Best Noise Canceling Headphones of 2017: Kill that noise

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Noise cancelation has existed as a theory of physics long before it could be put into practice, and even when it eventually did, it was reserved only for audio labs, recording studios and the military. Nowadays, this technique has become a highly sought-after audio enhancement feature with a high level of status for music lovers fighting ambient noise: airplane engine noise, subway train rumble, city crowd chatter or any other sonic distraction (or destruction) of the ‘soundtrack’ of our everyday life.

Best Noise Canceling Headphones of 2017

How We Choose:

To help you join the anti-noise revolution, we decided to sift through the very best of noise-canceling headphones currently available. When putting this list together, we’ve left noise-canceling earbuds or noise-insulation cans out as we address them elsewhere. The majority of our picks happen to be of the larger over-ear headphones variety, though you will find a couple of on-ear examples too, and we do explain the differences between these types and their specific features, pros and cons in our Buying Advice section below.

The main criteria for us will always be audio quality, but this is followed here by a very close second – the headphones’ ANC (active noise cancelation) performance. We do start from the top end of the market and that means high price tags – those top picks are really the ones exhibiting the golden ratio of audiophile-grade audio performance, combined with excellent noise cancelation. Don’t be surprised if you see some slightly cheaper pairs resting above more expensive headphones – it’s all down to how the afore-mentioned Sonics vs ANC ratio varies.  Some cans exhibit fantastic noise-cancelation but with a less impressive sound quality…and vice versa. We aim to pick the best performers and by separating and pointing out these two aspects, you can gauge better which particular pair would suit your needs.

Our Noise Canceling Headphone Picks:

1. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 ($499)
B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 16 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: Yes
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Great update of an already great pair (H8), killer looks, coverage and sound.
What We Don’t: A barely-noticeable high-pitched static noise, caused by the ANC circuit, although only when no music is being played.

Bang & Olufsen’s H9s are the company’s current flagship model, continuing in the steps of the previous much-loved H versions, and sharing most of their features. They immediately struck us as stylish and classy, combining aluminum and lambskin, which is already a B&O design trademark. The H9s have an impressive wireless performance, and a really capable in-house designed and tuned active noise cancelation (ANC) circuit. Despite their fairly large pads, the H9’s acoustic isolation is not as effective as one might expect. With the ANC active, the Beoplays are pretty much dead quiet and can last up to 16 hours. Virtually all Bluetooth headphones nowadays have a built-in mic, allowing for easy call and playback settings and calls through the H9 are crisp and clear. Of course, you can use the pair with a standard 3.5mm lead for wired use as well.

For those familiar with the older H8, we did notice a slight improvement in audio quality as well. The H9s also utilise the latest Bluetooth 4.2, and hi-res aptX streaming.  A real tour de force of portable audio entertainment and a superb choice for any travelling audiophile.

2. Bose QuietComfort 35 ($349)
Bose QuietComfort 35

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 20 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Terrific ANC, great mic quality, very good overall sonic tonal character due to Bose’s digital algorithms.
What We Don’t: No aptX support, you can’t turn off the ANC circuit, no auto-sensing power-off.

The QuietComfort 35s are truly the heavyweight champs of noise-cancelation. If we don’t start with that, we’d be twisting the truth. They are also quite different from regular headphones as their sonic character relies entirely on the company’s digital tweaking – EQ curve, frequency levels, crossover points, and all that plus so much more, have been digitally ‘imprinted’ (as an app if you wish). Bose headphones do have a ‘signature’ sound – very transparent and crisp, with slightly scooped mids character and emphasized bass and tops. They can sound a bit artificial when compared to proper reference-grade headphones, but on their own they are perfectly satisfactory – pretty much all music genres sound really good and movie soundtracks are close to terrific.

