After testing 42 headphones, including 22 for this update, the Bose QuietComfort 25 are still the best option for most people who want over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. They have the best overall noise reduction of of any wired noise-cancelling headphone available, plus they’re comfortable, lightweight, and able to fold down into a compact carrying case. They aren’t perfect—the sound quality is decent enough, just not spectacular—but if your goal is to turn down the volume on the outside world, these are hard to beat.
For the third year in a row, we’ve found the Bose QuietComfort 25 to be the best option for noise-cancelling headphones. They’re comfortable, fold up fairly small, and sound decent. We tested a bunch of new models this year, and Bose still offers significantly better noise cancelling than any other company. The QC25s are only bested—very slightly—by their new wireless siblings.
New this year is the QuietComfort 35 model, the wireless counterpart to the QC25s. Their size, shape, and comfort are all the same as the QC25s. In objective tests they offer slightly better noise cancelling on average than their wired counterparts, though in the real world this difference wasn’t apparent. Their sound quality is a bit different too; it’s a bit more lively, with a bit more sizzle. Some people might like it, others won’t. It’s not an improvement over the QC25s, just a different sounding headphone.
Because most people don’t need wireless, and the performance is roughly the same, we don’t think you absolutely need to spend the extra money for these. If for some (unlikely) reason the QC25s are sold out, these are your best alternative, because no other headphone company offers as much noise cancelling.
If the Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones are out of your price range, consider the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b. This pair is no match for the Bose in sound or in noise cancellation, but it’s significantly cheaper and still offers a pretty good listening experience. It’s a solid runner-up thanks to a great mix of price, noise-cancelling performance, and sound quality.
If you still want wireless, but don’t want to spend the money on the QC35 pair, the Samsung Level On Wireless are a solid alternative. They don’t offer as much overall noise cancelling, but they offer more than most of the competition does. They were liked by our panel of testers in terms of comfort and sound quality. Like all noise-cancelling headphones, they’re not perfect, but they do a great job for a reasonable amount of money.
If you want a pair of headphones that does it all really well—there’s no such thing. However, the Sennheiser HD-1 comes very close. Their noise cancellation is pretty good, though not as good as that of the Bose models. But they sound fantastic, look great, and support Bluetooth. Plus they’re exceptionally comfortable (as long as your glasses don’t interfere). They are quite expensive, however.
Who should (and shouldn’t) buy this
You have two things to consider when reading this guide: noise cancellation and whether you need an over-ear pair versus an in-ear pair.
We need to be clear up front: Buy noise-cancelling headphones only if you need noise cancellation. If you’re just looking for a pair of all-around headphones and you think you might occasionally use the noise cancellation, you’ll probably be disappointed.
No pair of noise-cancelling headphones offers the same sound quality as a similarly priced pair of non-noise-cancelling headphones. For example, the PSB M4U 2 is an excellent-sounding set of headphones, but its noise cancellation adds $100 to its price over its passive sibling, the M4U 1. Also, the M4U 2 doesn’t offer nearly as much noise cancellation as the Bose QuietComfort 25. However, the Bose QC25 doesn’t sound nearly as good as the M4U 2. Just know that non-noise-cancelling headphones will sound better for less money.
It’s important to note that noise-cancelling headphones aren’t magic. They do a great job of reducing low-frequency noise, such as the engine drone on an airplane. They don’t do much (if anything) to reduce voices, baby screams, or similar noises. The over-ear design of the Bose QC25 will make those noises a little softer, but by electronically reducing the ambient engine drone on a plane, it leaves someone sitting right next to you still audible.
Tyll Hertsens of headphone enthusiast site InnerFidelity raised an important point in an interview: “Noise-cancelling headphones are a strange beast. The big problem is the noise-cancelling circuitry and methods always seems to introduce problems in sound quality. In general, I think noise-cancelling headphones should be a choice of last resort. If you’re going to be using your cans only occasionally in very loud environments (trains and planes), I’d suggest a good sealed headphone and just put up with the extra noise those times when in loud environments. The sound quality will be better. If you’re traveling or in loud environments a lot, good in-ear headphones will provide as much or more isolation and much better sound. But if you can’t stand putting something in your ears, and you will be in loud environs a lot, noise cancellers is a good choice.”
