When it’s noisy where you are, whether you’re at work or trying to relax in the park on your lunch break, you have two choices that will allow you to hear the music through your headphones: you can turn the volume up or you can cancel out those exterior noises by using noise cancelling earphones. The default solution for most people is to turn up the music but if the music in your headphones reaches 105 decibels you can expect to damage your eardrums within 15 minutes. The smarter, healthier option is to keep the volume down and use noise cancelling earphones to neutralize the sound leaking in from outside. There are 2 ways they do that:
- Noise Isolation – This is the “traditional” method often known as “passive noise-cancelling”. Noise isolation in this instance combines a snug headphone fit with high quality insulating materials that absorb exterior sound in order to make the interior environment of the headphone quiet enough that you can easily hear what’s being played.
- Active Noise Cancelling – Active noise cancelling earphones are true high tech devices with microphones that sample outside noise, analyze its qualities and produce a counter-signal that effectively neutralizes the would-be incoming noise. Sure, it’s fighting sound with sound but in a scientifically proven way that breaks up the incoming sound waves instead of just trying to overwhelm them by turning up the volume.
- The Wireless Option – Makers of noise cancelling earphones recently had to scramble to address the fact that many new smartphones are being shipped without headphone jacks. It took a while to produce a wireless version of noise cancelling earphones that was worth the investment. But the newest generation of wireless noise cancelling headphones are now every bit as effective as the cord driven variety.
Now that we know what we’re dealing with let’s take a look at the 10 best noise cancelling earphones on the market, both wired and wireless.
The Best Noise Cancelling Earphone
Bose has been a leader in the consumer audio sector for decades so it’s no surprise that their QuietComfort 35 noise cancelling earphones have earned a spot in our list. These earphones epitomize the company’s ethos of making great audio more accessible, more affordable and easier to achieve and manipulate.
Bose have hit it out of the park with their QuietComfort 35 wireless noise cancelling earphones. Bluetooth and NFC pairing is easy to establish, voice guided control is simple and effective and you’ll always get clear calls via the noise-negating mic. The ability to plug these noise cancelling headphones in (should you want to) is also a plus as is the sleek modernist styling. You’re going to pay more for these earphones than you will for some others but you’re not going to be disappointed.
- Weight8.3 oz
The lithium-ion battery provides up to 40 hours of play per charge although you retain the ability to plug the earphones in should you need or want to
A series of easy to understand voice prompts makes controlling your listening experience easy and enjoyable
Audio quality won’t suffer regardless of the volume due to the volume-optimized equalizer
Comes with a convenient and attractive carrying case
Bluetooth range isn’t always what we’d like it to be
At the upper end of the price spectrum
Philips is a veteran consumer electronics outfit that’s gone in and out of favor with the populace but emerged here with high-end noise-canceling earphones that will stand firm against the competition. The ability of the system to effectively nullify incoming noise is impressive. And when paired with the ultra-high quality sound emanating from the earphones they create one of the most pleasing listening experiences you’re likely to have this side of L’Opera in Paris.
The Fidelio X2 Noise Cancelling Earphones do an outstanding job nullifying incoming noise and creating a pristine environment too. Yes, you’ll have a tether to deal with but once you lay back and engage your tunes the tether will be the last thing on your mind. This is true Hi-Resolution audio that plays digital audio files with virtually no loss. And it’s this truly astonishing audio quality that makes the Philips X2 a “Best of” list inductee. Make sure you also check our guide to the best hearing protectors.
- Weight13.4 oz
Cable management system minimizes the possibility of entanglements
Memory foam ear shells make the job of the noise cancelling tech that much easier
Extremely comfortable over the long haul
You’re tethered to a cable
The headphones don’t fold up so they can be a bit bulky to transport
Ear shell design allows a tiny amount of leakage others may be able to hear
Bowers and Wilkins may not be a household name when it comes to consumer electronics but they probably should be. They’ve been creating high end audio solutions for a discerning market for nearly half a century and the P7 Wireless Noise Cancelling Earphones are the latest proof of their expertise. The P7 wireless setup will provide wired quality audio without the ball and chain effect.
