexible and can fold at the hinges so you can throw them in a backpack if you need to. On the right ear cup you’ll find only three buttons, all of which are basically multi-functions. You can turn on the headphones, enter pairing mode, skip tracks, and control volume. The controls do take a little getting used to but they should be committed to memory within 10 minutes of using them. On the left ear cup is the switch that will turn on the ANC and a 3.5mm input jack for when the battery dies out. That said, with Bluetooth and ANC turned on, these should get you a solid 15 hours of playback time which is enough for the average flight or commute. The two best features about these headphones are arguably the most important when it comes to a pair of noise-cancelling headphones: the ANC and the sound. A lot of times headphones with weak ANC will simply get a little louder in order to block out the outside noise, but that isn’t the case with the Hush. As the name implies, they have really solid noise-cancelling considering the price. Voices and dog barks will still slice through, but the low hum of trains and even nearby air conditioners get noticeably less audible when you switch it on. It allows you to focus on what’s important: the sound. These don’t really have an accurate sound but if you’re into a more fun-sounding pair of headphones that sound good then these might do it for you. The CB3 Hush don’t exactly have premium build materials, but that doesn’t mean theyre not a great pair of headphones. At less than $100 these are a no-brainer if you want your headphones to do a little bit of everything and do it well.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
Yes
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
15 Hours
Weight
2.2 Pounds
Size
6.1 x 2.2 x 7.9 inches
Pros
PriceSoundComfortable
Cons
Build Materials
Best for Travel

Bose QC35

The Bose QC25s were on everyones shortlist if you wanted one of the best noise-cancelling headphones out there. They were extremely good at what they did, and though the new Bose QC35 doesn’t improve upon many of the specs of the previous model they did do one thing that makes these a more compelling buy: they made them wireless. Bose is known for their great ANC, and the QC35s carry on that tradition. It’s some one of the best we’ve seen and now that they’re Bluetooth they’re an even better value. The padding on the ear cups isn’t only extremely comfortable, it also passively blocks a good amount of outside sound too. Pair that with the strong ANC, and these are in a class all on their own. As far as quality goes these tend to be more embellished in that classic Bose way, so if you’re looking for super-heavy bass or an accurate sound you might have to look elsewhere. Besides the ANC these have playback controls built into the ear cup which lets you control volume, change tracks, pause/play music, and access Siri or Google Now. They also have a built-in dual-microphone system with “noise-rejecting technology so they can even work when it’s windy. As the standard in ANC, the Bose QC35s wont disappoint. There are a few new welcome changes to these headphones too. Unlike the previous QC25s, it no longer matters what kind of device you have thanks to Bose finally deciding to ditch the wires. Whether you’re rocking an Android or iOS device the playback controls should function exactly the same when you’re connected via Bluetooth. They also threw in a built-in rechargeable battery, ditching the AAA batteries required by the previous model. Now you can plug in and recharge them just like you would any other device. This is both good and bad, because most people (myself included) aren’t too fond of plugging in multiple devices to charge every night. But on the bright side, these now have a solid 20 hours of battery life with ANC and Bluetooth turned on, so at most you’ll only be plugging them in to charge two or three times a week. Thankfully Bose didn’t get rid of the hardshell carrying case so you can still keep your investment protected if you need to stuff them in a bag. The new QC35s are available now for $349 in either black or silver color options and have a 4.4 out of 5 star rating on Amazon.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
Yes
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
20 Hours
Weight
10.9 ounces
Size
3.1 x 6.7 x 7.1 inches
Pros
ComfortSuperb ANC
Cons
Price

 

