Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones have rapidly risen in popularity over the past few years as frequent fliers and bus commuters opt to cancel out the sounds of airplane and bus engines. Noise-cancellation technology doesn’t merely block out noise from your ears, but actively cancels out extraneous noises by generating anti-noise signals that effectively destroy the sounds before they reach your ears. For more information on how noise-cancelling headphones work, click here.
When comparing noise-canceling headphones, there are three main things you should look for.
- Travel-Friendliness – Do the headphones fold down to take up less space? Do they come with a hard-shell travel case to protect them while you travel? Since noise-canceling headphones usually cost around $300, it’s important to know that your luggage won’t bend or break your headphones mid-transport.
- Batteries – AAA or rechargeable? Having your AAA batteries die mid-flight can be a huge inconvenience. If it’s a rechargeable battery, does it come with an airplane adapter so you can charge it mid-flight?
- Noise-Cancellation – this one seems obvious, but since most of these noise-cancellation technologies are patented, there’s a big difference in effectiveness of each of these headphones.
Without further adieu, here are the best of the best noise-canceling headphones:
1. Bose Quietcomfort 15 Headphones
It’s no shocker that the company that first invented noise-cancellation technology has the most effective noise cancellation (it was originally created for pilots to block out engine noise). There are a lot of rival headphone makers who have great headphones with more features and better build quality, but Bose still takes the cake because their headphones can still block out extraneous noise better than any other. Bose also gets points for its travel-friendliness. The headphones fold down neatly and come with a hard shell case that will let you pack them into a stuffed suitcase and still be worry free.
The knocks against these headphones are the cheap plastic build that should not be on headphones priced at $300.
The other is the fact that if your AAA batteries should die, the headphones die with them Most other NC headphones will still let you listen to music with NC turned off, but not these. The noise cancellation works best on constant background noise, but does not work well against voices.
All in all, Bose QC15’s excellent noise-cancellation is what keeps them on top of this list.
2. Sennheiser MM-450 Flight Bluetooth Headphones
With the extra cost of these headphones comes all the features you could ever want. Sennheiser’s excellent headphones also have the added benefit of being the only noise-cancelling headphones that are also wireless bluetooth headphones. The headphones are compatible with both Apple and Samsung devices (like the iPhone and Galaxy). There’s several different modes to these headphones: plugged in, wireless, and noise-cancelling on/off. Most noise-cancelling headphones sound atrocious when you try to listen to the music with NC turned off, but these ones sound a little bit better. They also have a neat ‘talk-through’ button, where you can have a conversation with a flight attendant without having to take off your headphones.
The best part of these headphones are the powerful battery. If you use noise-cancellation only, it will give you 20 hours on a single charge (rechargeable Li-ion battery). With bluetooth they will last 12 hours, and with both NC and bluetooth the headphones will last 8 hours. If you have an airplane adapter, then no matter how long your flight is you’ll never have to worry. The headphones are also very travel-friendly. They fold down flat and fit neatly into their carrying case (included). If I have one complaint it’s the blue light on the outside of each earcup that doesn’t serve a function. It’s there to look cool. But in a darkened flight cabin that light can be distracting.
Overall the NC is good (it boasts Sennheiser’s new Noisegard 2.0 NC technology), but not quite as good as Bose’s Quietcomfort. But these headphones give you everything that premium noise-cancelling headphones should: lots of features that all work well together, powerful batteries and it’s even wireless.
3. AKG K495 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones
Of all the headphones on this list, the AKG K495 headphones come the closest to matching Bose’s noise-cancellation technology. In fact, you would probably only notice the difference when listening to both headphones side by side. The obvious advantage the AKG’s have is that you can listen to music with the noise-cancellation turned off, and indeed these headphones were the best sounding headphones with NC turned off (the Sennheiser’s were a close second). This, plus the fact that these headphones look slick, means that you could use these headphones as your every day headphones and take them travelling with you on airplanes.
The large leather earcups and headband are comfortable, and headphones contort every which way to make them fit into your backpack. It does comes with a hard carrying case for airplane travel, as well as three different travel adapters (the headphones charge via USB).
All in all, these headphones come within a hair’s breadth of matching Bose’s noise cancelling effectiveness, while giving you headphones that you can use anywhere at anytime.
4. Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Audio Technica has an ingenous solution to the drawback of most noise-cancelling headphones. They are usually only good at cancelling out certain frequencies. Bose’s are good at blocking out low frequency sound, which is good for airplane engines. But what about a crowded cafe? These are my personal favorite NC headphones because you can choose between 3 modes of noise-cancellation: the first is low-frequency, then the mid-range (for busy environments like coffee shops) and then a ‘home’ mode for making quiet environments even quieter. This is great if you work at home and want to block out distractions like the hum of the fridge, noisy neighbors or the sound of garbage trucks passing by your house. I found it to be an effective concentration augmenter.
It’s also mobile friendly, with an inline remote that will work for both iPhones and Android phones. The one drawback is that it’s powered by AAA batteries (like the QC15). But if you don’t mind these (you could always get rechargeable batteries!) these headphones are quite a treat.
5. Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Audio Technica’s second entry on this list is kind of like that prize fighter that fights above his weight class. The ANC7B headphones retail for around $150, about half the price of the other entries on this list, and yet offers noise-cancellation technology that gives them a run for their money. While most budget NC headphones block out around 75-85% of external noise, the ANC7B’s block out over 90%. The ear cushions are big and plush, and these headphones come with the same travel case and accessories as the ANC9 listed above. It does not have the three types of noise-cancellation, which is the main reason for the price difference, but the noise-cancellation mode it does have is more than enough for a restful plane trip.