If what you want is state of the art quality sound from your wireless noise cancelling earphones and you’re not on a strict budget, you cannot lose with the P7 Wireless from Bowers and Wilkins. It’s necessary to mention the budget aspect because these are the most expensive headphones on our list. That said they’re among the top 3 best earphones on our list as well so once again, it’s a matter of getting what you pay for. And with B&W, you get a lot.
- BrandBowers & Wilkins
- ModelP7 Wireless Black
- Weight2.34 lb
Easy to charge from your PC or laptop via the provided USB recharge cable
Though they don’t shout it from the rooftops these headphones actually fold up nice and tidy for easy transport
You get 17 hours off of every charge
Incorporates many of the advances from the company’s speaker line
They don’t exactly cut a sleek modern profile
Connectivity with non-iOS devices is sometimes less than perfect
The Sony MDR1000X Noise Cancelling Earphones are modern marvels. They produce some of the richest, most dynamic audio quality you’ll get in any headphones and the outstanding level of ambient noise abatement they display just makes the whole experience that much sweeter.
Nothing is perfect but when it comes to noise cancelling earphones the Sony MDR1000X come as close as any other on this list. They’re going to set you back a few dollars, but if your primary concern is to secure the highest quality audio experience from your noise cancelling earphones then you’ll want to give the MDR1000X serious consideration. The Bluetooth connection is rock solid and the headphones are easy to control and won’t hurt your ears even after hours of rapturous listening.
- Weight9.8 oz
A level of noise cancellation that tops even Bose’s excellent QC35s
Dynamic range that’s unsurpassed
Maybe the best looking pair of noise cancelling earphones on the market
As comfortable as they are easy on the eye
The touch controls are maybe the only technically iffy component
While most of the noise cancelling earphones we’ve already reviewed are going to set you back $350 to $400 or more you can pick up a pair of these Plantronics BackBeat Pro noise cancelling earphones for about 2/3 the cost and still enjoy outstanding audio quality unimpeded by ambient noise.
Plantronics have since released a second generation of the BackBeat Pro series that incorporates some fairly significant upgrades over this first iteration. Nonetheless, noise cancellation here, while not up to professional standards, is excellent while the earphones themselves are comfortable and easy to wear for long periods. And let’s not forget that 24 hours of play you’ll get from every charge.
- Weight12 oz
Highly effective noise cancellation earphones at an affordable price
Comfortable ear shells that fit snugly without pinching or pressing in on your head
Phone calls come through crystal clear every time
Impressive dynamic range for the price
One of the bulkier looking noise cancelling headphones
Noise abatement, while excellent, is not up to standards set by industry leaders, but you shouldn’t expect that for the price
The Sony Hear Wireless Noise Cancelling headphones combine clean, sleek lines with top of the line ambient noise abatement and astonishing sound clarity. From the simple one-touch Bluetooth connectivity to state of the art noise cancelling ability that adapts to the changing environment these noise cancelling earphones are undisputed 10 best material.
Sony has pulled out all the stops on their suite of noise cancelling earphones and this is no exception. Everything about the H.ear headphones speaks of thoughtful design and quality construction. Noise cancelling is as good as any wired headset you’ll get anywhere which lets you fully appreciate just how good the hi-res audio is. These will set you back a few dollars but you’ll quickly forget the sting.
- Weight1.9 lb
Beat Response Control utilizes discrete air vents to produce clean, distortion free bass
Genuine hi-res audio can shine through thanks to the outstanding noise cancelling ability
Phone calls come through loud and clear even at low volumes
Lightweight comfortable design allows you to wear them for hours without stress or strain
The ear shells are cut pretty close so those with larger ears may want to consider something else
The Sound Blaster EVO ZxR Wireless noise cancelling earphones by Creative are trippy little buggers designed to appeal to gamers but with noise cancellation abilities and audio quality that will appeal to anyone who wants a high quality audio experience from their headphones. If you can get past the gamer oriented design cues you’ll find a lot to like in these noise cancelling earphones.