The ANC mode, which is stunningly effective, is always on – no you can’t disable it (even in wired mode) and unfortunately, one drawback of Bose’s design is that external codecs such as aptX are not supported – a bit of a pity! Despite their lack of hi-res wireless audio capabilities, their Bluetooth streaming is super solid, and the 35s manage a most impressive voice call quality even in the noisiest surroundings.

3. Sony MDR1000X ($398)
MDR1000X

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 16 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: Yes
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Great sound, impressive dynamics.
What We Don’t: Steep learning curve with lots of deep ANC parameter editing

At the time of writing, Bose QuietComfort 35 are the absolute ANC standard bearer – it’s just a fact and any headphones’ noise-cancelation is compared to that – whether it’s in reviews, forums or gear shoot outs. The Quiet Comforts may have finally found a serious noise-cancelation competitor in this handsome Sony MDR1000X pair.

Let us start by saying that they easily smoke the Bose in terms of audio detail, soundstage, depth and detail. Better sound, in short. By far. Moving to ANC performance comparisons, it is pretty much a draw between the two, though not in a cleancut immediate way. If Bose’s approach to tuning and optimising the ANC performance is “we’ll do that for you, but you can’t change a single parameter’, Sony have gone to the other extreme, by offering you plenty (may be even too much) of user control over ANC parameters such as amount of ambient noise reduction among many more.  Yeah, it can be quite a bit of a learning curve, but the great news is that you can get the MDR1000X to be dead quiet – as quiet as the QC35’s pretty much. All other popular current features such as Ambience mode (being able to flip a switch and hear everything, or just voices etc) are present, you get voice prompts, call handling and so on. Did we mention that they are very comfy and look cool too?

4. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 ($300)
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 22 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: Yes
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Looks, sound, range, foldability.
What We Don’t: Struggling to find stuff to complain about here.

Sennheiser’s Momentum 2.0 headphones are the company’s current flagship wireless ANC model – also featuring VoiceMax technology (voice level optimization), voice prompts, easy NFC (Near-Field Communication) Bluetooth pairing and multi-device connectivity. Made of stainless steel, aluminum and leather, it’s clear that they are made to last, and being a foldable pair, their headband adjustment thumbscrews bearing the Sennheiser logo are effortlessly cool and practical at the same time. The controls, located at the rim edge of the earcups are intuitive and it takes very little time to get used to – just apply simple finger taps and swipes on the side of the earcup.

The Momentum 2.0 can function as regular passive pair (wired with an included locking 3.5mm jack) and sound great as such. The sound character changes quite substantially – for the better, when switched to an active mode, especially with the NoiseGard (ANC) circuit on. The audio character is classic Sennheiser – rich, tight and precise with oodles of detail. The earcups house several miniature mics: there are two for hands free calling, when paired with your smartphone and further four for the built in NoiseGard active noise cancelation circuit and this is possibly one of the most effective currently on the market, offering an impressive twenty-two hours of continuous performance (in Bluetooth/NoiseGard mode). These are impressively well-specced headphones that take full advantage of the latest technology – Bluetooth version 4.0, aptX low-latency codec plus lots more. If we need to complain about something it would be Sennheiser’s full asking price for the Momentums, which when around $499 makes them a bit overpriced. Luckily, the online marketplace rides prices down considerably and they are often seen at around $300. This is when the Momentums represent a truly incredible value for money.

5. Sennheiser PXC 550 ($395)
Sennheiser PXC 550

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 30 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Tremendous specs and performance.
What We Don’t: Touch sensitive controls can trigger media, just as you hold the cans.

Sennheiser have established their reputation primarily on their studio and audiophile-grade cans with some of their most revered models being of the Open Back variety, which is essentially quite the opposite of noise-cancelation (check our Buyer’s Guide explainer below). The fact that Sennheiser have been heavily involved in noise-canceling tech since the early 1980s is hardly surprising though and they have had some enormously successful ‘noiseless’ models. The PXC 550 pair is one of their top current ANC models, and the first and foremost objective in this set’s design has been noise-cancelation.

