Updated

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones - Winter 2017
Reviews

Noise canceling headphones are geared towards listeners who wish to have a well-isolated listening experience and block the ambient noise of loud environments. Below are our recommendations for the best noise canceling headphones we have tested so far.

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones $300+

Bose QuietComfort 35
Bose QuietComfort 35 Design
Usage Ratings
7.3Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
7.3Critical Listening
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What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.6Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
7.2Sports/Fitness
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What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
7.6Office
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What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
6.9Studio Recording
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What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The QuietComfort 35 deliver the excellent noise canceling of the QuietComfort 25 in a wireless design. They're incredibly comfortable headphones, with an above-average sound that will please fans of bass. However, they leak quite a bit, making whatever you are listening to, audible to the people around you at higher volumes.

Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless
Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Design
Usage Ratings
7.1Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
7.1Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.2Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
7.4Sports/Fitness
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What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
7.3Office
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What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
6.6Studio Recording
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What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless are sleek, versatile and decently durable headphones that have an above-average performance for most use cases. They have a good sound and the noise canceling is sufficient for public transit. However, they do not block as much noise as the QuietComfort 35 so they may not be the ideal travel headphones.

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones $150 to $300

Samsung Level Over-Ear Wireless
Samsung Level Over Wireless Design
Usage Ratings
7.1Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
6.7Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.2Commute/Travel
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What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
7.0Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
7.4Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
7.1Studio Recording
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What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

Samsung Level Over-Ear Wireless block enough ambient noise, to use them in moderately loud environments like being on public transportation or on a noisy flight. They're not the most portable headphones, due to their bulky size, however, they have a good suite of active features for most use cases and a decent enough sound to satisfy most casual listeners.

Parrot Zik 2.0
Parrot Zik 2.0 Design
Usage Ratings
7.0Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
6.1Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.3Commute/Travel
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
6.9Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
7.3Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
7.1Studio Recording
Show Help
What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The Parrot ZIK 2.0 are feature-packed, noise-cancelling headphones. They are superbly designed, comfortable and score well in every tested category. Also, with the release of the Zik 3.0 these headphones are at a discounted price. Their isolation is a little better than the Zik 3.0, however, they have a few bugs that have been fixed in the newer model that may be more appealing for some.

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones $75 to $150

AKG K391-NC
AKG K391-NC Design
Usage Ratings
6.7Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
6.4Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
6.9Commute/Travel
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
7.0Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
6.7Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
6.8Studio Recording
Show Help
What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The AKG K391-NC are an older model using USB-mini instead of a Micro-USB port to charge their battery. They also take quite a bit of time to charge fully. However, on the upside, they have a long battery life, they're easy to carry around and have a satisfying sound quality and a decent amount of noise cancellation. This makes them, good headphones for regular commuters or to travel with.

Samsung Level On Wireless
Samsung Level On Wireless Design
Usage Ratings
6.7Mixed Usage
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What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
6.8Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
6.9Commute/Travel
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
6.9Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
7.0Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
6.2Studio Recording
Show Help
What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The Samsung Level On Wireless are a well-rounded pair of headphones. They're lightweight, comfortable and wireless.They deliver a decent audio reproduction and isolation performance. Sadly, they leak at higher volumes and have a flimsy build quality that doesn't seem too durable, 

