Living in a loud world can take its toll, with constant noise from traffic, chatter, construction and other disruptions threatening to overwhelm our senses. The good news is that technology now provides an escape, letting you create a personal oasis of peace and quiet even when surrounded by noise.
Active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones use sophisticated technology to counteract external noise before it reaches your ears. Tiny microphones pick up ambient sound and then generate an opposite signal to cancel it out. This leaves you only with the music or audio you want to hear, immersed in your own personal bubble.
ANC headphones first came on the scene decades ago, but the technology has improved tremendously in recent years. The latest models now deliver remarkable noise reduction capabilities in sleek, lightweight designs perfect for travel and everyday use. With so many options now available, how do you choose the right set? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this guide, we’ll share our picks for the top five ANC headphones to suit a range of needs and budgets. We’ll also provide tips on key factors to consider when shopping for noise-cancelling headphones. And finally, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about how this innovative technology works its magic. Let’s get started!
Leading the Pack: Our 5 Favorite Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Bose QuietComfort 45
When it comes to noise-cancelling performance, Bose remains the leader to beat. The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones (QC45) continue their legacy of excellence, providing world-class noise cancellation that makes the outside world virtually disappear.
The QC45 use a total of six microphones to pick up and analyze environmental sound. Advanced digital signal processing then generates an opposing cancellation signal to silence noise across a remarkable range of frequencies. This makes the QC45 headphones ideal for noisy environments like airports or city streets.
Beyond incredible noise cancellation, the QC45 also deliver vibrant, lifelike audio that brings out the best in your music. The sound quality is rich, clear and balanced, with punchy bass response. Bluetooth 5.1 provides reliable wireless connectivity.
For all-day wearability, the QC45 are designed with plush, breathable ear cups and a lightweight frame. You’ll barely notice them on your head. The soft, padded headband is comfortable without causing any pinch points. Overall, the QC45 offer brilliant noise cancellation and dynamic sound in a gorgeous package built for comfort.
They carry a price tag reflective of their premium status, but for frequent flyers or urban commuters, the Bose QC45 provide an oasis of tranquility in a loud world.
Hot on Bose’s heels, the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones provide stellar noise-cancelling performance and audio quality in Sony’s most advanced wireless headset.
The WH-1000XM5 is equipped with a new set of high-efficiency processors that take noise cancellation to new heights. Sony’s new Integrated Processor V1 can apply over one billion calculations per second to effortlessly quiet your surroundings, whether you’re on the train or walking downtown.
Augmenting the noise cancellation, Sony outfitted the WH-1000XM5 with a set of 30mm drivers tuned with carbon fiber domes for remarkably natural, lifelike sound across the frequency range. They handle everything from deep bass to crystalline highs with aplomb.
Adding to the appeal, the WH-1000XM5 headphones boast a laundry list of smart features. Wear detection automatically pauses playback when you remove the headphones. Speak-to-chat temporarily pauses your music when you start speaking so you can have a conversation. Quick attention mode lets in ambient sound simply by placing your hand over the ear cup.
While not cheap, the Sony WH-1000XM5 offer an unbeatable combination of noise cancelling excellence, incredible sound quality and clever quality-of-life features.
Apple AirPods Max
In keeping with Apple’s trend of taking existing technology and putting a polished spin on it, the AirPods Max bring active noise cancellation and great sound to an aesthetically gorgeous, premium design.
Encased in stainless steel and soft-to-the-touch mesh fabric, the AirPods Max look unlike any other headphones. The unique telescoping headband and knit-mesh canopy provide a snug, comfortable fit. Each ear cup houses a 40mm dynamic driver for vivid, bass-rich audio.
For noise cancellation, Apple developed the H1 chip which allows for real-time adaptive cancellation across the frequency spectrum. This lets you stay immersed in your audio content without the distraction of external noise. The AirPods Max also offer transparency mode, allowing you to tune into your environment when needed.
Other smart features include spatial audio with dynamic head tracking for a super immersive listening experience, along with one-tap pairing and device switching with other Apple devices.
