Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide

Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide

When you purchase wireless headphones, you take a look at the various features that they have depending on what you need, or rather, how they are going to cater to your requirements. With the coming of age, technology is rapidly improving and because of that headphones, these days come equipped with numerous features. While some of them are considered premium features, some are regular ones having their own uniqueness depending on the brand. Before we get into our ‘Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide’, let us first learn what the technology is all about.

Noise Canceling Technology

Noise canceling technology in headphones is a premium feature, it is more of a need than a luxury. You might be wondering why is it still called a ‘premium’ feature then? That’s a fair question to ask. 

The thing is, even though the noise-canceling feature has come as a huge convenience that people have felt the need of having in their day-to-day life when using the headphones, it adds to the price tag. Especially, if the headphone has Active Noise Canceling (ANC) technology integrated into them. The noise-canceling involves additional engineering. Some high-end headphones like Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, Sony WH-1000XM4, or similar, have multiple levels of adjustable ANC technology. Clearly, the more complex the technology is, the higher the price. 

That said, there are slightly less expensive headphones with ANC features as well. In those headphones, the function is a lot more straightforward and there are no options to adjust except for the noise-canceling On/Off buttons. Although these headphones cost less than the ones with high-end ANC, they are still more expensive than the ones without this feature.

It is important to check what level of noise canceling you need when you purchase wireless headphones and prepare your budget accordingly. Speaking of the budget, you might want to check out our best wireless headphones under 200 article from here.

We are going to cover more on the various features of noise canceling headphones and what are the things to keep in mind when you purchase wireless headphones in our “noise cancellation headphone buying guide”. Before that let’s understand what noise cancellation really is and how they are beneficial in different ways-

Noise Cancellation Illustration

So, What Is a Noise Canceling Headphone, and What Does It Do?

These are the headphones that reduce the environmental or ambient noise using their noise canceling technology. Depending on the level of technology, they can eliminate partial to up to 95% of the surrounding sound giving the listener a quieter environment for a better listening experience. This is particularly beneficial when you are in a noisy environment struggling to focus on your listening. 

Benefits and Features of Noise Cancellation Technology

Noise canceling headphones have a wide range of use and can be a lifesaver in some situations too. Here are some benefits and features that you can enjoy from this technology:

  • Helps in relieving stress, by giving you a quiet listening environment to focus on your work. Trying to keep your mind focussed on a particular thing needs your brain to work double causing stress. Using ANC headphones will help you tackle this situation better. 
  • Increases productivity at work by allowing you to focus. 
  • Allows you to relax and promotes sleep if you are in a noisy surrounding trying to get some sleep. This in turn reduces fatigue and improves health.
  • Noise canceling headphones offers great sound thanks to the powerful and well engineered drivers they come with. 
  • These headphones are extremely beneficial if you are a frequent traveler because they are great at reducing low rumbling sound like the sound of a vehicle engine or the flight engine. It also helps you to sleep in flights by cutting down the sound of the noisy passengers. 
  • The headphones come with different ANC modes. You can have a completely silent mode with the headphones’ maximum ability to eliminate the ambient sound. Otherwise, you can also allow partial sounds to enter, so you can stay aware of the surroundings while still enjoying your music.  
  • Some headphones can eliminate up to 95% of the ambient noise. 
  • Extremely useful in the aviation industry. Helps reduce the engine sound in the cockpit of a flight which may otherwise cause severe ear fatigue among the pilots. 
  • Studies have shown that the Noise cancelling headphones have proven beneficial for children with autism. It has helped them control their hyperactive behavior.

Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide: What Are the Various Features You Need to Consider When You Want to Purchase Wireless Headphones With Noise Canceling Feature

So far we have been talking about noise canceling headphones and how they can be of help if you decide on getting wireless headphones with ANC feature in it. But in order to make sure that you are making the right choice, we have provided the noise cancellation headphone buying guide in this section. Later on, we will also see some of the best ANC headphones as rated by consumer reports headphones and other reviewers.

Noise canceling headphones are quite abundant these days. You will get plenty of options in the market from different brands today as most of the people who purchase wireless headphones look for this feature. With the sudden pandemic strike, a lot of people are forced to stay at home and work from home. For some, it can be pretty inconvenient with the household or the traffic noise around, children shouting, or neighbors calling out. This is one of the major reasons that the demand for these headphones has substantially increased in the last couple of years. 

