If you live a perfect life, you have beautiful ambient music playing around you at all times. Unfortunately, the rest of us aren’t so lucky. Thankfully there’s such thing as active noise cancelling headphones. They use tiny microphones built into the headphones to pick up any outside noises before producing the inverse sound wave. This phenomena (called deconstructive interference in physics lingo) effectively cancels any unwanted outside noise, allowing you to enjoy your music uninterrupted. This can be crucial when deciding on a pair of headphones if you have a noisy neighbor or simply don’t want to be bothered while commuting.
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Personally, I fall into both of those categories. There are plenty of headphones out there that do an amazing job at this but they all usually come with a hefty price tag. What if you’re not looking to spend too much? Say, no more than $100? Well you’ve come to the right place because these are our picks for the best noise cancelling headphones under $100.
Disclaimer: it’s worth mentioning that it’s fairly difficult to make a cheap pair of headphones with this technology. Will they block the low rumble of an airplane, sure. Will they cancel out the crying baby three seats back or the crowd of tourists passing by? Probably not.
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If you want good sound and ANC, then the CB3 Hush should be on your shortlist. They’re an inexpensive pair of noise cancelling headphones that don’t sacrifice any features or take many shortcuts on the 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 they’re 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.
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 cash. 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.
Sony makes a lot of great stuff, so this next one should come as no surprise. Though again, they have a — let’s say unique method of naming their products. The Sony MDRZX110NC Noise Cancelling headphones are of the on-ear variety, so the passive noise blocking is less prevalent here than the others on this list. Still, if you prefer on-ears to over-ears while traveling these are the best you can get. When turned on the ANC works to block 95% of unwanted ambient noise which helps to make up for the fact that these aren’t over-ear cans.
These have 30mm drivers in them and pressure-relieving ear cup cushions. What are those? They’re ear cups that not only help to passively block ambient noise, but also help to provide a good fit to the wearer. They’re made of a urethane foam which is science talk for super comfortable. To help with portability Sony also gave these hinges so you can easily fold them and stuff them away in a bag. On top of that the ear cups swivel slightly so you can get an easier fit. Like everything else on this list, these require AAA batteries to power them. One battery should last you about 80 hours of noise canceling so if you keep a spare on you then you should be covered for quite some time. If you’re a bass head you’ll like that the frequency range on these dips all the way down to 10Hz, so even though you won’t be able to hear what’s going on (humans can hear as low as 20Hz) you’ll be able to feel that sub-bass doing work.
The Sony MDRZX110NC headphones have 3.9 foot audio cable that ends in a gold-plated L-shape 3.5mm plug which helps to strengthen the durability of that connection. That’s pretty handy considering many people are going to be using these while commuting or traveling. Oh, and naturally they also come with an in-flight adapter. If you think these might be the ones for you, you’re not alone. Clearly Sony got it right with these.
Monoprice knows a thing or two about keeping the price low, but that usually doesn’t result in bad products. On the contrary, they’re setting the bar for how expensive good products need to be.
Their Over-Ear ANC headphones are the perfect example of this. They have plush padding that keeps the headphones comfortable for long listening sessions and their ANC microphones can reduce outside noise by 15dB. On the other hand, if you prefer to give your low end an extra pump there’s also a bass boost option that can come in handy. These are wired (sorry Bluetooth fans), but on the bright side that allowed them to add in-line mic and playback controls without raising the price of the headphones significantly.
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But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, one downside to these is the battery life. Usually when a pair of headphones requires external batteries like AAA’s, you get rewarded for the inconvenience with crazy good battery life. But even though these take AAA batteries you’ll only get about 20 hours of constant playback so that’s something to keep in mind. You might need to travel with a spare pair of AAA batteries handy.
As always be sure to let us know what gems you’ve found when it comes to the best noise cancelling headphones under $100. This isn’t a booming market since ANC technology is hard to get right without raising the cost of the headphones, so most companies just skip over it altogether. Still we’re always on the lookout for better headphones we’ll be sure to add some of the better (and newer) ones to this list as they come out.
Next: Headphones Buying Guide
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