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.
AKG N60NC Wireless: These are a bit disappointing, as we really liked the wired version. These offer below-average levels of NC.
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. All our testers liked the Sennheiser 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. Once $500, these have been $350 for several months. They’re fantastic at that price. If there’s something about these that you like better than the HD-1 or QC35, or if you wear glasses, the H8 is an excellent headphone.
Bang & Olufsen H9: Very expensive, and reviews found them annoying to use with weak NC.
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.
Beats Studio 3: The 2017 Beats Studios are a big improvement over earlier models, but they still aren’t the best choice for your money. The noise cancelling is fairly pedestrian, with an average reduction of 12.5 dB over the Airplane Band. This puts them on the wrong side of the price/performance range. However, they’re comfortable, pair very easily with Apple gear thanks to the W1 chip, and sound far better than previous versions. When compared to other headphones in their price range, they simply don’t hold up. Brent said, “They’re like a really good audio system but with a bad subwoofer. More of a “buh buh buh’ sound instead of notes. There’s also a noise to the NC, but less ‘ear suck’ though.” Lauren said, “the lows don’t muddy or muffle, but they don’t support the music either. It’s not that they’re bass forward, it’s that the Studio 3 lacks low-end clarity, depth and definition. It’s a shame, because everything mids and up are fantastic.” If you must have Beats, you’ve probably already bought these. For everyone else, these are “fine” but there are far better options for less money.
Blue Satellite: Expensive, heavy, and with fairly mediocre NC.
The Bose QuietComfort 35, now called the “Series I” on Amazon, are being phased out. If you can find them, and don’t feel you need the Google Assistant button, they’re a great headphone. They sound about the same as the Series II, our main pick.
Bowers & Wilkins PX: Very expensive with mild NC (avg reduction of 12.1 dB in the airplane range).
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.
JBL Everest Elite 750NC: With an average reduction in the Airplane Band of 13 dB, the 750NC offer far less than Bose for roughly the same money. Other reviews weren’t impressed either.
JBL E65BTNC: Above-average noise cancelling, though less than the Samsung. The sound is a bit treble heavy.
JLab Flex BT: Very mild noise cancellation.
Libratone Q Adapt: Noise cancelling is above average, but less than our Samsung pick and others.
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.
NoiseHush (Naztech) i9 BT: Fairly mild noise cancellation. The testers thought they were okay for the price, but the Audio-Technica ANC7b were better.
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.
Plantronics BackBeat Pro, Pro2, and Pro+: All offer pretty mild noise cancelling and all got mixed reviews from our panelists. There are better-performing options.
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 HD 4.50 BTNC: Below-average NC. The sound is rather brash, spiky, adding a nasally aspect to male voices.
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 480: Decent noise cancelling, but less than Bose and about average with much-cheaper Samsungs.
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 h.ear on 2 Wireless NC (WH-H900N): These are fantastic headphones. They very nearly became our runner-up pick. They sound great, offer solid NC (18.7 dB average reduction), and are comfortable … if a bit heavy feeling. Their overall design is basically the same as the WH-1000XM2. If you’re looking for a headphone that sounds better than Bose, but still offers above-average noise cancelling, these are your best option. You lose a few features compared to the 1000XM2, but none worth the lower NC, slightly worse sound, or extra $50. If these drop in price, they’ll probably replace the Samsung as a budget pick.
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-ZX110NC: Few companies are as random as Sony when it comes to noise canceling performance. These don’t have very much, according to Rtings.com.
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.
Sony WH-1000XM2: Despite some rather … breathless reviews, the WH-1000XM2 didn’t end up being one of our picks. Their noise cancelling doesn’t measure as well as others, averaging 16.7 dB reduction in the airplane band. Their sound is good, though others are better. If you better sound than Bose but still decent noise cancelling, Sony’s other new headphone, the H900N, is actually better.
Sony XB950N1: The tagline for these headphones is “Hear nothing but the bass” and that is accurate.
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.
TaoTronics TT-BH22US: OK for the price, the Audio-Technica 7b have more noise reduction for just a little more money.