Starting with the fact that these are very classy and well built, they are also of a latest gen Bluetooth wireless featuring NFC (near field communication), they pair with compatible smart devices like a dream – just touch the headset to your NFC enabled handheld. The smart features continue – being a completely foldable pair, by twisting the pads into a listening position (facing each other), automatically wakes the cans and the touch sensitive surface of the left earpad allows controls such as play, pause and volume to be adjusted by simple taps and finger slides. Noise-cancelation is nearly as good (but not quite) as the Bose QuietComfort 35 which are for the moment at least, the benchmark for noise-cancelation performance. Strong wind and sudden bangs still present Sennheiser’s NoiseGard ANC algorithms with a challenge when compared to Bose, and that’s why we’ve placed the QC35s above the Sennheisers.

6. Parrot Zik 3 ($329)
Parrot Zik 3

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 18 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: The super smart design, accelerometer, Zik app.
What We Don’t: Audio performance could be better for the money.

We love stuff like that surpasses initial expectations and the Parrots’ looks and design just scratch the surface of what’s in store. We’ve had the Parrot Zik 3 in several TMS headphone lists, plus in for a very extensive review which can be found here. These are superbly-designed cans sporting not only great looks but also plenty of cool tech. For starters, the Zik 3 have a built in accelerometer – just take the cans off your head and they’re on pause, put them back and they start up again.

There’s also a very capable active noise cancelation circuit. Bose-levels of quiet it ain’t, but it is pretty darn good. What makes it so effective is the addition of Parrot’s smart app allowing for user-controlled features such as amount of ambience noise-reduction, EQ curves and virtual ambience settings…plus a zillion other things. This is a clever way of approaching active noise cancelation and quite fits the ethos of Parrot’s out-of-the-box approach. Sound quality is fab but considering what you get for around three hundred bucks these days, the sonic wow factor is far less punchy than the visual impact. Despite numerous top draw artist contributing with custom EQ presets, if we had to choose with reference to audio, these cans wouldn’t be up there. As a complete package though, the Zik 3 headphones are unique, make a statement from far and are just fun to have around.

7. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 ($200)
Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 24 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: Yes
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: The looks, the spec, the sound.
What We Don’t: ANC could be better.

For those unfamiliar with the company, Plantronics have been really gaining momentum and public awareness due to their incredible value for money. This doesn’t mean that their stuff is cheap – what they are really trying to do is pack the best of the current tech for truly competitive prices. They’ve done exactly that with this BackBeat PRO 2s, which promise both contemporary sonics as well as leading class ANC performance. Do they succeed? Before we answer, let us point some of their cool features.

Like the majority of noise-canceling cans the BackBeat PRO 2 are wireless – they feature a transmitter which ups the usual thirty feet of stutter-free wireless streaming up to 330 feet (100 meters)! This is a big deal in our opinion and if Plantronics can do this at this price, many more manufacturers should upgrade their often average wireless specs. Being a tad smaller than the original Mk1 BackBeats, which featured controls on both earcups, this version has all the controls on the left earcup – they are very well thought of though and don’t feel busy or crammed. There’s plenty of control too – you can fast forward audio (and video) tracks and much more and stuff like that really makes apps unnecessary, the cans have it all. Built quality is fab – they look fantastic and feel solid. As for audio performance, let’s just say that it is really solid and quite pleasing. It has slightly enhanced tops and even more enhanced bass, which may get a bit wooly at times – but it’s far from upsetting or fatiguing.  ANC performance is very capable and it lasts 24 hours – which is amazing, really.  We have to admit that it isn’t really up there with Bose’s level of dead quiet. Opting for a Quiet Comfort 35 over a BackBeat Pro 2 would be justified only if you are really exposed to harsh noisy environment every day. If not we would probably snatch the BackBeat PRO 2s.

8. Sony XB950N1 ($248)
Sony XB950N1

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 22 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Big bass – if you need it, it’s lovely.
What We Don’t: Sony claim bass extension goes down to 2hz. Yeah, right.