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B

If you’re reading this you probably know a thing or two about audio and have heard of Audio-Technica. If you haven’t heard of them here’s what you need to know: they’re awesome. They’re pretty much the internets favorite brand because of their ATH-M50 headphones which had a great quality-to-price value. Unfortunately, those headphones don’t have any ANC to speak of, but these do. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B Quietpoint headphones take everything that’s good about the brand and adds up a 20dB reduction to outside noise. These are over-ear closed-back headphones as well, so there’s sure to be a good amount of passive blocking to go along with the built-in active cancelling circuitry. They have a clean design meant for travel and can easily be folded flat to better fit in the included hardshell carrying case. As far as comfort goes, these have a lot of cushion and are flexible enough to fit heads of all shapes and sizes (assuming youre not a cone head). Still, its whats on the inside that counts and the large aperture 40mm drivers in the ATH-ANC7b headphones are sure to make every detail sound crisp. You can pump these up to about 109dB which when paired with the ANC should be more than sufficient to drown out any random rumbling around the office or airport. They also take AAA batteries and one battery should last you roughly 40 hours of ANC. Should they die on you they can also be used in passive mode, and being closed-back headphones they should do a fairly good job at passive noise blocking as well. Audio-Technica likes to include two cables with their headphones and these are no exception. They come with both the standard 1m cable that ends in a 3.5mm jack and a longer 1.6m cable that you can swap out depending on how you feel that day. Along with that youll also get a 1/4 adapter, a hard-shell carrying, and (like any self-respecting ANC headphones) an airplane adapter for flights. These scrape the upper limits of pricing that we have for this list, but with a 3.7 out of 5 star rating on Amazon we figured these were worth it.
Bluetooth
No
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
40 Hours
Weight
1.1 Pounds
Size
8.2 x 2.5 x 11 inches
Pros
PriceLightweight
Cons
Average ANCUses AAA batteries

 

Best Design

Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 SE

Plantronics has struck a chord with customers thanks to their Backbeat line of headphones. Whether you want headphones for exercise or for the office they offer something, this time in the shape of the Backbeat Pro 2 SE headphones. These headphones are made of decent build materials, but have a really unique design that looks professional enough for the office but cool enough to wear on a commute. Noise cancelling is good enough to cut out the low hum of trains and planes during a commute, but don’t expect much more than that. Still for the most part, that’s all you really need. Where these headphones really shine are the amount of playback controls they come with. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it having a dedicated button for playback controls is a little easier than trying to remember how many taps it takes to go back to the previous song. One thing to take notice of is that these do have a fairly strong bass and the comfortable pleather earcups also create a pretty good seal. You can expect a 24 hour battery life which is pretty good for long flights as well as a strong Class 1 Bluetooth connection to your source device for minimal skipping. Overall, though these aren’t the best ANC headphones you can get, they come in at a price point that’s hard to argue with when you consider what you get.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
Class 1
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Water-Resistance
No
Battery Life
24 hours
Size/Weight
9 x 9 x 3 in/0.6 lb
Pros
DesignConnectionBattery life
Cons
Decent ANCMainly plastic build

Noisehush i7

One pair of headphones that keeps popping up are the NoiseHush i7 headphones. These also fall under the active noise canceling category and use AAA batteries to make that happen. NoiseHush claims that the noise cancelling technology is so advanced that it even works sufficiently while turned off in passive mode. Pretty impressive if that’s true. Even if it’s not these are over-ear headphones so simply having them on will drown out a lot of annoying ambient noise. Couple that with music playing and you should be fine until you can find yourself another pair of AAA batteries, which will last you about 120 hours of constant playback by the way. The i7s also have a detachable audio cable which is nearly 6 feet long and flat, meaning you won’t have to worry about spending the first few minutes of your flight untangling them. The ear cups themselves are made of memory foam covered in genuine leather which should allow for hours of comfortable listening. The headband has a similar padding all around and is adjustable to fit pretty much every sized head. But it’s not all about the comfort (for most), inside those ear cups the i7s are packing 40mm neodymium drivers that help to pump out “audiophile quality sound.” We’re a bit skeptical anytime a company uses that phrase but these have been getting solid reviews so the sound definitely has to be at least be good, if not up to audiophile standards. On the audio cable you’ll find a one-button remote and mic so you can answer calls and control music playback that works with both Android and iOS. Normally a manufacturer has to decide which OS they want to be optimized for and more often than not iOS is the winner, but Noisehush found a clever way to get around that decision. Instead of adding volume control to the remote (which is for Android and iOS devices) they added a small volume wheel to the bottom of the ear cup next to the ANC button. They get brownie points for that workaround. These sell for $99 on the official Noisehush website but you can usually find them on Amazon for significantly less, usually less than $100. These have acquired a score of 3.2 out of 5 stars from over 300 people so if you’re on a budget the NoiseHush i7s are definitely worth taking a look at. They also come with a handy carrying case, an airplane adapter, and a 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter for when you feel like plugging these into something like a DAC or audio interface for enhanced audio.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
No
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
about 120 Hours
Weight
1 Pound
Size
4.0 x 2.0 x 2.0 inches
Pros
PriceComfortable
Cons
Used AA batteriesAverage sound