That said, I never take a flight without a pair, and I fly a lot. I’ve put more than 200,000 miles on our in-ear noise-cancelling pick, the Bose QuietComfort 20. It makes sitting in an airplane (or on a train, a car, etc.) a lot more pleasant by making everything just a little quieter, most notably by reducing the hum of the engine.
Check out my Forbes article “Are Noise Cancelling Headphones Worth It?” for more.
If you wear glasses
We talked about this topic above in our over-ears versus in-ears discussion, but we’ve conducted additional testing—and we often get questions about this issue—so it’s worth diving into even more.
In our last round of testing, I rated each new set of headphones with and without my glasses. I found that, on average, the subjective noise-cancelling performance dropped by at least one full point, sometimes more. In some cases, such as with the Definitive Technology pair, I found a huge difference: I rated that pair at 7.5 without, but only 3 with.
For our rankings, we used my ratings without glasses for consistency. Subjectively, with my glasses, the in-ear QuietComfort 20 easily offered the most overall reduction. Without my glasses, the QuietComfort 25 did.
Brent Butterworth conducted a similar test and didn’t find the differences to be as severe as I did. So depending on your glasses, you may or may not have quite as much of a problem. If you can, test a pair of noise-cancelling headphones somewhere loud, and try them with and without your glasses.
How we picked and tested
For the original version of this guide, I interviewed the top headphone reviewers working today, including Steve Guttenberg, Tyll Hertsens, and Brent Butterworth. I asked them to name their top picks. Since then, we’ve tested many new promising models and several inexpensive models not reviewed elsewhere.
How did we choose those models? Well, noise cancellation is not an easy thing to do, and it’s incredibly rare for an unknown company to stumble upon a magic mixture (without infringing on Bose’s patents) that cancels a lot of noise. Most companies buy off-the-shelf noise-cancelling circuitry, which may be okay, but not nearly as good as what you’ll find in the top contenders in this guide.
Fairly simple objective testing can determine the worth of a noise-cancelling pair of headphones, too. So if we heard of a newly released model from an established manufacturer that knows its stuff, or if a certain pair of headphones enjoyed some buzz (pun not intended) in forums or in the comments, we called it in to test. We objectively measured each model’s noise-cancelling performance, and if it was anything decent, we gave that pair a listen to see how it sounded. Very few models passed the first test, and fewer still survived the second test.
For this year’s update, we got in 22 new models. Most, as you’ll see in the competition section, offered very little noise cancelling. Some $400+ models offered less than sub-$100 models. A few were decent enough that they deserved a listen, so Brent, Lauren, and musician Phil Metzler all gave them a listen to give their subjective opinions on the sound quality. They also listened to each with airplane-level noise in the background to just the noise cancelling.
Last year we added a new level of subjective testing. This year, with so few models offering even reasonable amounts of noise cancellation, we judged this additional level of testing to be superfluous. So why still include it here? It shows how much correlation there is between objective noise-cancellation measurements and our subjective assessments. Also, this type of testing hadn’t been done before, so it’s worth reading if you’re curious.
With so many potentially great headphones to listen to, we added a whole new round of testing in addition to the objective tests mentioned above. For the new test, we used a recording of the noise in the passenger cabin of a Boeing 737-800 in flight, played through a 5.1 speaker system at 80 decibels. This system included a $1,600, 1,700-watt, Power Sound Audio S3600i subwoofer with dual 18-inch drivers (the most powerful sub Brent has ever tested).
A bevy of new noise-cancelling headphones to test. Note the cute little 1,700-watt subwoofer and the pile of portable Bluetooth speakers.
We ranked each of the new headphones on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing no change in the sound whatsoever and 10 indicating Cone of Silence-esque. Added to the mix were the Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear headphones and the Phiaton MS 100 BA headphones, which aren’t noise-cancelling but offer decent passive isolation (for comparison and reference’s sake).
We each went through the various headphones multiple times, listening to them and comparing them with like-priced and like-performing models. We then averaged the rankings among the three of us. This process gave us a subjective assessment to add to our objective measurements.
