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.
Sony MDR-1000XFull Review
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.
Bose QC35Full Review
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.
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.
AKG N60NCFull Review
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.
If $200 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 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.
Disclosure: CB3 Audio is a partner brand of SoundGuys.com
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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