 

Best Comfort

Sony H.ear On Wireless

Sony has a reputation for making really good — well, everything. There’s a reason they’ve been around for so long dabbling in pretty much every area of consumer technology ranging from cameras to Bluetooth speakers, but their new Sony H.ear on Wireless NC headphones have been impressing loads of people. First thing you’ll notice about these is the unusual design. They look vaguely futuristic with its rounded off edges and sloping aesthetic. It’s not for everyone, but it isn’t unattractive by any means. Being over-ears, these headphones might give you the impression of being big and bulky but they’re actually fairly slim for what they are. Bluetooth parts, the battery, and the ANC components are all tucked away neatly somewhere in these headphones. Why are they on this list? We’d have to say comfort. Aside from the Bose QC35s, these are arguably one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones out there. The ear cups have an oval shape to them which allows for your ears to sit comfortably in them for long listening sessions. This is also where the playback controls and microphone live so you’ll be able to seamlessly skip through songs and answer phone calls.The headband is also easily adjustable, but firm enough that you won’t have to continuously mess with them in order to get them to stay on your head. These are arguably one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones out there. In terms of features these have “smarter” ANC which Sony claims means that the headphones will listen to your surroundings and select the most appropriate Noise Cancelling mode. Whether or not it actually does that is hard to test, but either way these do have some effective noise cancelling. On top of that there’s a small air vent at the top of each ear cup which helps to keep the bass response tight and efficient for a more accurate sound. Sony is all about accuracy now and these are Hi-Res certified so if you have the right kind of audio file you can easily stream lossless files. The Sony H.ear on Wireless NC currently cost around $348 and have an impressive 4.1 out of 5 star rating on Amazon.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
Yes
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
20 Hours
Weight
2 Pounds
Size
7.0 x 4.8 x 9.2 inches
Pros
ComfortSoundGood ANC
Cons
Price

 

H501 ANC Headphones

If you still want comfort but aren’t looking to invest in anything too expensive, try the H501 ANC Headphones. These don’t look too crazy and have a pretty barebones design, but they do have a good amount of padding and customers have claimed that they’re perfect for long listening sessions. These have a two 40mm drivers packed into a round ear cup that’s covered in memory foam padding and if you have any experience with memory foam, you can imagine how comfortable these must be. The headband is able to rotate a full 90-degrees so it can lay flat on a table, but don’t expect to be able to fold these since they’re lacking any hinges. These can last you about 50 hours with ANC before you need to charge them. One thing to take note of is that these are wired, and since they’re wired that means that they work with either Android or iOS devices thanks to differences between the two headphones jacks. In this case, the H501s were made to work with iOS so if you have an Android device don’t be surprised if you get slightly less functionality. That said one thing you can expect is a solid bump in battery life over some of the other Bluetooth products. Since the battery only gets used for ANC, these can last you about 50 hours of ANC before you need to charge them back up. With more than 200 reviews on Amazon, the H501s have a solid score of 4.3 out of 5 so if you’re looking for a comfortable pair of headphones that with ANC these seem to be a good choice.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
No
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
50 Hours
Weight
9.7 x 8.6 x 3.3 inches
Size
8.5 ounces
Pros
PriceBattery Life
Cons
iOS only remoteAverage sound
Best for All-Day Listening