Creative has a reputation for building high quality headsets for gamers and that much is evident the minute you look at the EVO ZxR. Strap these puppies on and crank the music though and you’ll quickly understand why so many audiophiles are migrating to the EVO. They get the sound cancelling abilities of top of the line headphones for a very reasonable price. While they’re a bit bulky you’ll soon forget about that as you close your eyes and immerse yourself in the music.
- BrandCreative Sound
- Weight15.7 oz
State of the art noise cancelling at affordable prices
Allows you to use them either wirelessly or while plugged in if your battery is getting low
USB recharge cable included
A relatively measly 8 hours of play per charge
The aforementioned gamer oriented design motifs
Sony’s MDR ZX110 noise cancelling headphones aren’t going to give the Bose QC35s any reason to worry but what they will do is provide you with some of the best passive noise cancellation you’ll get anywhere. They’re light and easy to wear, the sound emanating from the headset is top quality and the insulation around the ear shells blocks out all but the most stubborn ambient noise.
You can pay a lot more for professional quality noise abatement, but if you’re on a budget these should hold you over just fine. They’re not going to win any design awards but when you’ve got them on your head and you’re swimming in the audio delights who cares? Based on sound quality alone these are excellent entry level passive noise cancellation earphones for people who love music but aren’t slaves to perfection (not that there’s anything wrong with being a slave to perfection).
- Weight4.2 oz
An outstanding all around value
Build quality is what you’d expect from Sony
Clean consistent sound regardless of background noise
Affordable without having any of the negatives you associate with “cheap”
You’ll have to find your own pouch to carry them in
Don’t expect miracles and you’ll be fine
Because gamers need a clean sound experience too we have the Logitech G430 DTS noise cancelling earphones. These uber-comfortable lightweight headphones provide you an immersive 360 degree of audio “vision”. You’ll never again fall victim to your opponent’s unheard footsteps.
With the Logitech G430 DTS noise cancelling headphones you get a quiet headphone environment that allows you to hear the tiniest details. Outside noise is effectively eliminated and the 360 audio field keeps you on your toes and in the game. The cloth covered ear shells are decidedly old school but unlike most other, fancier coverings they’re completely washable. Don’t fall victim to the unheard. Get the Logitech G430 DTS noise cancelling earphones and stay alive! Find more great products like this by checking out our guide to the best open back headphones.
- Weight10.6 oz
Ear shells have 90 degree swivel that allows for a customized feel
Dolby 7.1 surround sound lets you feel like you’re truly in the action
Fully compatible with PS4 and Windows Vista thru Windows 10
Microphone could be more durable
Plasticky feel is to be expected at the price but still unwelcome
Not quite in the same league as the QC35 the Bose SoundLink Wireless headphones nonetheless represent a high degree of technical proficiency, so much so that most would not be able to tell the difference between the two. These noise-canceling earphones are an impressive deal that will allow you to hear many of your favorites in a way you’ve likely never heard them before.
The Bose SoundLink Wireless noise cancelling headphones provide the best of both worlds with the company’s industry leading sound mitigation technology available at a price that won’t require you to cancel your vacation to buy them. They’re not the most attractive product the company makes but they’ll provide you with a listening experience you’ll want to revisit time and time again.
Some of the lightest, most comfortable noise cancelling earphones out there
Ambient sound is effectively nullified before it intrudes on your experience
About half the price of Bose’s top of the line headphones
Not their most attractive pair of noise cancelling headphones
Noise Cancelling Earphones Buyers Guide & FAQ
While plenty of people have heard of noise cancelling earphones not many know much about the technology behind them or whether they even work effectively. Some suspect they may be nothing more than a marketing ploy, like “rich Corinthian leather” (thanks Ricardo) while others have more technical questions and concerns. Below are some of the most common questions we encountered while testing the best noise cancelling earphones.
Q: What Are Noise Cancelling Earphones?