Sony’s XB950N1 are the new active noise-canceling addition to their popular XB (Extra Bass) series of headphones and are quite openly targeting not the slick well-heeled business traveller but all these dudes and dudettes that love big bass – hip hop, drum ‘n’ bass, neo soul, r’n’b and reggae aficionados basically. So let’s start there – indeed, the bass response is massive, but it is a good bass, with a fair amount of definition. To compensate a bit, Sony have hyped the tops, or else it would have been like those Meghan Trainor lyrics – “I’m all about that bass, the bass, no treble”. Thankfully, nothing is harsh, the audio signature in fact really manages to approximate a huge and really well-calibrated rave party sound system and for those genres (or just moments) where you might feel that a more ‘balanced’ frequency response is needed, Sony provide a cool app for you to tweak the EQ settings to your liking and the adjustments can be quite extensive but always good sounding.

The ANC performance really works, and for up to twenty two hours non-stop at that. It is quite impressive when compared to Sony’s XB950B1 which has identical spec but without the ANC, though it won’t challenge the noise cancelation of QC35s or any other top models. We really dig the big chunky, reassuring build, and although they are foldable, they never manage to become anything less than…big. Just like their bass, really.

9. Philips Fidelio NC1 ($180)
Philips NC1

Headphone Type: Closed Back, On-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 30 hours
Wireless: No
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Fab spec and performance.
What We Don’t: ANC could be better.

Philips Fidelio NC1 are an on-ear design which is a bit of an odd choice for an ANC pair – over-ear ear designs help isolation enormously, which in turn aids active noise cancelation circuits. Somehow though, Philps have managed to make this work, and the ANC performance is impressive – considering both the design and the pair’s price. Compared to the hardest ANC hitters out there, the Fidelios will leak some voices and sudden bursts of sound, but nevertheless they offer a serious amount of ambient noise reduction.

A big plus here is the battery life – up to thirty hours, and as usual battery is rechargeable via a USB port. If ever caught with a flat battery. they continue to function in a passive mode, just like regular cans. The impressive battery performance is of course aided by the fact that the NC1s are a wired pair only – you still get smartphone in-line controls on the lead (as a well as an additional regular cable). Philips have really managed to pull some impressive sonics out of the 40mm neodymium drivers – these headphones offer above average audio performance, especially for the price. Whether due to their on-ear design, we should mention that they may at times sound a bit light in the bass department, which makes certain material sound somewhat thin and cold. Weirdly, they exhibit a slightly fuller, warmer sound with the ANC circuit switched off. We recommend these for casual everyday music enjoyment, and being completely foldable makes them perfect for travelling.

10. Samsung Level On ($115)
Samsung Level On

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 11 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: Yes
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Killer sound, great ANC, good looks.
What We Don’t: Fragile headband.

Considering that even the bargain-bin-grade earbuds thrown in with a Samsung phone sound quite decent, we are not surprised that they can come up with formidable, dedicated ANC headphones. Level On is a cool name, and it’s a cool design too – they look stylish, being both understated and flash at the same time. This is a foldable wireless pair with wired functionality and buttonless controls that are quite similar to those found on some Sennheiser headphones, allowing simple taps and swipes on the earcup surface to control volume, play, pause, track skip and so on.

When used in Bluetooth mode, they are NFC (near field communication) ready – just touch them to your device and they are paired. They are also capable of high quality (up to CD bitrate) Bluetooth streaming, courtesy of the aptX codec. Whether used as such or in wired mode, the sound quality is quite grown up – with a crisp detail, nothing is overcooked frequency-wise and the soundstage in particular is quite wide and airy. S Voice is Samsung’s wireless voice control and it’s easy to go completely hands free with this set – whether for media enjoyment or calls. Equally, their ANC performance is great for the price bracket and you can tweak many settings with the Level app (Android devices only). The only potential issue is longevity – with a headband made entirely of plastic, they can be a bit fragile – Samsung could have done better. Still, with that aside, the Level On are a winner.