The result? The Bose QuietComfort 25 was the top pick for all of us, by far, with two 9s and one 9.5, for an average of 9.2. The next closest was the QuietComfort 20. Bose really does know what it’s doing with noise cancellation. We just wish the headphones sounded better.
The next three were all pretty close, with the Bang & Olufsen, Audio-Technica, and Sennheiser models coming in at scores of 7.5, 6.7, and 6.5, respectively. All of the rest were in the 4 to 5 range, which we labeled as “average”—and because we had so many options that were above average, we passed on these as picks.
Judging broadband “amount of noise reduced” involves less subjectivity than comparing sound quality, and our rankings matched fairly closely. The biggest differences occurred when one of us couldn’t get a good fit for some reason (in my case, the Beats pair; in Lauren’s, the Audio-Technica set; and in Brent’s, the Definitive Technology model).
The QC25s are comfortable, light, and have incredible noise cancelling. Though not wireless, you can remove the cable if you’re using them only for noise cancelling.
For the third year running, the QC25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones. Yes, the wireless QC35 offers very slightly more noise reduction on paper, but in subjective testing it was more of a wash, with a slight edge to these over the QC35. The amount of noise reduced is incredible: noticeably and significantly more than the vast majority of noise-cancelling headphones. In our testing, they dropped an average of 24.2 dB of noise, including over 30 dB at some frequencies, and more low-bass reduction than any headphone we’ve tested.
As part of my original QuietComfort 25 review for Forbes, I tested the pair on an airplane and found that these headphones “do a fantastic job reducing the engine noise from this Airbus A319. Dropping it down from a loud whir to a low hum.”
Lauren Dragan later agreed after participating in our test panel, saying, “The NC is still fantastic. Better low-end NC than the QC20 in-ears from about 60 Hz down. I’d pick these over the other NC headphones in a heartbeat.”
The QC25s fold up into a case that’s about the size of a hardcover book. They run off a single AAA battery. The black rectangle on the left of the case is an airplane adapter, for aircraft in-flight entertainment that has the two-prong connector.
And after conducting objective measurements for his own review at About.com, our colleague Brent Butterworth was also impressed: “Both [the QC15 and QC25] headphones deliver excellent noise cancellation, which in my experience can be beaten only by Bose’s own QC20 in-ear NC headphone. However, the QC25 doesn’t seem, at least in this measurement, to improve substantially on the QC15’s performance.”
Of course, noise cancellation isn’t the only thing that matters. If these headphones were uncomfortable, horrible sounding, or huge and bulky, that might prompt us to look elsewhere. But thankfully, that isn’t the case. The QC25 sounds decent, offers exceptional comfort, and folds into a small case about the size of a thick paperback book.
They don’t sound awesome, however. Like most Bose headphones, they don’t sound bad, just “okay.” Bland. Unexciting. I don’t think anyone would hate how they sound, but no one is going to say “these sound amazing.”
Wirecutter’s headphone editor Lauren Dragan give some feedback as well: “In passive mode they’ve got muddy lows, and a bass spike into lower mids. However, they still sound rather unnatural. They work in passive mode, so just that is a huge improvement over their predecessors. In active mode, the muddiness in lower-mids is reduced. Bass is tightened up. They’re significantly better sounding. Still a touch hot in 2-3k range (think snare drums) and lacking in soundstage.” She described the overall sound as “not awful.”
Brent Butterworth also gave the QC25 a listen and ran it through his usual suite of objective headphone tests (including frequency response, noise cancellation, and the like). Here’s what he found: “The QC25 seemed to have a stronger resonant peak in the low bass, maybe around 40 Hz and below, which gave kick drum and the lower notes of the bass guitar more dynamics and punch.”
In November of 2015, CNET named the QC25 the best noise-cancelling headphones of 2015, giving this model four out of five stars and rating it “Excellent.” This year their top pick is the QC35, our wireless option.
So if you’re looking for the most noise cancellation, the QuietComfort 25 offers that, plus it’s a well-designed product overall. It’s very comfortable, relatively compact, and still capable of making music if the battery dies. So as far as our choice for the best noise-cancelling over-ear headphones goes, the Bose QuietComfort 25 is the clear winner.