AKG N60NC

Noise cancelling headphones are only as good as their battery. If the battery gives halfway through a flight or after minimal use, then what’s the point? Obviously you can pack a giant battery into a large pair of headphones and get an amazing battery life, but if you want a slim pair of headphones that optimizes its battery life-to-size ratio take a look at the AKG N60 NC. These on-ear headphones have sleek modern design with all-black plastic and aluminum accents. The headband is wrapped in a comfortable leather which is also reflected in the ear cups. They have a number of playback controls on the ear cup and next to that is a 3.5mm input. The ear cups on the N60 NC can fold completely flat so you can hang them loosely around your neck when not in use. Thankfully doing this won’t be too cumbersome because, unlike plenty of other headphones, these keep a relatively thin profile when flat. A slim pair of headphones that optimizes its battery life-to-size ratio. Somewhere in those ear cups is where you’ll find the battery. While connected via Bluetooth and with the ANC powered on, these headphones can still give you about 30 hours of continuous playback. If you want a pair of headphones that will last you all day and then some, the N60 NCs by AKG won’t disappoint. That said they aren’t cheap and at $249 they’re an investment for sure, but if you value portability and battery life these are a great choice. If you want even more information on these before sealing the deal, check out our full review.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
No
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
30 Hours
Size
5.3 Ounces
Pros
Battery LifeGreat DesignGood sound
Cons
PriceAverage ANC

 

Monoprice Hi-Fi ANC Headphones

We’ve taken a look at a good number of Monoprice items, and are always impressed. The company has made a habit out of producing inexpensive products with sound quality that rivals the best. The Monoprice Active Noise Cancelling headphones are just another example of that and that’s why they made our budget item. If your budget is around $100, these are another good option. To cut down the final price, shortcuts need to be made and corners cut. Monoprice usually achieves this with their build materials. These headphones are fairly barebones and made almost entirely out of plastic. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re fragile. In our research we didn’t find one complaint about them breaking. As far as design goes they only come in all-black and the only branding is the company name in small white letters on the ear cup. The rotating ear cups along with the adjustable headband also ensure a good fit for almost any sized head. They’re also fairly light for over-ears, weighing in at less than 6.3 ounces. As is the case with most things, it’s what is on the inside that counts. Monoprice uses 40mm drivers with a frequency range as deep as 20Hz and highs at about 20kHz. As over-ears these already do a decent job at passively blocking unwanted noise, but the added ANC shaves another 19dB off of that. Similar to the Bose headphones earlier in this list, it’s powered by a single AAA battery. That lone battery should get you around 50 hours of ANC and if it runs out, you can still use the headphones in passive mode with one of the included audio cables. This might be the budget pick, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with some handy accessories. Included with the headphones you’ll also get a hardshell carrying case for easy transport, a 55” audio cable with in-line mic and playback controls, a 58” audio cable that ends in a 90-degree connector, a 1/4” adapter, airline plug adapter, splitter cable, and even a AAA battery to start you off. CNET even compared these to the Bose QC15s saying that they’re “70% of the quality at 1/3 of the price. That makes sense considering they have a 4.2 out of 5 star rating on Amazon.
Microphone
Yes
Bluetooth
No
Noise Cancelling
Yes
Battery Life
50 Hours
Weight
2.56 Ounces
Size
12.8 x 14.3 x 3.4 inches
Pros
PriceBattery Life
Cons
Average ANC

 


So far, these are the best noise cancelling headphones we’ve seen. That said, there’s always going to be newer and better headphones coming out so as we review them we’ll update this list. While you’re here, let us know which headphones are your favorite or which you think should make our best noise cancelling headphones list.

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