What Are the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones?

Recently, LockerGnome community member Björn Lundgren asked Chris Pirillo what the best noise cancelling headphones are within the 100-400 Euro price range. (Björn actually asked which ones were “extra nice,” but we’ll just go ahead tell you which ones are the best.) In USD, this price converts to between $130 and about $500. Here at LockerGnome, many of us work alone in our own home offices, so we listen to a lot of music and often chat on Skype throughout the day, both to each other and with niche experts about topics we cover. using noise canceling (or isolating) headphones is critical to keep passing traffic and other background noise out of conversations, especially if we are conducting an interview. For the average consumer, noise isolating earphones can be especially helpful in hearing and responding to cell phone conversations while walking through a city, during a commute, or even at home to tune out the TV or loud children. Noise cancelling headphones are even important for kids to prevent ear damage caused by listening to loud music.

We recently explained how the best noise cancellation headphones work by actually destroying the sound waves created around you. In that article, Craighton Miller demonstrated that these “active” headphones actually make their own soundwaves, and will effectively cancel out most sound around you. As Craighton wrote, “active noise cancelling headphones will recreate the wavelength trying to enter the headphones and output the wavelength in the direction of the obstructive noise. When both of these sound waves hit each other, they dissipate thanks to the intervening void that’s created.” These types of headphones usually come with their own microphones and sometimes require a battery to power the cancellation effect. You can also find more “passive” headphones, usually packed with high-density foam, that just block out sound and are priced much lower.

If you’re looking for the best noise cancellation headphones, however, you’ll want to stick with the more “active” type of noise cancellation headphones. Bose has been a recognized leader in this industry for years, and its QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are among the best choices for noise cancelling headphones. These headphones are lightweight and fit comfortably on your ear (not in it, which can get annoying for many people who use earphones), and fold flat for easy storage. These Bose headphones use Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphone technology, a proprietary Bose innovation, which electronically identifies and reduces outside noise. Users can except that these will reduce about 20 decibels of sound, meaning that about 70% of any incoming noise will be blocked from entering your ears. And, of course, since the headphones are a Bose product, you can also expect excellent audio quality. The headphones also feature a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which provides an average of 25 hours of reliable use per charge, and there’s a small wall socket charger included. With a price tag of $349.95 on Amazon.com, the Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are perfect for those looking for quality noise cancelling headphones in the $100 to $500 price range.

For users specifically user looking for earphones in the same price range, I personally recommend any of the headsets from Etymotic, such as the hf3 headset + earphones. Etymotic designs headsets specifically made for Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and iOS smartphones, and provides 35 dB – 42 dB of noise isolation. Etymotic’s headsets are priced slightly lower than Bose at just under $200, but users can upgrade to get a custom made earmold for a comfortable in-ear fit. Etymotic’s set also comes with several choices of types of earpieces, as well as a well-placed microphone. For those with kids, Etymotic also makes ear sets designed specifically for kids to help both block background noise while limiting the decibel level to prevent permanent ear damage from loud noise. (This happens when ears are exposed to frequent loud noise, which can damage parts of the inner ear that translate the noise vibrations into nerve impluses, which are then transmitted to the brain.) Etymotic explains that kids usually listen to loud music to block out noise, so noise cancellation headphones for kids are critical for their safety. These ETY•Kids sets are designed for iPhones, iPods, most gaming devices, and laptops, and are reasonably priced at well under $100.

Bose and Etymotic are two of the best options for noise cancellation headphones and earphones on the market. Do you have another favorite? Be sure to let us know yours in the comments.

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  • Anonymous

    I have the Beats Tour in-ear phones and they are amazing at canceling out sound. I was never really a big fan of over the ear head phones because they are a pain to use and over expensive. But that’s just my opinion :)

    • http://www.kelly-clay.com Kelly Clay

      I’ve heard good things about those as well!

