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If you’re looking for the best over-ear noise-cancelling headphones to make travel on a plane, train, or car a bit quieter and more relaxing, the Bose QuietComfort 25 is the pair to get.
After testing a dozen new models, we can say that the Bose QuietComfort 25 is still our pick for the best set of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. The NoiseHush i7, our previous runner-up pick, is no longer available, so we moved it to the Competition section. Updated with a few of the headphones we're looking forward to testing this spring and summer. Updated to note CNET's selection of the QC25s as the best noise-cancelling headphones of 2014.
Added the $250 Plantronics BackBeat PRO and $400 Parrot Zik 2.0 to the competition section. We interviewed top headphone reviewers and did our own listening tests to find the best noise-cancelling over-ear headphones. We’ve tested the new QuietComfort 25 headphones from Bose, and they’re at least the same, perhaps a touch better than the QC15s, which Bose is discontinuing.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones offer the best noise cancellation of any model available. For the second year in a row, we’ve found the Bose QuietComfort 25 to offer the best noise-cancelling performance of any over-ear headphones model. The ATH-ANC7b doesn’t sound quite as good as the Bose pair, nor does it cancel as much noise. If the Bose QuietComfort 25 is out of your price range, or in the unlikely event that it’s sold out or unavailable, consider the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b. If you want wireless noise cancellation, the Samsung Level Over offers good NC (but not as much as our pick), decent sound, and Bluetooth. If you want noise cancellation along with Bluetooth capabilities because you just can’t tolerate having a cord between your headphones and your phone or tablet, the Samsung Level Over offers decent noise cancellation (but it’s not as good as the Bose model in that respect). These headphones are exceptionally pricy, but they offer above-average noise cancellation, Bluetooth, and great sound. This guide deals specifically with over-ear headphones, but if you want something smaller and more portable, check out our best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones guide, which has a top pick and several alternatives. Are you using headphones with an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and experiencing crackling sounds or problems with Siri? 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. No pair of noise-cancelling headphones offers the same sound quality as a like-priced pair of non-noise-cancelling headphones.
Tyll Hertsens of headphone enthusiast site InnerFidelity raised an important point in an interview: “Noise-cancelling headphones are a strange beast.
Bose, largely due to owning several important noise-cancellation patents, currently makes our picks for the best over-ear and best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones.
If total noise reduction is all you care about, you don’t mind carrying something a bit bigger than a paperback book, you don’t have glasses, and you don’t plan on sleeping on a plane, over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are the better bet. If you want something that’s more compact and easier to tote but not designed to offer quite as much overall noise cancellation, check out our best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones guide.
We talked about this topic above in our over-ears versus in-ears discussion, but we’ve conducted additional testing—and we get questions about this issue—so it’s worth diving into even more.
In our new testing, I rated each new set of headphones with and without my glasses (which you can see in the image at the top of our in-ear headphones guide), and I found that, on average, the noise-cancelling performance dropped by at least one full point, sometimes more. Brent Butterworth conducted a similar test and didn’t find the differences to be as severe as I did. For the original version of this guide, I interviewed the top headphone reviewers working today, including Steve Guttenberg, Tyll Hertsens, and Brent Butterworth. Fairly simple objective testing can determine the worth of a noise-cancelling pair of headphones, too.
I gave the QuietComfort 25 and other potential picks to Wirecutter contributor Brent Butterworth to test using his specialized gear to check for frequency response and noise cancellation.
For our 2015 update we added some additional subjective testing, detailed below, using Brent, Wirecutter’s own headphone guru Lauren Dragan, and myself as guinea pigs. 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.
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. We each went through the various headphones multiple times, listening to them and comparing them with like-priced and like-performing models. Judging broadband “amount of noise reduced” involves less subjectivity than comparing sound quality, and our rankings matched fairly closely.
The perfect noise-cancelling headphone would sit at the bottom right, offering tons of noise cancellation for very little money.
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. Lauren Dragan later agreed after participating in our test panel, saying, “The NC is still fantastic.
The QC25 sounds decent, offers exceptional comfort, and folds into a small case about the size of a thick paperback book. It would be hubris to think that my take (or any single person’s take) on headphone sound is absolutely correct, so I had our own Lauren Dragan give some feedback as well: “In passive mode they’ve got muddy lows, and a bass spike into lower mids. 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).
So if you’re looking for the most noise cancellation, the QuietComfort 25 offers that, plus it’s a well-designed product overall.
Our previous pick, the Bose QuietComfort 15, has officially been discontinued, but as of this writing, you can still purchase it for around 10 percent less than the QuietComfort 25. The QC25 does have that mode, so it’ll still create music after its single AAA battery dies. While all NC headphones require a battery, some don’t have a “passive” mode, where they continue working after the battery dies. If you already have the QC15, upgrading is probably not worthwhile; the noise cancellation is roughly the same.
If you really can’t afford the Bose pair, or in the unlikely event that the Bose model is unavailable, check out the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b.