A: As we touched on at the beginning of this review guide noise cancelling earphones are a type of high tech headphone that uses state of the art audio technology to produce sound waves that actually break up and disperse incoming noise, thereby creating a silent environment in the headphone that allows you to listen to your music without having to raise the volume to 11. They have been gaining favor in recent years as the technology has improved. With more and more people using smartphones and other digital devices to stream music while on their way to work, lunching in the park or flying on noisy airliners their use is only likely to increase.
Q: Why Do You Need Them?
A: People choose noise cancelling earphones because they want to hear the music emanating from their smartphone or other listening device. Large cities today are incredibly noisy places and until recently the only way you could hear your music was to turn up the volume on your headphones and drown out the background. This technique not only created a cacophony of muddled sounds in the headphones but also put incredible stress on the eardrums. Readily available statistics show that loud music is the number one cause of preventable hearing loss in the world today. So the “solution” of simply turning up the volume to counter exterior noise is not only minimally effective, it’s also dangerous to your hearing.
Q: Wired or Bluetooth?
A: When they were first introduced wireless noise cancelling earphones were pretty laughable. Thankfully those days have receded into the fog of history and today’s wireless noise cancelling earphones work as well – and in some cases better – than their wired counterparts. Therefore, making a choice between wired and wireless is no longer a matter of choosing between high quality and low quality. It’s an embarrassment of riches where you get to choose between good and great.
Q: Can You Use these Types Of Headphones With Noise Cancelling Turned Off?
A: Sure. Even if you have active noise cancellation turned off you’ll still be able to listen to music through your headphones using passive mode. Although not all makes and models will offer this option. Still, if you went through all the time and trouble of selecting the perfect set of noise cancelling earphones you’ll want to keep their most important feature turned on. Otherwise it’s like buying a sports car and never taking it out of the garage.
Q: Are Noise Cancelling Earphones Worth The Investment?
A: The $64,000 question. As much as we love us some noise cancelling earphones we have to admit that they’re an indulgence. As such you don’t “need” them. They’re simply great to have if you love music. So whether or not they’re worth the investment will depend entirely on the value you place on being able to hear music in its pristine state. If that’s important to you then you’ll likely find this type of headphone to be of extreme interest and importance and you’ll want to get the best pair you can reasonably afford. If on the other hand you like music but you wouldn’t call yourself an audiophile you may want to think twice before dropping $400 on a pair of noise cancelling earphones.
Q: Is There Any Downside To These Types Of Headphones?
A: There are 3 potential ones:
Cost – This technology is not cheap as we just mentioned. It’s taken these companies many years of expensive R&D to create and perfect this technology. They need to recoup that investment, which is one reason why your noise cancelling headphones cost so much.
The Battery – Active noise cancellation is an electronic process that requires a power source. Some use standard AAA batteries to provide the power. Others rely on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. But no matter the battery type batteries wear down and you’re eventually left either hunting for replacement AAAs or having to recharge the L-i battery. To minimize inconvenience associated with the battery make sure you purchase a headset with a battery that gets at least 15 hours on each charge.
Safety – The job of the noise cancelling earphones is to prevent ambient noise from entering the headphone environment and sullying your listening experience. They do that job really well. So well in fact that you could be riding your bike with them on and not hear that out of control taxi honking its horn furiously to warn you to get out of the way. Or your significant other may be trying to communicate with you while you sit there in a state of music induced detachment. And you should never wear noise cancelling earphones while driving a car or operating heavy machinery. Such behavior is an accident waiting to happen.
Things To Consider When Buying Noise Blocking Headphones
Because they represent relatively new technology and that technology can take a while to wrap one’s head around shopping for noise cancelling earphones is not as easy as it may sound (so to speak). As with just about every other type of technology some companies do a better job of implementing the science than others. Some trumpet their product as noise cancelling earphones when they’re just standard headphones with a little extra insulation around the ears. While others take the matter seriously and create an internal headphone environment that’s so quiet people often use them with the music off just to enjoy the silence they produce. Here are some things to consider then when shopping for noise cancelling earphones:
Choose the Style of Noise Cancelling Earphones You Want First – As we’ve already mentioned noise cancelling earphones fall into 2 categories: passive and active. But beyond that there are different styles of earphone as well. Roughly speaking these fall into 3 basic categories: earbuds, earpads and headphones. Most manufacturers produce noise cancelling earphones in all three categories so which you choose is really a matter of personal taste. But you should decide up front in order to simplify the selection process.