If you want noise cancellation with Bluetooth
The wireless QC35 have excellent noise cancelling, and include a cable for use when the battery dies.
These are basically everything we said about the QuietComfort 25, plus wireless. The QC35 fold small, are comfortable, and offer about the same noise cancelling as the QC25. As you can see in the measurement chart above, they offer a little less in some ranges, a little more in others. Their average was 25.2 in the “Airplane Band,” just slightly more than the QC25.
In our subjective tests, they sounded about the same as the QC25 (with a slight edge to the QC25). Really, Bose just kept everything we liked about the QC25, and made them wireless. Except for one thing …
The sound. It seems Bose wanted to make the sound of the QC35 more … exciting? They boosted the bass and treble. In our listening tests there was no consensus whether this was a good thing, but no one really “liked” them. It was more about which sounded better, these or the QC25. This is sort of like which is the best pair of beige khakis.
Basically the same design and case as the QC25. An analog cable is included (3.5 mm to 2.5 mm).
Brent and I didn’t like the change. As he said, “I like the sound of the 25 better. They gave these a bass bump and a treble boost. Little too sizzly and a little too bloated.” Lauren was on the fence, “Decent highs, though a little rolled off. The mids are a bit flat (lacking dimension) and lows are a little bloated.” Phil did like them, however: “Sound was great with NC on, only okay with it off. NC accentuated the mids and trebles to make it sparkle more.”
The only other major issue with the QC35 is what Phil described. These sound different whether you listen to them wireless or wired (and with the noise cancelling on or off in the wired mode). Wired with the noise cancelling on is only slightly different, but still okay. Wired with the noise cancelling off is pretty poor. Bass is flat, lumpy, and there’s more of it. Not a dealbreaker, but worth noting.
Range is a difficult thing to judge with Bluetooth headphones, because the building you’re in, how much RF interference there is, and even your source device will all have an effect. That said, I was able to walk around my house with multiple walls between me and my Galaxy S6 Edge without issue. It wasn’t until I walked out onto my driveway they started to cut out. This was roughly the same performance I got with the Samsung Level On Wireless that’s our budget pick below and QC35’s wireless siblings. It was slightly better than the far less expensive Phiaton BT 100 NC that’s the budget pick in our wireless NC guide.
Bose claims a battery life of 20 hours. Though you can listen to music if the battery dies, the mic won’t work, so you can’t make calls. There’s also no way to use them with Bluetooth without also using the noise cancelling as well, but with a 20-hour battery life, that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.
So, subjectively the QC25 offer a bit more noise cancelling and are bit cheaper. However, the wireless aspect of the QC35 is exceptionally convenient. Hard to go wrong either way.
A (cheaper) runner-up
If you can’t afford the Bose QC25, or in the unlikely event that the Bose models are unavailable, check out the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b. The sound quality won’t blow you away—though neither will that of the Bose—and its noise cancellation isn’t quite as good as our top picks, but the ANC7b is a great value and great price.
Tyll Hertsens is a fan. “No, it’s not quite as comfortable, not quite as quieting, and not quite the sound quality of the Bose, but the little 7b does manage to deliver the second best listening experience of the bunch for me. I definitely recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b, a competent noise canceler with good sound at a very good price.”
The noise cancelling is less than the others we recommend here, but because the price is also a lot lower, that’s forgivable. They offer a lot more noise cancellation than competition that costs the same and even more. They averaged 15.6 dB reduction in the “Airplane Band,” which is more than several $300 and $400 headphones we tested.
The bass is a little boomy but the treble is decent. The Bose certainly offer more noise cancelling, but because these are usually under $100, less than a third of the Bose, they’re a great bargain.
The ANC7b are best for someone who travels a fair amount but just can’t spend hundreds on the Bose.
Budget noise cancelling with Bluetooth
Though technically an “on-ear” design, the Level On Wireless have large, comfortable earpads.
Finally, after years of waiting, we finally have decent low(er)-cost wireless noise-cancelling headphones. The Samsung Level On Wireless were well-liked by our testers, offer solid noise cancelling, and were quite comfortable. They’re an all-around great pair of headphones.