11. BÖHM B76 ($110)
BÖHM B76

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 8 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Great design, good sound, capable ANC.
What We Don’t: ANC only OK for low frequency content.

BÖHM have come up with this fantastic looking B76 pair, and the design shows slight influences from both the B&O Beoplay and the Parrot Zik3s. They are quite comfortable too, though we would have preferred a bit more padding on the headband. Controls are clear and self explanatory – all positioned on the left ear cup, plus there are led light indications for Bluetooth streaming and ANC function.

Not that you need a light to know that the ANC is active – the noise-canceling performance is impressive for this price. Comparing the B76 to Bose, Sony, Philips or Sennheiser though, reveals that in terms of ANC they struggle more with suppressing ambient sounds in the higher frequency ranges – whistles, or high pitched sounds do come through. Audio quality is impressive; leaving the bass-boost function aside (and it does sound good, unusually for such a feature), the BÖHM B76 portray audio material in a fairly honest way – the sonic character is very pleasing and engaging. For the price, this pair is a perfect first if you are shopping for noise-canceling cans around $100 or so.

12. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B ($102)
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B

Headphone Type: Closed Back, Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Battery: 30 hours
Wireless: Yes
AptX Capable: No
Smartphone Controls/Mic: Yes
What We Like: Inspiring sound, good ANC.
What We Don’t: These run on a AAA battery. Not ideal. Possible longevity issues.

Audio-Technica call their proprietary noise-cancelation technology QuietPoint, and many of their models feature it. It is interesting to see a major headphone brand squeezing such a demanding technology into a pair of cans costing around $99. By all accounts they have succeeded – the ATH-ANC7B are impressive in their ability to duck external ambient noise – Audio-Technica claim that the cancelation can be up to 90%. In the Buying Advice section below, we talk a bit about how the industry measures ANC effectiveness and how dependent the latter can be on the type and frequency of ambient noise. The boffins at Audio-Technica have included a very informative video demonstrating the ATH-ANC7B’s ability to cancel aircraft noise.

In terms of audio character, the ATH-ANC7B have a classic Audio-Technica signature (quite similar to the reference-grade ATH-M40) and plainly speaking this means a lot. We need to point out that a few owners have expressed concerns about longevity in their online reviews (on Amazon), and these mainly involve the ANC button becoming intermittent. So reliability really, is the main potential hitch here but with such a sensitive technology this probably applies to any pick on the list. Based on both ANC performance and audio quality, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B are deservedly one of the best budget active-noise canceling cans out there.

Specs Table:

Headphones Price Wireless Drivers Battery AptX Controls
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9 $499 Yes 40mm 16 Hours Yes Yes
Bose QuietComfort 35 $349 Yes 40mm 20 Hours No Yes
Sony MDR1000X $398 Yes 40mm 16 Hours Yes Yes
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 $300 Yes 40mm 22 Hours Yes Yes
Sennheiser PXC 550 $395 Yes 40mm 30 Hours No Yes
Parrot Zik 3 $329 Yes 40mm 18 Hours No Yes
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 $200 Yes 40mm 24 Hours Yes Yes
Sony XB950N1 $248 Yes 40mm 22 Hours No Yes
Philips Fidelio NC1 $180 No 40mm 30 Hours No Yes
Samsung Level On $115 Yes 40mm 11 Hours Yes Yes
BÖHM B76 $110 Yes 40mm 8 Hours No Yes
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B $102 Yes 40mm 30 Hours No Yes

Sennheiser PXC 550 | The Master SwitchSennheiser PXC 550

What Are Noise Canceling headphones?

Noise cancelation headphones are here to stay and for obvious reasons – they really get the job done! They reduce unwanted ambient sounds using active noise cancelation. Active simply means that the noise canceling circuit requires a power source – a rechargeable battery in most cases, hence the term ANC (Active Noise Cancelation).