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. These headphones are best for someone who travels a fair amount but just can’t spend hundreds on the Bose pair. The Samsung Level Over is a bit better balanced than our previous Bluetooth pick,  the original Parrot Zik. It doesn’t offer the range of frequencies that the QC15 and QC25 can reduce, but in certain frequencies it offers almost as much performance.
It’s a Bluetooth model, which is nice as well, since you won’t have a cord between your phone or tablet and the headphones.
There’s an understandable desire for a set of headphones that does it all—noise cancellation, Bluetooth support, and sound quality—and does it all well. Also, I can’t wear the Sennheiser headphones, because they are exceptionally uncomfortable with my glasses. Oh, and at the moment, the Sennheiser pair costs $500, which is rather outrageous but seems to be the going rate for decent noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones. 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).
Beats Studio: Beats has been progressing like someone who is learning to drive a stick shift in San Francisco—for every Solo2 move forward, Beats puts out models like these that roll backward.
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. Golzer BANC-70: We got this pair in hopes of finding a new budget NC pick, but its noise cancellation is really mild. 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. Phiaton BT 330 NC: Lauren tested this model as a potential Bluetooth pick but even for the price found them disappointing. 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. 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.
If you really want the best noise cancellation you can get in a pair of headphones with Bluetooth capability, the Zik 2.0 is it, but this model is really annoying to use.
Brookstone SoundShield: This pair was $150 at the time of our review, and even that’s too much. A-Audio A01 Legacy: With a design involving lots of metal, these headphones feel pretty rugged.
Tyll Hertsens reviewed the MS 530 for InnerFidelity, saying, “The Chord MS 530 doesn’t do a really good job of noise canceling. Overall, Hertsens did like this pair: “Being able to do everything it sets out to do to a level of ‘good’ to ‘very good’ makes the Phiaton Chord MS 530 a ‘great’ headphone in my book. Harman Kardon NC: The HK NC (kudos for nomenclature pith) is a large set of over-ear headphones, enough so that anyone with a smaller head might have an issue with fit. If you are a traveller and you are interesting in noise-cancelling headphones, you are looking for something that can remove the noise from outside environment. This page is a review of the best noise-cancelling headphones in 2014, from the cheap price models to expensive price with high-end headphones. With Noise-cancelling headphones, you have a great way to enjoy your music on your moving while the ambient noise is eliminated, this is good ideal for use on trains and planes, or in whatever possible the earth.
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones For Music Lovers: Seldom do you unearth a couple of earphones that are sonically tuned to flawlessness for each music type, particularly in the commotion retraction classification. Good NC Headphone for Sophisticated Customers: Providing inspired to receivers with style and substance fashioning combined. With everything taken into account there’s a considerable measure of little stuff to bear in the earphone case. Sony’s are as agreeable, the bass reaction might be leveled, and batteries must be conveyed at any rate.
Brand New HeadphonesAn extensive list of brand new headphones on the market today with varied features, sound output, design changes and many more! We’ve added a What to look forward to section discussing the JBL Reflect Aware C and the potential release of other headphones that run over a USB-C or Lightning port. Our wallet-friendly runner-up—the Monoprice 10799 Enhanced Active Noise Cancelling Earphones—is currently unavailable, and we don’t expect that model to be back in stock until late summer 2016. The Bose are still the best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones, though the competition has been fairly light this year. All of our budget picks in this guide have been discontinued, but we'll be updating soon with new, cheaper recommendations. We've put more than 35,000 miles on our main pick, between flights, trains, and buses, and they've even been backpacking. The Bose QC20s are still the best noise-cancelling in-ear headphones, but we updated the guide with more testing data and step-down picks.
The Bose QuietComfort 20 offer significantly better noise reduction than any other in-ear headphone. If overall noise reduction is all you care about, you don’t mind carrying around something a bit bigger than a paperback book when folded, you don’t wear glasses, and you don’t plan on sleeping on a plane, the over-ear QC25s are your best bet. However, if you want something that’s more compact and easier to tote around, but isn’t quite as quiet overall, get the QC20s. For what it’s worth, I travel a lot and I bought myself a pair of the QC20s, and I wouldn’t leave home without them. There is a big difference between earbuds that claim to be “noise isolating” and those that feature “noise cancelling,” so don’t get the terms confused. If you can get a good fit (always crucial with in-ear headphones) and the headphones are designed well, noise-isolating headphones can do an okay job lowering ambient noise. Noise-cancelling goes one step further, dropping the ambient noise lower than what is possible with basic in-ear headphones. Active noise cancelling is far less dependent on fit and will reduce noise at many frequencies far better than passive noise isolation.
One thing we noticed in our research was that noise-cancelling (NC) headphones have low Amazon rating averages across the board as a category. The QC20s come as close to this as any headphone I’ve tested, but even they aren’t going to completely eliminate mid-to-high frequencies like voices or babies crying.
Headphone measurement guru and Wirecutter contributor Brent Butterworth measured the QC20s using sophisticated objective measurement gear.
