One of the big rages these days in headphones is Noise Canceling Headphones, which are essentially closed-back headphones that remove 80% – 90% of the ambient noise in whatever room or environment you are in. Some of these headphones achieve this simply by the design of having a closed back and an ear enclosure that’s fit’s completely around your ear, essentially sealing off your ear from outside noise. And some achieve this with the fully closed-off design plus the inclusion of active electronics that further reduce the ambient noise. Recently, many headphone manufacturers have added these noise canceling headphones to their line up, and in this review, we’ll take an honest look at some of the best noise canceling headphones
Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint headphones are lightweight, compact and ideal for use with MP3, CD, DVD and in-flight entertainment systems. They feature Audio Techinica’s fully integrated ANC circuitry that effectively reduces distracting background noise by up to 85% (active noise reduction up to 20dB). 40mm drivers with neodymium magnet systems in each earpiece provide superior audio quality for deeper bass, extended treble and higher fidelity. A single AAA battery powers the active noise-canceling technology with or without audio. ATH-ANC7b QuietPoint headphones fold flat for easy portability and include a detachable cable, and come with a specialized airline adapter for connecting to in-flight entertainment systems, and a handy carrying case. Many people are comparing these very favorably to the more expensive Bose QuietComfort headphones, saying they sound as good, muffle outside sound better, and are more durable over years of use. Recommended
Sony’s entry into the best noise canceling headphones field has also drawn 4 and 5-star reviews. Like the Audio Technica’s above, these lightweight, long-wearing puppies claim to shut out 85% of the ambient room or airplane noise, and carry many of the same features too – the single AAA battery for the noise-canceling, proper adapters for different size plugs, and a carrying case. Once again these can be purchased for less money than the Bose, yet reveal comparable sound quality. Most people could not tell the difference. I prefer these a bit over the Audio Technica’s because the pressure against your ears is a bit less, so you can wear them for longer without feeling like you must remove them due to pressure
Bose has been an incredible innovator in sound quality, stereo separation and bold designs for decades, and they were the original pioneers of the whole noise-canceling concept in headphones. That’s why, even today with fine entries from Audio Technica, Sony, Sennheiser and others, when most people think of buying a set of noise-canceling headphones for airplane comfort, they think first of the Bose QuietComfort series; indeed, many still believe Bose is the only ones who make these best noise canceling headphones! Most head-to-head comparisons with the other brand names reveal the Bose’s to be very high in sound quality, superior to all the others with the possible exception of the Sennheiser’s, and noticeably superior in noise-cancellation power. It’s clearly a notch quieter under the hood of these softies. The places where eyebrows are raised against the Bose QuietComfort 15′s is in the price – it’s hard to find them for under $300 – and the build quality – noticeably plastic-y and much quicker to start falling apart over the years. The most expensive should be the best built, right? If you want the premium sound and noise-cancellation abilities, and don’t mind spending an extra $50 or $100 to get the best, the Bose QuietComfort 15′s are still the original go to state-of-the-art contenders. But baby them to make sure they don’t show early sings of obsolesence.
I’m a sound engineer, and the Sennheiser PXC 450s have the highest-quality sound by far, so these are my favorites of the 4-pack on this page. The separation and crystalline individuality of all the different voices & instruments set these headphones in a class by themselves; indeed the Sennheiser PXC 450′s were the only noise-canceller headset I felt could compare to studio-quality pro headphones. The others compromise with either too much or too little bass, and more weight on the noise-canceling quality than studio-level sound quality. That said, the Sennheiser PXC 450s also had the least noise-cancel of the pack, just a shade less noise-canceling than the Sony’s or Audio Technica’s, and significantly less than the Bose’s. The funny thing is, I compared these on several noisy airplane flights and found it didn’t seem to matter. How much noise cancellation do you really need? With the Sennheiser PXC 450′s on and the music at a medium level, I still was left blissfully unaware of about 90% of the ambient sounds around me, including the low-rumbles, whooshes and high-pitched whines of the plane, and virtually all of the talking. If absolute, quiet-as-midnight-in-the-Arctic sound-canceling is your requirement, go with the Bose’s. But if you want good noise-cancellation while also having a set of phones that make all your old music sound like you’re hearing it for the first time, the Sennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGard’s are the best noise canceling headphones available.
The first question you might ask is, “Do I really need noise canceling headphones? What are the instances and applications where noise canceling headphones are necessary?” The obvious answer is, anywhere where, in addition to providing great lifelike sound and stereo separation, you purposely want to block out almost all extraneous noises, sounds and talking the room. Many high-quality headphones have a semi- or completely open back, because of the significant improvement in bass response offered when the back is left open and the headphone’s transducer diaphragm is allowed to move more freely in the air space carrying sound vibrations. And when you listen to music, even at high volumes, in a room where others are talking or moving chairs or kitchen utensils, these extraneous sounds definitely infiltrate your music experience.
When you put on a set of fine noise canceling headphones, prior to the music starting, you may think you’ve temporarily gone deaf, it’s such a complete reduction in ambient noise. Then the music starts, and you hear nothing but your music, even in a room filled with normal-level talking and activities. Ahh, bliss!
One of the most common uses for noise canceling headphones these days is airplane travel. More and more travelers insist that plugging in a pair of these babies and setting their iPod for hours of continuous play allows them to arrive twice as refreshed and rested, and they simply won’t board a plane without them.
The best noise canceling headphones need not cost significantly more than semi-open or fully-open backed models – indeed the price range pretty much parallels that of normal headphones, from well under $100 to only about $300-$400 for the best ones. And those are the retail prices, not the prices you’ll find here at good headphones through our super deals. Obviously, you get what you pay for, and some of the higher-cost models will definitely outperform low-cost models.