While very pricey, the AirPods Max offer best-in-class noise cancellation, great sound and a design aesthetic unlike anything else for Apple devotees.
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Renowned for great audio, Sennheiser is a name to be reckoned with. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones deliver where it counts with brilliant noise cancellation, natural sound and luxurious comfort.
Built with large 42mm dynamic titanium-coated drivers, the Momentum 4 headphones reproduce intricate details and percussion with realism. Bass comes through deep and punchy, without muddying the mids and highs.
Powered by Sennheiser’s own Noise Control adaptive noise cancellation, the Momentum 4 headphones can block out up to 80% of ambient noise across the spectrum. This keeps you focused on the music, not distracted by external chatter and other sounds.
Plush memory foam ear pads covered in soft leatherette wrap your ears in cushy comfort. The lightweight yet durable headband features metal sliders for a custom fit. For connectivity, the Momentum 4 supports AAC, aptX, and Sony’s LDAC codec for high-res streaming. With outstanding sound, noise cancellation and comfort, the Momentum 4 headphones don’t disappoint.
Anker Soundcore Q35
For shoppers on a budget, the Anker Soundcore Q35 headphones provide surprising noise cancellation performance and audio for the money.
Employing hybrid ANC technology with feedforward and feedback mics, the Soundcore Q35 headphones detect and cancel a wide range of low and mid-frequency noises. An ambient mode lets you tune into your surroundings when needed.
The large 40mm drivers deliver satisfying audio quality with punchy bass and crisp highs. While not audiophile-grade, the sound impresses for the relatively affordable price.
In terms of comfort, the lightweight Soundcore Q35 won’t weigh you down. Soft memory foam earpads distribute pressure evenly. Quick charging gives you 4 hours of playtime from a speedy 5-minute charge.
Overall, the Anker Soundcore Q35 headphones provide excellent active noise cancellation and decent sound at a reasonable price point.
How to Find Your Perfect Pair
With so many ANC headphones now on the market, how do you choose what’s right for you? Here are some key factors to consider while shopping:
Noise Cancellation Performance This is arguably the critical specification for evaluating ANC headphones. Look at the technology used, frequency ranges muted, and how effective the noise reduction capabilities are. The best ANC headphones can block out up to 90% or more of ambient noise.
Sound Quality While noise cancellation tech steals the spotlight, audio performance remains important. Seek out headphones that sound great playing your music libraries, with clear mids/highs and clean bass. Many headphones also allow you to customize the sound profile.
You want headphones you can wear for extended periods without discomfort. Seek out breathable ear pads, padded headbands that don’t pinch, and lightweight materials that won’t weigh you down. Proper fit and seal also impact noise isolation.
Battery Life For wireless ANC headphones, battery life varies widely from 15 hours to over 30 hours per charge. Think about your typical usage patterns – longer is better for frequent flyers. Fast charging support is also desirable for quickly topping up.
Extra Features Look for extra features that enhance functionality and the listening experience: transparency/ambient modes, wear sensors, connection multipoint, mobile apps for added control, and other bonuses tailored to your preferences.
Budget Finally, set a budget and look for best in class noise-cancelling performance and sound for the price. Expect to spend $100 – $400+ for quality ANC headphones from reputable audio brands.
Doing your homework pays dividends. Focus on headphones offering great noise reduction, sound and comfort tailored to your needs.
FAQs: Your Active Noise Cancelling Questions Answered
How Does Active Noise Cancellation Work?
Active noise cancellation utilizes microphones, digital signal processing, and speakers to counteract external noise before it reaches your ears.
Essentially, tiny mics built into the headphones listen to ambient sounds around you. The ANC circuitry analyzes the incoming noise signals, generates inverse sound waves, then emits them simultaneously via the speakers inside the earcups.
This inverted signal neutralizes and cancels out the unwanted noise through a process called destructive interference, leaving you only with the audio you want to hear.
Sophisticated digital processing and algorithms allow ANC circuits to adapt to and cancel varying noise in real-time. This technology provides much better noise reduction compared to passive noise isolation offered by materials like memory foam.
Do ANC Headphones Completely Block Out All Noise?