Best Active Noise Cancelling Headphones below $75

Panasonic RP-HC56-K
Panasonic RP-HC56 Design
Usage Ratings
7.0Mixed Usage
Show Help
What it is This is the combination of the different use cases to evaluate how versatile the headphones are. Therefore an everyday headphone should be well-rounded enough to adapt to most situations and environments without significant losses in sound quality, design ergonomics or isolation.
6.9Critical Listening
Show Help
What it is The level of audio fidelity a headphone can reproduce. Therefore a balanced and true representation of bass, mids, treble, soundstage and imaging, as well as a comfortable listening experience, is essential for critical listening.
Score components:
7.2Commute/Travel
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones handle the loud environments involved in commuting or traveling. Therefore your listening experience should be comfortable, hassle-free and as isolated from noise as possible.
6.8Sports/Fitness
Show Help
What it is How well-adapted the headphones are, to use while doing sports or strenuous exercise. Therefore the headphones should not be too cumbersome and deliver a stable and comfortable listening experience.
6.7Office
Show Help
What it is How well the headphones can deliver a comfortable and isolated listening experience in an office-like environment. They should not leak much and should block the noise of a busy office.
7.7Studio Recording
Show Help
What it is How effective the headphones are in a studio recording environment. Therefore sound quality should be good, and leakage should be minimal, to not add noise to the recording. They should also be durable for continuous and repeated studio use.

The Panasonic RP-HC56-K are decent, affordable in-ear headphones with one of the best isolation performances we've measured so far. They do not have the best sound and tend to distort a lot at higher volumes. However, their noise cancellation and in-ear fit, reduces a significant amount of ambient noise, which make them a good option for loud environments.

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think is currently the best noise-cancelling headphones to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (a cheaper headphone wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

A few examples of noise-cancelling headphones that didn't make the cut:

  • Denon AHGC20. Great noise canceling but a poor and uneven audio reproduction and they're very pricey. See our review
  • Plantronics BackBeat PRO. A great substitute to the level over. God sound, great build quality and control scheme but mediocre-to-average noise canceling.See our review
  • Bose QuietComfort 25. The wired version of the QC35. Great comfort and noise isolation but a bit pricey for what they offer.See our review
  • Bose QuietComfort 20.  Good noise isolation and comfortable ear bud design. A bit pricey See our review
  • Parrot Zik 3.0.  Sturdy and stylish design. Good, customizable sound. Slightly worse isolation than the ZIk 2.0.See our review

If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for noise-cancelling headphones. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There is no perfect noise-cancelling headphone and the level at which you play your music will naturally drown, ambient noise of lower amplitudes. 

 

 

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Questions & Answers

4 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
3
Do you have any plans to add the Denon Globe Crusier AHGC 20 to your test field? Would love to see how these compare to the Bose and Monoprice units you've tested.
Thanks for you suggestion. We weren't planning on reviewing the AHGC 20, but we will consider it.
1
I'm looking forward to the gaming headsets. I'm in the market for a good gaming headset, mild music/movies/youtube, and the microphone and how well they filter out ambient/external noises.
Once we start reviewing gaming headsets, we should be able to cover all the areas of interest you mentioned. However, it will be some time before we get to gaming headsets, since in the coming months we will be mostly focused on open-back headphones, and sports/fitness earphones.
1
Please review Sony Playstation Gold Wireless. I find these headphones perform surprisingly well in all areas.
Thanks. We haven't started reviewing gaming headsets yet, but are planning to do so in the near future. We will add your suggestion to our list of gaming headsets.
0
In your research, have you found any plug-in, wired noise-canceling headphones? All of the noise-canceling headphones I've seen are either powered by traditional (i.e., AA or AAA) or rechargeable (usually via a USB cable) batteries. That's fine for travel, however, my only use for these headphones is at work, where I'd much rather utilize either a traditional 120V power outlet or a USB cable to power the noise cancelation. As such, if it wasn't plugged into an outlet or my computer, noise cancelation would not function (but audio could still be played in the former case, presumably if there were two cables coming from the headphones -- one audio and one power).
We have just recently added a new battery test, that also checks if the active headphones can continue streaming audio, wirelessly or plugged-in, while charging. As long as you don't mind having two cables, the PXC 550 would be the best recommendation overall, to use in the office, for their comfort, noise canceling, sound, and ability to play audio when connected to a direct power source. The QuietComfort 20 are also a good, completely wired option that work, while charging, but for more comparisons, please check our new battery test article.
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