  • cromodgie.com/jonahan stellato

    i have a pair of bose i purchased them for $200, my friend owns a pair of beats by dre solo HD’s and i have to say the bose are better. i listen to all types of music but mostly old school rap which means bass is important. you would think that because of the beats being made by an old school rapper i would like those better , but i don’t. while listing to the beats the bass is to much and over power the vocals. old school rp , new rap and any type of rap mostly includes stuff like strong vocals and big bass. which the bose equal out on both ends. They did a great job on both parts, not just one like the beats.

  • Manthan Talati

    What about the Bose QC 15’s??

  • Ewan

    I use the Sennheiser HD 438 headphones. They are very good sound quality and they are very good at sound cancellation.

  • http://twitter.com/Ian_Manubens Ian Manubens

    Sony MDR-XB500 Powerful bass, Nice highs + Mids + lows! Best headphones under $100!
    I’ve owned Beats, Beats have good style, but the audio quality is very muddy. 
    My Sony’s (almost 1/4 the price of the Beats Studio’s) have WAY better sound quality!

  • Steven Scott

    I have the subjekt DJ Style Block Party Headphones and they are the best I have ever known (Steven Scott)

  • Steven Scott

    I have the subjekt DJ Style Block Party Headphones and they are the best I have ever known (Steven Scott)

  • Steven Maler

    I say the best ones are the ones that I made myself.(Except audio quality. I’m thirteen and don’t have the money to buy and scrap nice headphones.)  All you have to do is buy some industrial hearing protection, remove the foam covers, drill some holes for wires, glue in headphones, and BAM, quietest noise-canceling headphones you can get. See?

  • Stefan-mayerhofer

    Coloud Marvel Captain America defenatly .. They are a little bassy, which i really enjoy …. And they are so ‘soft’ and light , you barely feal them

  • MrVulcan

    “Users can except”? Don’t you mean “expect”? I can understand that you want to provide content, but please don’t go so fast as to let such mistakes escape your attention.

    • yodaddy

      get over urself!

    • yodaddy

      get over urself!

  • Bfmuller1

    I fly a lot, especially to the far east. On those looooong flights, reducing the noise level reduces the fatigue a great deal. I used to use industrial ear plugs rated at 33dB. Lately I have used Sony MDR-NC33 noise cancelling ear buds. They are excellent at reducing noise, and have decent sound quality. I have compared all the popular active noise reducing ear devices and can make the following generalization: ear buds do the best job of  noise reduction, around the ear phones are next best, and on the ear ear phones are worst of the active devices. The physics are simple: the smaller the space you have to actively reduce noise in, the more effective you can be. The Sony ear buds are available at a small fraction of the cost of the Bose earphones, and take up vastly less space. Maybe the Bose are worth the money elsewhere, but in a noisy plane, the cost/performance of the Sonys is tops.

  • Garebear

    I have been wearing hearing protection typical of those found in foundry’s and put the ear buds inside, bingo. They give them to the employees. 
    No their not hip slick and cool, but they are better than any thing at any electronics store.

  • Janmailme

    Like “Garebear” is saying. Best ones and cheapest ones are noise protectors for workers.  wide range. i ‘m using thin L1 ones  and are superb – not heavy and v. comfortable for about 40$. You HAVE TO CHECK clipping head mechanism. Some of those devices are uncomfortable for long distance and, as a bonus to noise protection, can squeeze juice from your brain. 

  • Kyle Polansky

    If your looking for more expensive in-ear headphones consider Future Sonics. However, they are expensive and only have passive noise reduction. 

  • http://twitter.com/JohnTheUTuber John Mosuela

    I dont care about noise cancelling, all i care about is the sound quality and looks!

  • Seanpavery

    When it comes to noise cancelling, I think “active” is a waste, unless you want over the ear headphones. Musicians these days use “in-ear-monitors”, or IEMs, to protect their ears on stage and hear themselves. Brands like Westone and Ultimate ears that manufacture IEMs have products for the general public. I have had a pair of single driver Westone UM1s for a couple of years and I think they are fantastic. Plus, when you get a good seal in your ear, the bass is so much better than any other headphone I have listened to.