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Whether you’re on a busy commute or busy working from home, a reliable pair of noise-cancelling headphones goes a long way towards helping you stay focused and distraction-free.
Once reserved for expensive, premium headphones, a number of audio brands are now offering Active Noise Cancelling technology (ANC) in their entry-level units as well. What you get: cleaner, more direct sound without the interference of outside noise.
The active noise cancelling headphones on our list will help to eliminate engine noise, traffic, nature sounds and even the buzz coming from appliances and air conditioners. They’re great when you’re listening to music, and especially great when you’re taking calls or on a video chat and need to tune out the world around you. Keep in mind that ANC works mainly on lower frequency sounds — ANC does not cancel out high frequency patterns like talking or music, so if your neighbor is also on a call or listening to his/her favorite track, you’ll still hear a little bit of noise.
The best noise-cancelling headphones will have two different modes: turn on the noise-cancelling function if you want to listen to a podcast, take a call or listen to music without hearing any outside noise. Turn on ambient sound mode to let some surrounding noise in — say, when you’re biking and need to hear traffic for safety.
You’ll also want to look for headphones with cushioned ear pads that can form a tight seal around your ear. A closer fit and tighter seal means less outside noise seeping through.
Of course, no pair of headphones will completely seal out the noise, but these cups on our list come pretty darn close. And at under $100, they’re an easy pickup if you’re looking to zone out on the plane, to better concentrate on work, or to stay immersed in your favorite tunes.
1. COWIN E7 PRO Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
A slick and sophisticated pair of cups, these wireless headphones bring down the noise whether you’re on a plane, on the subway, in a busy office or just looking for some R&R at home.
COWIN’s “advanced active noise reduction” technology has a noise reduction depth of 30dB. Noise cancellation works both in wired and wireless mode. The large, cushioned ear pads and swiveling earcups ensure a comfortable fit, and help to further seal out noise.
Audio-wise, the headphones get you loud, clear sound, and COWIN’s 45mm drivers — the largest on our list — deliver a surprisingly powerful bass response.
A built-in mic and Bluetooth 4.0 technology make it easy to take calls hands-free — especially helpful when you’re working from home.
A single charge gets you up to 30 hours of playtime. This set includes a hard-shell storage and carrying case.
PROS: Great for cancelling out lower frequency sounds (I.e. engine noise and traffic). Multiple colors available.
CONS: Won’t completely cancel out talking, outside music or higher frequency sounds. The earpads may get a little stuffy if you’re wearing the headphones for a prolonged period of time.
2. TaoTronics Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
TaoTronics may not be the biggest name in audio, but the Chinese brand consistently delivers with earbuds and headphones that punch above their weight.
This set of wireless headphones uses active noise cancellation technology to drown out traffic and outside noise. What you get: just the warm, rich tones of your music, with well-balanced mids and highs and pretty decent bass.
Just five minutes of charging gets you two full hours of playtime. Get up to 30 hours of playback on a full battery (which takes less than an hour to fully charge). Bluetooth 5.0 technology lets you pair your headphones to your phone or laptop with no lag or interruptions, making this a solid pair of cups to keep around for video chats or calls.
This set includes the TaoTronics Bluetooth Headphones, a carrying case, 3.5mm audio cable, charging cable and a user manual. The headphones fold flat for easy transport.
PROS: Super fast charging speed. Reliable Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.
CONS: Headphones won’t automatically power off or go to sleep when inactive, so you must remember to switch it off or risk draining your battery.
3. JVC Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
JVC doesn’t get enough credit when it comes to audio equipment, but these wireless headphones deserve a look — and a listen.
The company’s popular “bass boost” function is featured prominently on these cups, with a side button that pumps up the beats with a single touch, but even softer genres of music (think jazz or classical) fare well with these headphones. You won’t have the same rich detail that some of the other models on our list provide, but audio comes through clean, clear and crisp — at both ends of the volume button.
Noise cancellation is apparent from the moment you put these on, with the headphones sealing out outside noise like annoying co-worker chatter or the hum of heaters or air conditioners nearby.
The soft headband and memory foam pads make this a comfortable pair to wear all day. We’ve found these to also be the most durable pair on our list. The headband stays put, and the entire unit can handle a few accidental dings and drops with no worry.
Get up to 16 hours of battery life with the rechargeable battery (11 hours when Bluetooth is turned on).
PROS: Rugged, durable construction and reliable audio.
CONS: Shortest battery life on our list.