Noise cancelation came about in commercial products somewhere around the late 1980s. Until then the only way of shutting unwanted ambient sounds was by using noise isolation, a method which reduces ambient sounds by techniques similar to soundproofing. The seal of the headphone cups against the head would block out the ambient noise, a technique still used today. It’s worth noting that the best ANC headphone designs seem to feature both isolation and and cancelation working together hand in hand.

How Does Noise Cancelation Work?

Active Noise Cancelation is based on a process called phase reversal. The active circuit within noise-canceling headphones incorporates tiny microphones ‘monitoring’ the surrounding ambient sounds. The mics feed the external sounds into a noise-cancelation mini-speaker (present in the headphones cups), which plays these external sounds in real time, but with an inverted phase (direction) to that of the original sound.

The two ambient sounds – the real and the reversed (supplied by the ambient mics) are therefore identical but an opposite direction to each other, and by the laws of physics, quite like two ocean waves crashing into each, effectively canceling each-other out. The process results in a greatly reduced environment volume, and even complete silence. In most cases, not all external sounds can be kept out – active noise suppression is at its most effective when applied on low frequencies such as deep hums, long crowd chatter, rumble noise, etc. Constant, or sustained sounds are easier to be tamed by active noise reduction, while short, sudden clicks, bumps or snaps may not be ‘put out’ that easily. For higher frequencies in particular, conventional passive treatments (think good ear isolation) are still very effective for noise suppression. What happens if you ‘un-reverse’ the direction of the canceled ambient noise? Well, you will suddenly be able to hear everything around and this process is often called ‘ambience aware’ mode – many headphones now feature a switch, allowing you to do exactly that – and that’s really handy for those moments that you might actually need your ears.

Bose Quietcomfort 35 | Jake Guild

Bose Quietcomfort 35 | Jake Guild

Evaluating Audio Quality And ANC Performance

Many noise-cancelation headphones owners like to just leave ANC on – just for resting, taking a nap, chilling out or just daydream undisturbed by surroundings. The music doesn’t even need to be on…

Let’s talk about ANC when we listen to music. The added clarity that comes with reduced levels of external sounds can often fool the ears that a pair of headphones sound better than they actually do. So applying the ‘let’s close our eyes and just listen’ approach really helps when you’re past the ‘novelty factor’ of noise-cancelation.

As with listening to conventional headphones in a quiet place, you should really be paying attention if frequencies sound harsh, boomy, clouded or even distorted at any given time. Spin your favorite tracks that you already know by heart. Judging an audio performance is a natural thing – you don’t need to be an expert to know if something sounds really good.

Finally, there’s still a big debate on audio performance of wired vs. wireless headphones. Since most examples on the list happen to be wireless, but also allowing a wired 3.5mm jack connection, check out our explainer on the subject here.

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 | The Master Switch

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 | The Master Switch

ANC Headphones Vs ANC Earbuds

As mentioned, we haven’t included ANC earbuds in this list, because they merit a complete separate comparison of their own and of course in-ear and over-head headphones are quite drastically different in design and have their relevant  pros and cons.

The obvious differences, such as size and shape are important when choosing one type over the other as they may affect a particular hairstyle, or the wearing of hats, helmets, glasses and earrings. Wearing glasses or headgear may affect the comfort and sound quality of your headphones.

This can be a legit reason why you may be better off looking into the earbud option as opposed to over-ear headphones. If you were looking for ANC headphones but hadn’t considered earbuds until now, you might want to check out the B&O Play H3 which share much of the clever tech found in their H9 siblings (at number one on this list), or of course the Bose’s QuietControl 30 which are the in-ear equivalent of the Quite Comfort 35. Audio quality and cancelation performance are close to jaw-dropping, and are somewhat further aided by the natural acoustic noise insulation provided by in-ear bud design.