Brent probably liked them the best, saying “They sound great and have above average noise cancelling. They sounded like good headphones that just happen to have NC. For on-ears they’re really comfortable and reasonably compact. I’m not thrilled with the carry sack but it’s better than the hard-shell football a lot of others have.”
I too was surprised at how good these sounded. A wired headphone of the same or lower price would still sound better, but these would at least give them a run for their money. Lauren’s take on their sound profile matched mine. She felt they had peak around 2k that makes them a little sizzly, though the mids and lows okay. Phil didn’t like the extra bass the noise-cancelling mode had, but I did (I tend to like a little more bass in my headphones than most people). They actually sound remarkably similar wired, wireless, and with the noise cancellation on and off. Not identical, but far closer than most noise-cancelling and noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones.
Though not as protective as the case that comes with the Bose pairs, the Samsung’s bag is at least small.
The noise cancelling is good. Better than the Audio-Technica ANC7b’s, but not as good as the Boses’ or some of the über-expensive alternate options. In our testing, they averaged 18.8 dB reduction in the all-important “Airplane Band.”
Even though these are technically on-ear headphones, they don’t feel like it. They’re big for on-ears (though still smaller than over-ears). The ear padding is very soft, and the headband doesn’t create too much clamping force. So if you were specifically looking for over-ear headphones, and don’t want the Bose, I doubt you’ll find issue with these. At least, in terms of size.
They don’t require it, but there’s an app available that adds some features to the On. There’s an EQ to dial in the sound, a Text-to-Speech feature (if you have a compatible Samsung phone, and not as impressive as it sounds), and volume control for your device and the headphones.
I got about the same Bluetooth range with the Level On Wireless as I did with the Bose QC35 pair. Voice quality was a bit better with the Bose, but people I called while wearing the Samsung pair had no problem enjoying my dulcet tones.
Samsung claims a battery life of 11 hours of talk/listening time with the noise cancelling on, and 23 hours with it off (i.e., with just the Bluetooth). Like the QC35, you can still use the Level On Wireless as headphones when the battery runs out. The cable is included.
There are no serious dealbreakers with the Level On Wireless. The touch controls on the side for volume and track forward/reverse are a little annoying (Lauren wasn’t a fan), but unlike some headphones with touch, it was only for those two things. The important and most-often used buttons like power and noise-cancellation are hard buttons on the bottom edge. The cloth carrying case, as Brent mentioned, isn’t as secure as Bose’s flat-ish case, but for the price, no complaints.
Ah yes, the price. MSRP of these is $200. That’s a bit much. However, they haven’t been that price all year, and often hover around $130, which is fantastic (even Samsung’s website has this as a price, though the $200 is still listed and crossed out). They’re even available in multiple colors.
Note: These, the Level On Wireless (model number EO-PN900), have a sister model we don’t recommend, the Level On Wireless Pro (EO-PN920). They look identical, but the Pro models are $50 to $100 more expensive.
A luxury option
If you want a pair of headphones that does it all—Bluetooth, noise cancellation, and sound quality—and excels at the latter two, be prepared to spend a lot of money and receive a fair amount of disappointment. There’s just no such thing as the perfect headphones. Nothing offers the noise cancellation of Bose, but they don’t sound great. Lots of headphones sound great, but have middling noise cancellation.
So really, it’s about where you want to draw the compromise line. All our testers liked the Sennheiser HD-1 Wireless (formerly known as the Momentum 2.0). They sound great, offer okay noise reduction, and are Bluetooth. We liked these despite their exceptionally high price—$500 when new!—though we said for most people that was way too much money. These days the price is regularly below $400, which is far more reasonable.
However, you may want to trade some of this pair’s sound quality for slightly better noise cancelling, without going as far as the Bose. We’ve got some options in the competition section below you can consider. As I said, it’s where you draw the imperfect line.
In our subjective noise cancellation rankings, the Sennheiser pair averaged a score of 6.5, and the Bose pair earned a 9.2. So the HD-1 pair’s noise cancellation is better than average but nowhere close to that of the QuietComfort 25 pair. The HD-1 headphones sound way better, look better, and offer Bluetooth support. But if you’re looking just for the best noise cancellation, the Bose set is better.
