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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Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.