However, with so many options around, it is surely a challenging task to figure out which one is ideal for you unless you have a bit of technical knowledge of these. This noise cancellation headphone buying guide will take you through the technical aspects along with the various parameters that you need to keep in mind when you purchase wireless headphones with noise canceling ability. 

Active Noise Canceling or Passive Noise Isolating Headphones or Both:

Noise canceling headphones are of two types: Passive Noise Canceling headphones and Active Noise Canceling headphones. When you purchase wireless headphones, you need to consider which type of noise cancelation you would require and pick them up accordingly.

Passive Noise Canceling Headphones

‘Passive Noise Canceling’ headphones are the ones that suppress the outside noise with the help of their physical design. In this case, the headphone’s structure, and the material used in their make plays an important role in isolating the ambient sound. For example, given their design, over-ear headphones are considered to be the best for noise isolation than their on-ear counterparts. This is because of their ear cup design that goes around the ears forming a tight seal preventing the outside noise from getting in. Also, the denser the ear cups, the better is the ability to reduce the noise. 

The fabric of the headphone also plays an important role in noise isolation. Ear padding that has synthetic leather or genuine leather outer covering has a higher ability to block the noise than velour fabric. Being extremely breathable and porous, velour is certainly more comfortable than the others, but they have poor noise isolating ability. 

If you compare the over-ear headphones with in-ear earbuds, the latter is better when it comes to passive noise isolation which again comes down to the design and the way it is worn. The earbuds are worn and sealed tightly inside the ear canal, which means they form a barrier closer to the eardrum on the inner side which is more effective than around the ear seal. Here are some things to keep in mind for passive noise isolation in a headphone:

  • Works passively meaning, does not require any power source or batteries to work. 
  • Fitting is critical in order for passive sound isolation to work effectively.
  • Reduces the mid and high pitch sound better. 
  • Not great for low frequency sounds.
Active Noise Canceling Headphones

‘Active Noise Canceling’ headphones, on the other hand, are achieved by a more complex technology that can effectively counter the sound waves with another sound wave to nullify it with the use of a microphone. This is called Phase Cancellation. 

Modern-day headphones usually have two kinds of noise cancelling technology incorporated into them. One is in the microphone that helps the caller to listen to you better by making your surroundings quiet; the other ANC mic is placed in the headphone’s earcups that give you a quiet environment helping you listen better be it music or the caller’s voice. Few things that you need to remember in case of the active noise canceling technology: 

  • Works when powered by battery.
  • Reduces low frequency sound pretty well.
  • Doesn’t work well for sudden mid, or, especially high frequency sounds.
  • Does not depend on the fitting of the headphone completely, although a well-fitted headphone is bound to give better performance in every way. 

What Type of Headphone Do You Want? – Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide

Once you decide on whether you need an active noise cancellation feature or you can manage with the noise isolation ability, you can decide on what type of headphones is most suitable for you. Noise canceling headphones come in different form factors- over-ear, in-ear earbuds, and on-ear headphones. 

Remember that the noise canceling ability varies with the headphones form factor. The on-ear headphones are usually not great to go with, be it active or passive noise cancelling ability. Some people do not feel comfortable wearing over-head style headphones. The ANC earbuds work best for them. Some people on the other hand prefer headphones to earbuds. This also brings us to the next parameter, the design. Check out our audio technica quietpoint earbuds from here.

Consider the Design

The design of the headphone or the earphone plays an important role in the overall noise reduction process. Unless the headphone fits around or into your ears properly, this feature isn’t going to be effective enough. This is because proper tight sealing is significant to block the noise out. Loosely fitted headphones have gaps from where the sound can come in and interfere with your work.  

While in-ear earphones are best for passive noise isolation, over-ear headphones offer the overall best performance when it comes to both noise cancelling and noise isolation separately. 

Speaking about the design, you also need to equally balance the comfort aspect of it. Most people buy headphones to use them for long hours. If you do not ensure the headphones are comfortable enough to stretch with your work hours, your investment goes in vain. While physically trying them out is the best option to check the level of comfort, if you are buying them online, then make sure the headphones come with enough adjustment options (different types of eartips in case of earbuds.). 