Also, I can’t wear the Sennheiser headphones, because they are exceptionally uncomfortable with my glasses. If you wear glasses, try before you buy, and make sure that you can get a good seal, because without it, the noise cancellation will be even worse (something true of most headphones). If you want great-sounding Bluetooth headphones, with good noise cancellation, that you can wear with glasses.
Like the Bose, you can use the HD-1 when the battery dies thanks to an included analog cable. And also like the Bose, you can’t use the mic when the battery dies.
If you’re looking for the best noise cancelling, get the Bose. If you’re looking for something with a better mix of sound, style, and some noise cancelling, the Sennheiser HD-1 is a great, well-rounded performer (though there are some other great, but slightly different, well-rounded performers in the next section).
A-Audio A01 Legacy: Comfortable, but very little noise cancelling (same insides as the Brookstone, apparently).
AKG N60NC: This new AKG model is an updated version of the K490NC on-ear set that Brent loved from the last round of testing (described below). Like its predecessor, the N60NC folds up small and offers decent, if not great, noise cancellation. On our subjective testing, we ranked this set in the middle of the pack, which wasn’t good enough for us to name it as a pick at its current price. The K490NC is still available, so if you don’t like—or can’t get a good fit for your ears in—the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b, check out the K490NC.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70: The noise cancelling is okay, but they don’t sound very good.
Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC: Audio-Technica usually has above average noise cancellation, but not in this case. It’s very mild, doubly surprising given the high price. Audio-Technica’s own ANC7b is way cheaper and offers a lot more noise cancellation.
Bang & Olufsen H8: The H8 is a flat-out fantastic pair of Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. They sound and look terrific. They’re comfortable even for people who wear glasses due to the on-ear design, and their noise cancellation is second only to the Bose pair’s. Why isn’t the H8 a pick? Easy. The price. These rarely drop below $500. Also, all our testers liked the HD-1 just a little bit better overall, despite them having less effective noise cancelling. Brent, Lauren, and I all liked the H8, but we all said we’d pick the HD-1 Wireless if given the choice between the two (also, the HD-1 headphones are now regularly $100 to $150 less than the H8 pair). If there’s something about these that you like better, or if you wear glasses, or you can find $500 in your lavish seat cushions, the H8 is an excellent headphone.
Beats Studio: In our subjective noise-cancellation testing, I ranked the Studio dead last. When I held the headphones in place, they did a little better, but I have a really average-size head, and I’ve never had to hold headphones in place for them to work. Lauren and Brent have small and large heads, respectively, and they ranked the Studio in the middle of the pack. If you must have Beats, that’s your call. In terms of Bluetooth noise-cancelling models, you have much better options.
Brookstone SoundShield: These sound bad, offer little noise cancelling, and are uncomfortable to wear. Avoid.
Böhm B-66: Not bad, but very mild noise cancellation, even for the price.
Creative HN-900: “Less effective than most NC headphones I’ve measured,” according to Brent’s review for Sound & Vision. “While the HN-900 looks like a great deal at $99, in this case we feel you cut quality when you cut your budget.”
Definitive Technology Symphony 1: The Symphony 1 is quite good, and there’s a lot to like about it, as it’s very comfortable and the headphones sound great. However, the noise cancellation is only a little above average, and Brent couldn’t get a good seal. I found the active noise cancellation to be fairly mild, with most of the overall reduction coming from the passive isolation. With my glasses on, this set effectively offered no isolation at all. It’s also massive—this isn’t a good travel headphones choice. The Bang & Olufsen pair costs only a little more, offers better overall noise cancellation, and is significantly smaller.
Denon AH-GC20: The Bose pair offers much more noise cancelling for less money. Worse, all our testers felt these were some of the worst-sounding noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tested. One called them a “disaster.” Huge miss for Denon.
Direct Sound Serenity II: Brent heard these headphones at this year’s AES Convention and was impressed enough to recommend we get a pair in. Unlike the rest of the headphones here, the Serenity II is a noise-isolating model, not a noise-cancelling one. They sound fantastic and would probably do well in our $150 over-ear headphones guide. It even reduces a few more midrange and upper-midrange frequencies than the Bose QuietComfort 25 does. But it doesn’t reduce any low-frequency noise, and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b offers far more overall noise reduction for roughly the same money. If in the future Direct Sound was to make a noise-cancelling version that sounds as good as this pair does, that might be interesting.