While ANC technology has improved drastically, no headphone can cancel out 100% of external noise. But the best performing models like the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones can silence about 90% of ambient sound.
What noise gets cancelled depends on the headphone’s microphones and ANC capabilities. Most effectively mute persistent low frequency noises like the hum of a jet engine. But mid and higher pitched sounds may still be faintly audible.
ANC performance also varies depending on how well the earcups seal out noise. A loose fit will lead to more background noise creeping in. That said, you can expect great noise reduction from top ANC headphones that seal securely over your ears. Just don’t expect the technology to work miracles.
Can You Still Hear Your Surroundings While Wearing ANC Headphones?
While ANC headphones block out a remarkable amount of ambient noise, some environmental sounds can still be faintly perceived for safety reasons. You don’t want to be completely oblivious walking about.
Many ANC headphones also now offer an ambient sound or transparency mode. This uses the built-in mics to allow in more external noise so you remain aware of your surroundings.
Ambient modes let you carry on conversations, listen for traffic, or pay attention to in-flight announcements without removing your headphones. Just don’t expect to hear everything crystal clearly. Turning off ANC altogether provides the most natural hearing of your environment.
Are Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Safe to Wear?
Yes, ANC headphones are safe to wear in moderation. The noise cancelling technology itself doesn’t cause harm. Just beware of excessive volume levels, which can damage your hearing over time like any headphones.
The World Health Organization recommends limiting use to under one hour daily at up to 85 decibels to avoid potential hearing damage. Also be attentive to your surroundings when walking or riding in case external sounds are muted.
As long as you keep volume moderate and remain aware of your environment, noise cancelling headphones pose no special safety risks. Just use common sense so you can enjoy your personal sound oasis safely.
How Much Do Quality ANC Headphones Cost?
Expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $400+ for active noise cancelling headphones from premium brands that deliver the best performance. For example:
- Budget models around $100 – $200 include the Anker Soundcore Q35 and some Beats Studio Buds models.
- Mid-range picks from $200 – $300 include the Sony WH-CH710N and Sennheiser HD 450BT.
- Higher-end models from $300 – $400+ include the Bose QuietComfort 45, Apple AirPods Max, and Sony WH-1000XM5.
Factor in sound quality, noise cancellation effectiveness, comfort, and extra features. In general, you get what you pay for. But excellent budget options exist if you don’t mind sacrificing some frills.
Do some research to find noise cancelling headphones aligned with your budget and needs. Once you experience ANC’s peaceful solitude, you may find the investment well worth it.
Any Other Common ANC Headphone Questions?
- How long does the battery last? Depending on model, batteries may last anywhere from 15 hours to 40 hours of continuous playback. Features like ANC impact battery life as well.
- Can you use ANC headphones wired? Most models allow you to use them with an included audio cable, but won’t offer active noise cancellation unless battery powered.
- What key specs should I compare? Beyond ANC performance, look at frequency response, sound pressure level, audio codec support, wireless connectivity versions, and battery specs.
- Will ANC work for snoring or voices? ANC counters sustained ambient noise very well, but isn’t as effective for abrupt sporadic sounds like voices or snoring. For these, consider sleep buds or earplugs instead.
- Can you sleep with ANC headphones? You can, but bulkier over-ear models usually aren’t ideal for side sleepers. Also consider battery life and auto-off timers.
Find Your Peaceful Escape
So there you have it – our roundup of the best noise cancelling headphones available today across a range of budgets. We also covered key factors in choosing your perfect pair and answered some common questions about how active noise cancellation ultimately tunes out the world.
The right ANC headphones can be a traveler’s best friend, whether on a long flight, daily commute or just navigating a noisy workplace. Treat your ears to an oasis of peace and make the most of your day without auditory distractions. Your music will sound better than ever with the drone of background noise muted.
Just don’t lose touch with your surroundings altogether – situational awareness remains important for safety. Find the ideal balance between tuning in and tuning out. With ANC technology now better than ever, you have endless options to escape the cacophony of everyday life. The only challenge is choosing which of these brilliant noise cancelling headphones best fits your needs and budget to experience silence like never before. The quiet awaits!