Noise Cancelling Levels and Types

Different headphones are designed with different noise canceling levels that you can adjust as per your convenience and depending on the environment you are in. Premium headphones, naturally have a more high-end and complex ANC technology than the mid-priced or the budget-friendly ones. 

For example- Bose 700 boasts 11 levels of ANC which will literally enable you to use them wherever you are. On the other hand, Anker Soundcore Life Q20 has a single hybrid noise canceling mode that detects unwanted noise and cancels them. Anker’s SoundCore Q30, however, has 3 different modes to choose from viz. Transport, outdoor and Indoor. (All these audio gears are on the consumer reports headphones with ANC list, a reliable page, which means they are quite well-performing ones). Depending on the lifestyle, you can choose the headphones with their ANC capability. 

Digital and analog noise canceling headphones are two options that you will see when you purchase wireless headphones. The “analog headphone” uses analog circuitry and comes with presets or already adjusted modes. They are set to cancel the noise levels within a fixed frequency range all the time. Analog headphones are also useful when you do not want to listen to music at all, but just want a quiet noise-free environment to focus on your work or to get uninterrupted sleep.

The “digital headphone” on the other hand uses a digital signal processor (DSP) chip that can automatically adapt to the environment you are in and eliminate the noise accordingly. These headphones are usually termed “Hybrid” noise canceling headphones. Digital ANC headphones are also generally more pricey than analog ones. 

Battery Performance

Battery life is a crucial factor to consider when you purchase wireless headphones with ANC. These headphones are power hungry which is why the headphones should have a large battery capacity. The more powerful the battery, the more is the run time with the ANC feature turned on. Also, remember that high-fidelity and more complex noise canceling technology consumes more battery than the lesser complex ANC. 

So make sure to go for a headphone that has a really good battery performance with both the ANC and Bluetooth features on. While some headphones have 24 hours of runtime, some of them have 30 to 35+ hours. 

Sound Quality

The headphone’s sound quality gets a little compressed by the ANC functioning which means the sound loses its brightness to some extent, but, honestly this cannot really be avoided. You will get very few options where the sound is as dynamic as one with the ANC. Some inexpensive headphones even give a hissing sound when the ANC is turned on. 

Well, again the best thing that you can do is to listen for yourself, test it and then buy one. But if you purchase wireless headphones online, then do check the user and expert reviews and ratings first. The Consumer Reports headphones with ANC are some top-rated ones that perform fairly well in the sound department.  

How Much Are You Willing to Spend? 

As mentioned earlier, noise canceling headphones are generally more pricey than the regular ones that are without this feature. That said, depending on the level of technology incorporated, the headphone’s price varies significantly. Active Noise Canceling headphones come with their own sound processor and a circuit that comes in different qualities. The quality of the processor has a huge impact on the ANC headphones. Additionally, the built materials, the drivers, etc. have a major role to play in the pricing of the headphone. 

If you are expecting a high fidelity ANC with premium-grade built, you obviously need to pay more. That said, there are many options that are mid to bargain prices as well. However, you will have to compromise on the technology a bit, but they still do a pretty good job for their price. 

The headphones designed for passive noise isolation cost much less than their ANC counterpart. 

Check All the Features Other Than the ANC

While ANC is your priority here, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other features the headphone has to offer. Depending on what you need the headphone for you can keep an eye on the various features. Some important ones are Bluetooth technology, charging time that the headphone takes, smart voice control features, the controls buttons, etc. control buttons can be touch-sensitive or have tactile buttons depending on the model. 

See if your headphones have replaceable ear pads, detachable cables, or if they can be folded up for better portability, etc. All these features depend on individual preferences and lifestyles. 

Be Clear About the Warranty

When it comes to headphones or any electronics for that matter, knowing and understanding the warranty is paramount because, after all, they are electronics and anything can happen. Now, when you are buying online, this becomes especially important because you are not getting a chance to physically try and test them before buying. Knowing the warranty details, the warranty period, terms and conditions beforehand is always beneficial, and you will thank yourself later if something happens to the headphone while it is within the warranty period. 

