Active noise cancellation is one of the most impactful quality-of-life features you can have on a pair of headphones, regardless of what you use the headphones for.
In a noisy office environment, they let you focus on the task at hand without any distractions. And they do the same thing if you’re working from home, especially if you don’t have a proper home office. Nothing will ever allow you to drown out the outside world quite like active noise-canceling headphones.
Or let’s say you don’t need them for work. Maybe you just want to listen to music and don’t think a feature this expensive is worth the splurge when that money could go towards improving the overall sound quality. But that fact of the matter is decidedly different.
The outside world will not hush down just because you’re in the mood to jam to some tunes. It could be your kids, annoying neighbors, construction noises, commutes, or whatever, but unless you live in a castle, chances are you know well what it feels like to have ambient noises intrude upon your music.
The first thing we do in these situations is turn up the volume so that the headphones can overpower the ambient noise, but this should never be the solution, as loud volume can very easily damage your hearing.
But you don’t want to buy just any headphones with active noise canceling. Regardless of the price range you have in mind, you should always aim for the best of the best, and that’s what this guide is here to provide.
So without any further ado, let’s begin.
- Affordable price
- Bass mode
- Fast charging
- Non-breathable padding
- ANC lowers audio quality
Generally speaking, ANC is not a budget-friendly feature. So when budget-friendly devices try to implement it, the end product is often not worth it.
But somehow, the folks at Anker managed to make it work with their highly affordable Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid headphones. The minimalist design of the Q20 Hybrid even makes it appear more expensive than it really is.
The ANC offered here is an unequivocal improvement over the ANC found in other headphones around the $60 price point. This gives the Q20 Hybrid a competitive edge over its competition, but this alone wouldn’t be enough to convince us to showcase it in this guide.
However, the Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid has a lot going for it, even if we look past the above-average ANC.
For starters, it’s packing 30 hours of battery life with the ANC turned on. With this feature turned off, you’re looking at 40 hours of battery life. And considering how only 5 minutes of charging is enough to net you 4 hours of playtime, you won’t ever have to wait long for the battery to recharge.
It also helps that you can use these headphones for long stretches of time without any discomfort. They’re lightweight and feature a generous amount of memory foam cushioning. The ear cushions don’t breathe well, so your ears will get hot after prolonged use, but that’s the only issue the Q20 Hybrid has in terms of comfort.
In terms of sound, these headphones sound fine. Unsurprisingly, the overall audio quality is better when the ANC is turned off. They’ve also got a Bass Mode, which will indeed make the bass more powerful, but at the expense of the other sound frequencies.
Overall, the sound is on par with its competition, but the great battery life, comfortable design, and above-average ANC make it an easy choice for our budget pick.
- Excellent audio quality
- Premium feeling plastic
- Multipoint connectivity
- Battery life
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Codec support
Released to an MSRP of $130, the JBL Tune 750BTNC sought to be the choice pair of ANC headphones for buyers looking to spend a bit more than $100 to ensure good quality.
Even at the time of release, the consensus was that the JBL Tune 750BTNC had an audio quality that punched way above its weight (or, in this case, price).
The balanced sound signature does all frequencies justice, although the clear standout here is the bass. The 750BTNC has just the right amount of hard-hitting punch to elevate bass-heavy music to new heights without ever compromising the mids or the highs.
As always, though, there are certain caveats when purchasing a device that seems too good to be true. In this case, the downsides involve the battery life and extra features.
With the ANC turned on, you’re looking at 15 hours of battery life or 22 hours with the ANC turned off. Worst of all, there’s no fast charging feature, so these headphones require their fair share of diligence to use every day.
As for the features, they’ve only got Bluetooth 4.2 to their name. Plus, the codec support is scarce and unimpressive. It does support multipoint connectivity, which is a huge plus, but whether or not this makes up for the lack of aptX or SBC support is left to the individual.
We should also mention that these headphones are made entirely of plastic; although it’s not cheap plastic by any means, it even feels premium! And the matte finish boasts a high resistance to fingerprints, so overall we’d give the design a thumbs up.
If you’re in need of competent ANC and excellent audio quality, it’s hard to pass up on the JBL Tune 750BTNC, especially as it often goes for less than $100.
- The best ANC
- The best sound quality
- Lots of gimmicky features
- No IPX rating
The Sony WH-1000XM3 was considered by many to be (among) the best noise-canceling headphones on the market. Yet somehow, the folks at Sony outdid themselves when designing the sequel.
They may look the same – what with the sleek, understated look and plenty of padding – or feel the same – being just as comfortable to wear and premium to the touch – but there are lots of subtle differences that make the Sony WH-1000XM4 the superior product.
Firstly, and most importantly, the active noise canceling is somehow even better this time around, particularly in the lower frequency ranges.
But in addition to this, the WH-1000XM4 also has lots of cool new features, the foremost of which is multipoint connectivity which lets you pair these headphones with up to two devices at the same time.
It’s also got some more gimmicky features that make chatting easier, like Speak to Chat which can pause music and turn the ANC off when the microphones register your voice or Quick Attention that can lower the playback volume, turn off the ANC, and enable voice ambient mode when you place your hand over the right earcup.