ANC in-ears feature the usual in-line smartphone controls as well as ‘ambience aware’ mode, which we’ve mentioned above – the feature allowing you to listen to surroundings just by pressing a button, or in the case of Bose, you could even adjust the level of ambient noise – perfect for sports, crossing a busy street and so on.

Of course earbuds come with drawbacks of their own – audio performance might often exhibit a bit of a ‘congested’ vibe and then there’s the comfort thing too. For instance the over-ear/in-ear attachment hooks securing a continuous firm earbud position can be often annoying and should be perhaps tested first.

Some people opt for headphones over earbuds because the latter hurt their ear canals, or constantly slip out of their ears – if you happen to have narrower ear canals, you may experience trebly playbacks, even with earbuds famed for great bass. And last but not least – earwax – manufacturers don’t often mention it, but prolonged usage of in-ear headphones tends to push earwax deeper, at times congesting the inner canals and this is far from good for long terms hearing.

Decibels Explained

Speaking of safety and hearing protection, let’s mention levels – first of all, sound levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the sound pressure level (SPL) the higher the decibel measurement. For comparison, a soft whisper would be around 30 dB, busy traffic at 75 dB, a subway train at 90 dB, a gunshot blast at 100 dB, a jet plane at 140 dB, and a rocket launching pad at 180 dB. Sounds at 85 dB or below are considered safe for our hearing. Most music players today can produce sounds of up to 120 decibels, which is scary – if our ears are exposed to sounds louder than 90 dB for an average of eight hours per day, hearing loss would most likely occur, plus as the volume increases, the amount of safe time decreases.

Decibels – the units used for measuring audio loudness levels are also used by manufacturers to specify the amount of noise that their products can reduce or cancel – the higher the dB level of ANC the more effective it is. Very often you might see something like ‘60 dB noise Adaptive Noise canceling’, but although these numbers might seem a good reference for comparing products, they are often far from revealing the true efficiency an ANC performance, as they often refer to level reduction in one particular frequency zone – most likely, low frequency rumble.

To get a proper and realistic reference of the noise reduction performance, products need to have noise signals measured in several standard frequency bands across the human ear audible spectrum. In simple terms, this is done in lab conditions, and the method places tiny measurement microphones within the ears of a listener, and the inner ear noise level (with the noise cancelation electronics turned on) is compared to the noise level outside of the headphones.

Manufacturers do have to comply with industry standards and some of them supply fuller charts showing noise canceling of various frequencies in decibels. To help you gauge ANC performance, we might add that  if you see a noise reduction figure quoted between 25-45 dB, it would already mean that the headphones deliver more than a capable performance. Anything above that would be real ace stuff.

Bose Quietcomfort 35 | Tools Of Men

Bose Quietcomfort 35 | Tools Of Men

Headphone Types Explained

Most ANC headphones are of the over-ear variety – the large ‘classic’ headphone design also called by their Latin name, circumaural. Just think about the big comfy ones that cover your entire ear – circum means around, supra means on top, and aural means of sound. Rarely for ANC headphones, but still possible, they can also happen to be of the Supra-aural type, which tends to be smaller and lighter than circumaural headphones, resulting in less outside noise isolation. Supra-aural headphones can at times also lead to discomfort due to the pressure on the ear as compared to circumaural headphones that sit around the ear.

Both circumaural and supra-aural headphones can be further differentiated by the type of earcups. The most popular design or type is closed-back – where the cups are closed-off (or sealed) on the outside, containing and directing the sound entirely towards the ears. Virtually all ANC sets are Closed Back  as this type is usually very good at isolating ambient noise as well naturally produce stronger and more defined bass than other types.

Open Back headphones (designed by Sennheiser in 1968 no less) have the back of the earcups open – they ‘leak’ sound out and also let some ambient sounds into the ear. This results in a more natural source or speaker-like sound and wider, more spacious “soundstage” as well as added perception of distance and depth. Open backs are never used for ANC – for obvious reasons.

(themasterswitch.com, https://goo.gl/mNmMCR)

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