After reviewing the best wireless headphones of 2016 you must look into noise-canceling headphones because a great pair of headphones can have a huge impact on your audio experience. Whether you’re listening to a podcast, talk show, playlist or book, chances are that you don’t want to be able to hear outside noise trickling in. This is where noise-canceling headphones come in.
While all headphones are able to mask outside noise to some degree, there is a big difference between regular headphones and ones specifically designed for noise cancellation.
Noise-Canceling Versus Noise Isolating
These two terms might sound similar, and some companies will even use marketing language to make them sound the same. The truth is that noise-isolating headphones are very different from true noise-canceling styles.
Noise isolation or noise reduction is a form of passive technology. This means that, while they do help keep a certain amount of outside noise out, they don’t have the same power to erase that noise and deliver a better listening experience. These headphones essentially create a “seal” around your ears to keep your music in and other people’s chatter out.
Noise-canceling headphones typically have much more sophisticated technology built into their structure. True noise-canceling models are referred to as “active” types. These headphones will generally have layers of quality, sound-absorbing material to form a barrier between your ears and your surroundings. In addition, these headphones actually work to erase certain frequencies of sound. They accomplish this with a built-in microphone that records the ambient sounds and then creates soundwaves that are able to cancel out that noise. This is called “digital signal processing,” and it allows you to focus on only the sounds you want to hear.
HowStuffWorks has a far more detailed and technical explanation of the differences for anyone interested in the technology.
Types of Noise-Canceling Headphones Available
Now that you understand the differences between noise-isolating and noise-canceling headphones, you can decide on which type of headphones you prefer.
Each category is divided into three main types: earbuds, earpads and full headphones.
Earbuds and in-ear headphones are the most common types worn these days. There are active and passive styles of earbuds if you are someone who can’t stand to wear over-the-ear headphones. Technically speaking, earbuds are small headphones that sit in the outer ear and face your ear canal, and in-ear headphones are a higher-quality counterpart that fit directly into your ear canal for a better sound experience. You can easily tell these types apart by the shape of the earpiece.
Earpads are also referred to as “supra-aural” or “on-ear” headphones. These styles have foam pads that press against your ear. This type of headphone is usually smaller and lighter than its full headphone counterpart, but they do put pressure on your ears. This can be uncomfortable for some people, so be sure to test this style before committing to a purchase.
Finally, there are full-sized, or circumaural, headphones. These have rounded earpads that enclose the outer ear and provide a sort of “seal” against ambient noise. These are generally the best choice for true noise canceling, but they are also the heaviest of the three options. When purchasing circumaural headphones, look for ergonomically designed headbands and earpieces to maximize comfort.
As an additional note, you may see some products marketed as headphones and others as headsets, even though they appear to be exactly the same. The difference is that a headset comes with a microphone-equipped, and headphones do not.
Top Picks for Active Noise-Canceling Headphones
Below you will find the most popular picks for each style of noise-canceling headphones to help you get started choosing the right pair.
Circumaural: Sony WH-1000XM2
This model not only provides excellent sound, but it is wireless up to 33 feet and has a battery life of 10 hours. In addition, Sony has designed this set of headphones so that they aren’t bulky or heavy, and they come packed with useful features.
Unlike many other options on the market, these headphones have an ambient noise mode that will only let in sounds over a particular frequency. There’s also a “quick attention” mode that can be toggled on and off to allow you to let in all outside noise without removing your headphones.
These headphones also allow you to listen to a hi-res audio playback, making them competitive with other models with a much higher price tag.
On-ear: AKG N60NC Wireless
If you prefer earpads, this model by AKG is perfect to start out with. The headphones are sleek and compact and offer amazing sound quality. They are surprisingly comfortable despite their on-ear design, and the noise cancellation they offer is on par with some of the top-tier styles on the market.
Earbud: 1More Triple Driver
This set of earbuds by 1More delivers an unbeatable performance for its price range. They are wired, unlike most of the other options discussed, but they come with responsive controls, lush sound quality and a comfortable, intuitive build and design.
The earbuds are angled and fit comfortably to your ear, which means they’re low-profile. They stick out just enough that they’re not ideal for sleep, but they are sleek and stylish. In terms of audio performance, they offer fantastic detail and complexity for both music and the human voice.
In-ear: Bose QuietControl 30
As soon as you put these on, you’re likely to fall in love with these headphones. The neckband is so comfortable and lightweight that it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it. The extensive features are useful and straightforward, and the in-ear noise cancellation is some of the best on the market.
The noise cancellation controls are intuitive and easy to adjust, and the headphones are able to easily block out a majority of the most common noise pollution in a crowded office or on public transit.
Noise-canceling headphones are great for anyone who works in a crowded office, commutes or simply enjoys a high-quality and uninterrupted audio experience. Whether you prefer over-the-ear, in-ear, wireless or wired, there is a high-quality style out there that fits your taste and budget