The warranty period of a headphone also speaks a lot about its quality. Higher warranty periods indicated the manufacturer’s confidence in the product’s durability. Download JBL Tune 500bt Manual from here.

Now that you have a comprehensive noise cancellation headphone buying guide giving you those important pointers that you need to keep in mind, you should know that while ANC has proven to be extremely beneficial in many ways, it has some downside as well. If you are going to be investing in one of these headphones, then you should be well aware of them in every way and make an educated decision or the necessary precautions. 

Pros and Cons of Noise Canceling Headphones


  • Helps focus on your work better.
  • Improves sleep, better health.
  • Gives a quiet and peaceful ambience.
  • Better listening experience.
  • Improved calling and uninterrupted communication.
  • Adjustable noise cancellation levels to suit an individual lifestyle.
  • Pass through mode for ambient awareness.
  • Prevents listening at high volume.
  • Great for traveling.


  • Costs more.
  • Drains out the battery fast.
  • Aloof you from the rest of the world.
  • It can be risky if you are not aware of the surroundings.
  • Affect the sound quality.
  • Can be heavy due to specialized engineering.
  • Reduced battery life.
  • Can cause disorientation/ dizziness in some.

Some Best Noise Cancelling Headphones Available in the Market Today

Here are some of the best ANC headphones that are available today and that have received great reviews online- 

Bose 700

One of the oldest and the best brands, Bose has been the pioneer of noise canceling headphones. Today it offers a series of premium noise canceling headphones that are one of the best in the industry. Bose 700 is one of the best headphones that features 11 levels of noise canceling that no other headphone has at the moment. This is great for those who are always on the roads for their work and need a headphone that can be adjusted to literally any type of environment they are in. The battery life of this headphone is 20 hours which is decent considering the powerful ANC technology it offers, but certainly, it could have done better there.  Being a high-end product, it bears a premium price tag as well which may not be suitable for everyone. 

Sennheiser PXC 550-II

This headphone has been tested by Consumer Reports and rated as one of the top consumer reports headphones for its exceptional noise canceling and overall performance. In fact, the headphone is given a rating almost equal to Bose 700. It features an adaptive noise cancelling technology with customizable presets that allows getting exactly how much sound to want to block. Just like Bose’s 700, this headphone has a run time of 20 hours. 

Sony WF-1000XM4

This one from Sony is one of the comfortable truly wireless earbuds with noise canceling features that has again received a high ranking in consumer reports headphones test. These earbuds are great for people who are not comfortable using over-ear headphones. While the price of this pair of earbuds is quite expensive, it offers some great state-of-the-art features, other than an effective noise canceling ability, that can take your listening experience to the next level. Speak-to-chat technology, bone conduction sensor, and an extended frequency response ensure that you get brilliant sound clarity and uninterrupted calling. 

Noise canceling headphones can be one of the most useful accessories to have when you are traveling or when you are in a noisy or busy environment. Although they cost more than the regular headphones that do not feature this technology, there are plenty of options out there where you do not have to break a bank to get a headphone with this feature.

The only thing is, if you are going for a budget-friendly ANC headphone, you need to keep your expectations a little low when compared with the ones with high-fidelity ones. However, like most of the technologies, along with a huge list of benefits, the ANC headphones also come with a few problems that you need to pay attention to. Do not forget to read the reviews from users because of making a choice. Having said that, hope you find a pair that can save you from the surrounding buzz, while you use it safely. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Noise Cancellation Headphone Buying Guide

Can we choose passive noise canceling headphones over ANC headphones? 

Choosing between an active and a passive noise cancelling headphone completely depends on your personal hearing preference and your lifestyle. While passive noise isolation is good at reducing the mid and high-frequency sounds, active noise canceling is good for reducing the low rumbling sounds. Both the headphones have significant price differences between them as well, so you may want to consider what best suits you before picking up one. 

Can active noise canceling headphones cause dizziness? 

Yes, in some cases it may cause dizziness or disorientation. When you use ANC, you are kept away from the natural environmental sound which your ears are used to hearing. So after using these headphones for a long time, when you take them off, you may feel a bit disoriented or out of balance for a while.

Is it possible to get only silence using ANC or do we need to play a soundtrack all the time? 

It is possible to get complete silence using ANC. You can achieve this if your headphone has analog noise canceling technology. 

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