What’s your favorite song? Take that track and sprinkle in a few kids screaming on an airplane. Add a roommate who thinks the TV only works at full volume. Sprinkle in a little chatter from a coworker who’s mouth doesn’t have an off switch. That favorite song of yours doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it? Rather than further assault your eardrums by cranking up the volume on your music, cut out the audio clutter with a set of noise-canceling headphones. We’re not entirely sure how this technology works – we assume it’s magic from the same wizard who invented NVGs – but it does a fantastic job of making sure you hear every note of your music and every word of your podcasts and nothing else.
Noise-canceling headphones can be found for just about any budget, and there are even earbud versions for those of you who don’t like the over-ear style. Sound good?
Jump straight to the top of the food chain with Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones. This high-tech, premium pick was developed with Sony’s music division in Tokyo. External noise gets canceled effectively thanks to two noise sensors. An internal microphone lets you answer phone calls, and buttons for volume, skipping tracks, and activating your device’s voice assistant put control at the touch of your fingers. Pair multiple devices and switch from one to another using headphone controls. These smart headphones can actually detect when they’ve been removed and will pause whatever you’re listening to automatically so you don’t miss a beat. You can also place your hand over the right headphone to put the action on hold with quick attention mode. A full charge will last you 30 hours. These headphones come with a hefty price tag, but we don’t expect technology like this to come cheaply. [Buy]
Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II
Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II noise-canceling headphones are another premium option that deserves consideration. Fans of high-quality audio will recognize Bose instantly and have high expectations. These headphones deliver top-shelf sound quality. They use separate microphones to detect ambient noise and your voice, so you can cut through the white noise and still make clear phone calls. Take charge with physical buttons or download the Bose Connect app to control your headphones from your phone. The app will allow you to pair devices, adjust settings, and install updates as they become available. Soft-touch materials give these headphones a comfortable, premium feel to match the listening experience. Battery life is rated at 20 hours. These aimed at audiophiles who appreciate studio-grade sound and are willing to pay for it. [Buy]
Beats Solo Pro
It will come as no surprise to find the Beats Solo Pro noise-canceling headphones on our list. You’ll get active noise cancelation, great sound clarity, and a microphone that lets you communicate with your device’s virtual assistant on the go. These headphones also have a transparency mode that lets you choose when to hear your surroundings–a great advantage for times when you need to have situational awareness. Battery life is rated at 22 hours when all capabilities are active, and 40 hours when these are used as traditional headphones. Fold these over-ear headphones up when you’re done, and they’ll automatically shut off to save battery life. Add in a range of fun colors, and you’ve got a real contender. These headphones have the potential to provide great value since discounts are fairly easy to find. [Buy]
Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra Elite 85h noise-canceling headphones come with everything you need to block out the world and enjoy your music anywhere. These headphones have the longest battery life on our list at 36 hours of active noise cancellation (only the Beats Solo Pro lasts longer, but that’s without ANC activated). Unlike traditional noise cancelation that you switch on and off, these headphones constantly analyze your surroundings to apply noise cancelation in just the right amount when it’s necessary and automatically deactivates when it’s not. This design uses eight microphones; six detect ambient noise for accurate cancellation, and two pick up your voice for crystal clear phone calls. Use the Jabra app to fine-tune your music with the headphones’ equalizer. In addition to the capabilities you’d expect, these headphones are water-resistant and come with a case, audio cable, USB cable, and commercial flight adapter. [Buy]
Gym rats will love being able to tune out the house music with a pair of Panasonic S500 noise-canceling earbuds. There’s a lot of technology packed into these in-ear headphones to give you clear sound, even in loud gyms. Five sizes of earpieces let you get a secure fit in the ear canal and ensure that these headphones stay put if you want to wear them running. In addition to helping them stay in place, the small size is also much more discreet than wearing over-ear headphones on the go. Control volume, change tracks, and answer phone calls with touch sensors. Customize your headphone settings and even locate misplaced headphones using the Panasonic app. Due to the extremely compact size, battery life is limited to 6.5 hours. That’s significantly less than over-ear headphones, but more than enough to get you through a workout, run, or phone call. [Buy]
Shoppers on a budget can still enjoy noise cancelation, thanks to Cowin E7 headphones. These are an entry-level option, so you’ll have to take a step down in audio quality and extra features when compared to our other recommendations. Still, you’ll get speakers capable of delivering rich bass notes, the ability to make phone calls, and a 30-hour battery life. The microphone also allows you to use voice commands with your phone, just like on higher-end alternatives. Connect to your device wirelessly or with the standard 3.5-millimeter auxiliary cable. Choose from seven colors to match your style. You wouldn’t confuse these headphones for one of the premium options we found, but it’s nice to know you can get a pair of noise-canceling headphones without breaking the bank. [Buy]
Types of noise-canceling headphones
Deciding which noise-canceling headphones to buy comes down to price and style. You can expect high-eng headphones to block out background noise more effectively and deliver better quality audio from your device. Style is a matter of preference; choose between large, over-the-ear headphones that surround your entire ear with soft padding, or buds that you can insert into your ears. Both do a good job of blocking out noise, so which one you choose will depend on which style you find more comfortable. Earbuds are lighter and better for exercise, but they can irritate your ears after a while and probably won’t offer the same level of sound quality as over-ear alternatives.
Key features of noise-canceling headphones
- Sound quality: Since the whole point of buying noise-canceling headphones is improving the audio quality of your music and podcasts, it’s worth spending some extra money to get a pair with high-quality speakers.
- Size: Large noise-canceling headphones that fit over the ear do a great job and remain comfortable for hours. In-ear headphones might give up a little bit of audio quality, but they give you the option to take your music to the gym or for a run.
- Battery life: If you primarily use your headphones at home or work, battery life might not be a big concern. For those of you who do a lot of listening on the go, make sure to think about battery life and recharge times to avoid lugging around dead headphones.
- Controls: Noise-canceling headphones can come with a range of bonus features. These use different kinds of controls, so pay attention and think about what kind of buttons, touch sensors, and connectivity work best for you.
- Microphone: Most noise-canceling headphones let you take calls with a built-in microphone. If this is a feature you care about, prioritize headphones that can receive sound in addition to transmitting it.
Benefits of noise-canceling headphones
Noise-canceling headphones can be a very effective way to preserve your hearing. With white noise from your surroundings eliminated, you can enjoy your music at safe volume levels and still hear every note. They’re also great for isolating yourself from stressful environments like commercial airplanes, subways, and barracks built from paper mache and packing tape. Added perks like built-in microphones and touch control let you take calls, adjust the volume, or change tracks on the go.
Noise-canceling headphone pricing
There can be a pretty significant price difference between various noise-canceling headphones. While some brands might add on a few dollars for the name, you generally get what you pay for. Premium headphones can easily cost $300, or more. For that, you can expect studio-quality audio and superb noise reduction. For $100 to $200, you can get fantastic value from headphones that deliver on quality but don’t charge an arm and a leg for top-tier performance. At the low end of the price range, you can get entry-level noise-canceling headphones for about $60. These won’t offer the same sound quality, but they’re better than blowing out the speakers on your old headphones to drown out unwanted background noise.
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