Out of curiosity, I put on the Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear headphones and then put the Serenity II over them, but the overall reduction in noise wasn’t much different from what the QC20 headphones did on their own.
Golzer BANC-50: Very mild noise cancellation, even for the price. Audio-Technica ANC7b offers far more.
Harman Kardon NC: These are bulky and don’t offer much noise cancelling.
JBL Everest Elite 700: Like several other headphones here, the JBL set is good, not great. The noise cancellation is a little better than average, the sound quality is decent, the headphones are comfortable, and it’s a Bluetooth model. It comes with a (slow-loading and annoying) app that claims to tune the headphones to your ears. But even so tuned, the sound isn’t that much better than what we heard from other models here. The Samsung Level Over is similar, and offers better noise cancellation, though I like the sound of the JBL pair better. So this model isn’t bad, but we can name better options. We didn’t get a chance to try this model’s baby sibling, the on-ear Everest Elite 300, but we expect the performance to be similar.
JLab Flex BT: Very mild noise cancellation.
Monoprice 112231: Pretty mild noise cancellation. The Audio-Technica ANC7b pair is the same price and offers more. Our testers found this pair extremely uncomfortable. Rather ironic, given the name on Amazon is “Monoprice Comfortable Over the Ear Active Noise Cancelling Headphone”
NoiseHush i7 Aviator: The new version of a previous budget pick, the i7 Aviator is okay for the price, but it really doesn’t offer much noise cancellation. In our subjective rankings, this pair came in last among the new headphones. If you absolutely can’t afford the Audio-Technica set, I suppose this one will work, but its noise cancellation is very, very mild, not much more than what a pair of noise-isolating in-ear headphones can do.
Parrot Zik 2.0 and Zik 3.0: Exceptionally annoying to use, requiring an app to do something even as minor as turning the noise cancelling on or off. The Bose QC35 pair offers better noise cancelling and Bluetooth. We know a lot of people like these, but every person we’ve had try them has gotten frustrated and annoyed using them, so we just can’t recommend them to most people.
PAWW WaveSound 3: Fairly mild noise cancellation, and the sound was not liked by our panelists.
Phiaton BT 330 NC: The noise cancellation was quite mild, and the sound quality was pretty bad cutting some low end, but with a higher-end hiss to it.
Phiaton Chord MS 530: Tyll Hertsens reviewed the MS 530 for InnerFidelity, saying, “The Chord MS 530 doesn’t do a really good job of noise canceling. If you really want to get rid of noise for air and train travel, you really want to be looking at the Bose QC15 or QC20 (I prefer the 20), or in-ear headphones.” If the Samsung Level On Wireless is out of your price range, these are worth considering, just keep in mind the NC is really mild.
Philips Fidelio NC1: We could find nothing wrong with the NC1 pair; we just had options that offered better noise cancellation for less money. In both our objective and subjective tests, this model placed in the middle of the pack. During our subjective testing, I found that it created (or let in) an odd bass rumble, though Brent and Lauren didn’t have this issue.
Philips SHB8750NC/27: Fairly mild noise cancellation. Also, disliked by our panelists.
Philips SHB9850NC: Surprisingly low price for noise cancellation and Bluetooth. Noise cancelling about on par with the Audio-Technica ANC7b in objective tests, but subjectively our panelists thought it sounded pretty mild. They were also split on the sound quality.The Samsung Level On Wireless was liked better and offered more NC (though for a bit more money). If you can’t afford the Level On Wireless, these could be a cheaper alternative, but you’re more likely to like the Samsung.
Philips SHL3750NC: About the same noise cancellation as the SHB8750 (i.e., fairly mild). Not bad for the low, low price, but spending a bit more gets you a lot more.
Polk Ultra Focus 8000: Another of the “okay-for-some” camp. These are a good price, the noise cancelling is okay, and some people (though not me), like the sound. Tyll Hertsens, in his roundup of noise-cancelling headphones, found the Bose QC15 to be the winner, but he liked these better than the PSB M4U 2, our former sound-quality pick, saying, “Holy Guacamole, do these sound good! Easily the best sounding headphone of the bunch.”