The battery life is rated at a mind-boggling 30 hours, with fast-charging that’ll net you 5 hours of battery after a mere 10 minutes of charging! And if this wasn’t enough, the headphones also do a damn good job of conserving battery life, thanks to proximity sensors inside the ear cups that will pause your music when you take them off.
You can even make it so that the headphones turn themselves off after the sensors notice you haven’t been using them for a while.
You are, unfortunately, stuck with the AAC codec if you want to use multipoint connectivity. Regardless of this, the WH-1000XM4 sounds absolutely stupendous, with a flattish frequency response and perfect detail across all frequencies.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Battery life with ANC: 20 hours
Battery life without ANC: 40 hours
- Unique design
- The best call quality
- Amazing ANC
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (props to whoever was in charge of naming this product) is instantly recognizable with its slim, stylish, and almost futuristic looking headband. Instead of attaching to the ear cups, the headband flows through them, making the size adjustment a novelty in its own right.
The right ear cups feature a trackpad that’s used to issue touch controls for track skipping and volume control. And when you hold down the button on the left ear cup, you’ll enter Conversation Mode, which will pause music and turn on transparency mode.
As far as comfort goes, the Bose 700 is as comfortable as it is light, and it is exceedingly light. Wearing it for hours on end poses no problem, be it in a home, office, commute, or flight environment.
To access the full breadth of features, you’ll want to use the Bose Music App, which is used to install updates and change the settings. For example, it lets you tinker with the EQ, set the level of noise cancellation from 1 to 10, install a voice assistant directly onto the headphones, etc.
You can map three levels of noise cancellation as presets to a physical button on one of the earcups that are used to cycle through them.
The battery can last for 20 hours with the ANC turned on or 40 hours with the feature turned off, and it takes only 15 minutes of charging to get back 3.5 hours of battery life. As far as sound quality is concerned, it’s great, although it does favor the upper midrange at stock settings.
However, the one place where no other ANC headphone has the Bose 700 beat is the call quality. If you want or need to take calls anywhere and everywhere and want neither you nor the person on the other end of the line to hear any background noise, there’s no beating these headphones.
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How to Choose the Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones For You?
The products featured in this guide are the best of the best, and to make sure it stays that way, we update this and all our other buying guides regularly.
However, even though you cannot go wrong with any of these picks, we don’t want to limit your options. So here’s everything you need to know in order to choose the best noise-canceling headphones for you if none of these will do.
Of course, picking a budget is always number one. The higher your budget is, the easier it is to choose a good product. But be aware that price alone isn’t everything!
For example, the Bose 700 is more expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM4 by a good $50, but the Sony has it beat in every category except for call quality. So simply throwing money at the most expensive product isn’t guaranteed to get you the best product.
In essence, active noise canceling works by using microphones to listen in on your surroundings while you’re listening to music. These microphones then use destructive interference to cancel out incoming sound waves by creating total opposites.
This is similar to the way balanced audio connections get rid of audio interference by utilizing polarity switching. When you’ve got two sound waves that are complete opposites, they completely cancel each other out.
And just as some headphones will produce better audio quality in certain frequency ranges, so do some headphones cancel out noise in certain frequency ranges better than others.
Generally speaking, low-quality ANC will only filter out the lows (which include the sound of traffic and airplanes), but it won’t do squat about the other frequency ranges, where general chatter and other music reside.
That’s why we recommend choosing a device made by a manufacturer that has a proven track record with ANC.
As the company that invented the technology, Bose was the leader in this field for the longest time and has released the most quality ANC headphones.
We’d argue that Sony has caught up with Bose (or overtaken it), but this only happened recently, so don’t let the notion that the WH-1000XM4 is the best pair of ANC headphones lead you to believe previous Sony flagships handled this technology just as well. AKG and Sennheiser have also delivered some quality ANC products.
We’re not saying a no-name manufacturer can’t pull it off, but that’s a gamble we would want to take.
Once you’ve made sure the ANC is solid, the rest is business as usual. Look at what other features the devices have to offer and list them in order of priority. Audio quality, comfort, IPX ratings, durability, supported codecs, battery life, and so on – different users will rate these things differently, so just make sure to prioritize them in a way that fits your needs.
The magnitude of the benefit ANC brings to the table cannot be overstated. If all it did was promote and facilitate healthier listening habits, that still would’ve been plenty. After all, you only get the one pair of ears you were born with.
And as we’ve demonstrated, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on securing good ANC. It can be found at a reasonable price.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid is our pick for the best budget ANC headphones, but right off the top of our heads, we can also list the AKG N60NC as an excellent alternative.
And if you want premium sound quality and good ANC without breaking the bank, there’s no replacing the JBL Tune 750BTNC. Anything you pay over the price of the 750BTNC goes towards extra features more so than audio quality.
Yes, the Sony WH-1000XM4 does sound better than the Tune 750BTNC – we didn’t crown it the best of the best lightly – but much of the premium on its price goes towards some of the gimmicky features that you’ll probably end up disabling.
Of course, these are just our picks, foolproof as they may be. But as long as you keep in mind the tips we mentioned in this guide, we’re confident you’ll be able to choose the best noise-canceling headphones for you, regardless of whether or not they made our cut.