You Should Always Try Them Out First if Possible – It’s difficult to decide which noise cancelling earphones are best if you can’t actually listen to the final product. As such, once you’ve narrowed down your choices you should try and find somewhere to try them out before buying them. Even if you want to buy them online seek out a retailer and try them on then make your online purchase based on the results. Is it fair to “use” a brick and mortar retailer to try things out before purchasing online? That’s up to you to decide.
In Most Cases You Get What You Pay For – While there are exceptions to every rule for the most part when it comes to noise cancelling earphones you’re going to pay more for better quality. Anyone promising you the moon for $20 is simply blowing smoke trying to make a sale. Also, as with other things in life the law of diminishing returns sets in at a certain point. That means that while the difference between $50 headphones and $300 headphones can be substantial that difference begins to become harder to detect as overall quality improves. Eventually you get to the point where the difference in audio quality between $300 headphones and $500 headphones is likely so small only an expert could tell.
Take Manufacturer Claims with a Grain of Salt – Every manufacturer wants you to believe there’s is the quietest pair of noise cancelling earphones on the market. To do so they sometimes get creative with the facts. Not that the manufacturers lie, they just parse their claims with plenty of subtle but plausible deniability. If they say their noise cancelling system eliminates ‘as much as’ 99% of ambient sound keep in mind that could also mean it actually eliminates 38%. The only way to know for sure is to try them out, which you should always do if at all possible. All the techno-speak on earth is no substitute for putting them on and listening.
Get the Features You Want – Different models from different manufacturers offer different features. Make sure you understand exactly what your earphones will do before you lay down your hard earned money for them. Obviously if you want active noise cancelling you’ll need your headphones to have Bluetooth capability. You may also want a built in microphone so you can take calls while you’re wearing your noise cancelling headphones. If comfort is important to you you’ll want to make sure the ear shells are fit snug without pinching or pressing in toward your head too hard. You might want in-line control, voice prompts or 1 step connectivity. Read the fine print, ask questions and get the features you want.
Make Sure They Have a Good Battery – Noise cancelling earphones that use active technology have a processor built into them that needs power. It gets that power from a battery or batteries. Check to see what type of battery your would-be earphones use and how long they can be expected to last. You don’t want to be changing or charging batteries all the time.
Make Sure You Get a Decent Warranty – Again, with earphones that use active noise cancelling technology there are electronic components involved that not only need battery power, but can also fail. And the more expensive the headphones the more it will likely cost to repair them should any of those complex electronics quit on you. Because of this you want to be sure your noise cancelling earphones are covered by a robust warranty and that the company’s customer service has a reputation for just that; service, and not evasion.
Noise cancelling earphones have revolutionized the way people listen to music and revolutionized their experience of that music. Even songs you thought you knew like the back of your hand are revealed to have a richness of hidden textures that were never apparent before when you had to listen through a blizzard of unrelated ambient sound. It’s no exaggeration to state that you’re going to spend most of your time going “Oh wow!” as you listen to your favorite songs for the first time with these unbelievable pieces of personal entertainment kit.
Any of the 10 best noise cancelling earphones we reviewed above will provide a revelatory experience akin to what your great-grandparents went through when they saw a movie in color for the first time or what your dad experienced when he bought his first stereo. If you’re a true music fan who listens to lots of streaming music on your handset you owe it to yourself to pick up a pair of noise cancelling headphones and see what all the fuss is about. You won’t be disappointed.
We hope you found the information in this noise cancelling headphones review and guide helpful and use it to make an informed decision when it comes time to purchase your first or next noise cancelling headset. Don’t forget to stop back on a regular basis for more product reviews and guides and tell your friends about us too. Everyone can use good product info and that’s what we’re here to provide.