PSB M4U 2: These are a fantastic-sounding pair of headphones, and Lauren’s reference headphones. However, its noise-cancelling is so mild compared with that of the other options here that it isn’t a main pick. Basically, if you’re looking for great headphones, and you plan on using the noise cancellation only occasionally, the PSB is a fantastic option.
Samsung Level On Pro Wireless: The same NC as the Level On wireless … but significantly more expensive. Added price is because “Ultra High Quality Audio (UHQA) technology delivers a true 24bit digital audio experience with up to 2x wider frequency range than standard CD-quality wireless sound.” However, none of our panelists found much difference between the Pro and the “basic” model. Slightly more high end with these, which Phil liked but Lauren didn’t.
Samsung Level Over: These were a former pick, and offer okay noise cancellation. Their sound is pretty lively, which I didn’t like but other people didn’t mind. Not a bad headphone, but there are better options.
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On-Ear: Even less noise cancellation than the over-ear Momentums. As much as we loved the over-ears, the on-ears were not loved.
Sennheiser PXC 550: These are quite good, and one of the alternate upgrade options if you don’t want to go with the HD-1s. They offer more noise cancellation than their more stylish Momentum counterparts, third of all the headphones we tested, behind the Bose pairs and the Bang & Olufsen H8. None of our panelists liked them enough to want them over the HD-1 or Bose, especially for the higher price. But if there’s something about these that you like, go for it. For most people, though, our picks are better options.
Sony MDR1RNC: Subpar noise cancellation and inconsistent sound.
Sony MDR10RNC: I reviewed the Sony MDR10RNC for Forbes. “The MDR10RNC are a decent looking, fairly well built, noise-cancelling headphone, and a big improvement over their direct predecessor,” I concluded at the time. “In active mode, they sound decent. In passive mode, not so much. Their noise cancelling is good, though not as good as the class-leading Bose QC15s.”
Sony MDR100ABN (h.ear on): These are just way too expensive. They offer less noise cancellation than the Samsung Level On Wireless, but cost two to three times as much when we reviewed them. Brent liked them—until he heard the price. If these were around the price of the Level On Wireless, it’d be a hard choice between them.
Sony MDR1000X: Another solid alternative to the Sennheiser HD-1. A little more noise cancellation (though less than the Sennheiser PXC 550). Brent found them comfortable and “beautifully crafted.” He also liked the sound a lot better than that of either Bose. Phil was less impressed. Like the other “almosts” we’ve discussed, these are good—we just liked others better.
Sony MDR-ZX770BN: Very poor noise cancellation. The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b is half the price and offers significantly better NC. The Samsung Level Over is roughly the same price, and it offers both better noise cancellation and Bluetooth support.
SRP Compact Traveler 5 and Studio Traveler 5: Inexpensive offerings, with a $140 deal to get both the on ear (CT5) and over-ear. Noise cancellation is pretty mild, though. The Audio-Technica ANC7b is only a little more money and offers significantly more noise reduction.
Wrapping it up
In terms of noise cancellation, nothing beats the Bose QuietComfort 25. This pair is also comfortable, as portable as you can get with over-ear headphones, and decent-sounding. It’s a fantastic product for any traveler (or any lover of a bit of quiet). If you want wireless, the QuietComfort 35 headphones offer all the same benefits, but are Bluetooth.
- CNET, interview, August 11, 2012,
- Sound & Vision magazine, interview, August 12, 2012,
- InnerFidelity, interview, August 13, 2012,
- Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise Canceling Headphone Review, Sound & Vision, August 18, 2012,
- Review: PSB M4U 2, Sound & Vision, June 25, 2012,
- A Comparative Review of High-End Noise Canceling Headphones, InnerFidelity, June 22, 2012,
- Headphone Shootout: The Best and Worst Celebrity Cans, Sound & Vision, October 5, 2011,
- Review: Creative HN-900 Headphone, Sound & Vision, May 14, 2012,
- Review: Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz Noise Canceling Headphones, Sound & Vision, July 5, 2012,