Brent’s full measurements are worth checking out, but the main takeaway is that at certain frequencies, the QC20s drop the ambient sound by 45 decibels. I’m not saying the Bose make an airplane sound as quiet as a library (other frequencies aren’t dropped by as much), but this is the magnitude of that maximum difference.
Bose’s tangle-resistant cable and zippered case make the QC20s an even better travel companion. Lastly, for reasons we’ve gone into above, most-noise cancelling headphones on Amazon have pretty poor reviews, but the Bose fare pretty well. Despite all of that, their excellent design and impressive noise-cancelling abilities make the Bose QuietComfort 20 the best noise-cancelling headphone. The Monoprice 10799 Enhanced Active Noise Cancelling Earphones have the best noise-cancelling performance of any of the lower-priced in-ears we’ve tested.
This chart shows the noise cancelling of the Bose QC20 and Monoprice 10799, along with several competitors. The 10799 are able to drop ambient noise in the crucial “airplane engine” range of 100-200 Hz by about 27 dB.
To test the 10799, I used them on a transatlantic flight and several high-speed trains between London and Bordeaux. They don’t have anything overtly wrong with them, and the bass, mid-range, and treble are all in reasonable proportion to each other (as in, no one range is audibly boosted or attenuated). John and Lauren, who don’t travel as much as Brent and I, said they’d definitely pick up a pair if they had a long flight coming up. The Amazon rating is low, but as mentioned earlier, it’s clear from the comments that people were expecting magic, and no NC headphone can offer that.
The aforementioned Brent Butterworth is one of the few audio reviewers capable of objectively testing headphone noise cancelling with specialized measurement gear.
To measure noise cancelling, Brent sets up speakers and a subwoofer to output pink noise at 75 dB. Brent, Wirecutter headphone maven Lauren Dragan, and myself listened to each headphone with and without background noise to test the overall sound quality and the noise-cancelling sound quality. For the initial testing for this guide, I compiled a list of every noise-cancelling in-ear headphone from brands I’d heard of and brands I hadn’t. The aforementioned HeadTrip (NXG) Hush NX-HTNC and Sony MDRNC13, which I found to be excellent budget options for those not interested in the more-expensive Bose. Previous A-T headphones were well-reviewed, and the Audio Technica ATH-ANC33iS had a 4.7 out of five average rating on Best Buy.


Both the Phiaton PS 20 NC and Bluetooth PS 210 BTNC had good reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.
As I’ve said before, the primary criterion for judging noise-cancelling headphones should be their noise-cancelling capabilities. The AKG K391 NC were the only headphones to give the Bose a real run for their money in terms of objective noise-cancelling capabilities. I didn’t mind the extra bass (I tend not to, generally), but the peak Brent spoke of is an instant dealbreaker for me.
The Audio Technica ATH-ANC33iS were, as Brent put it, “Just a nice, flat-sounding headphone.
However, the $100 BT 100 NC is the only BT NC headphone that had a reasonable amount of NC. The Phiaton PS210 BTNC were the other Bluetooth options in our original guide, but Lauren wasn’t a fan: “tinny sounding, no sound depth.
Panasonic RP-HC55, 56, and 75 are an old model, not well-reviewed, and not a US model (also, poor reviews), respectively.
Pioneer SE-NC31C-K – Pre-test by Brent revealed the NC and sound quality were barely average.
Sony XBANC85D – The only in-ear NC headphones I could find with an MSRP higher than the Bose, yet they have an average Amazon review lower than Sony’s own NC13. A cheap option, sort of, would be to buy earplugs and use over-ear headphones to blast through the earplugs.
If you don’t mind the reduction in sound quality, the bulk of carrying over-ear headphones, the discomfort of wearing earplugs on a long flight, and aren’t sitting next to me, this is a cheap option. We actively moderate the comments section to make it relevant and helpful for our readers, and to stay up to date with our latest picks.
The Wirecutter and The Sweethome are lists of the best gadgets and gear for people who quickly want to know what to get. We spent more than 30 hours narrowing down a field of 20 different models in order to find that the QC25 offers the best active noise cancellation of any headphones available, plus it’s comfortable, lightweight, and able to fold down into a compact carrying case. The new Parrot Zik model still requires use of a companion app, so it’s unlikely to become our top pick, but we’ll check it out soon.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 are our new favorite, offering the best active noise-cancelling performance of any headphone available. We’re working on a new guide with the QC25s as our new pick that should be ready very soon.
Early reviews are good, and we're testing them to see if they can surpass our current pick (which we think is pretty likely). This pair is no match for the Bose model in sound or in noise cancellation, but it’s less than half the price, and it still offers a pretty good listening experience.
This set also produces good sound—maybe slightly better sound than the Bose pair offers—but it costs a little more than our main pick. I’ve tested dozens of noise-cancelling headphones, and I’ve asked the top headphone reviewers on the Web about their picks.
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.
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.
They do a great job of reducing low-frequency noise, such as the engine drone on an airplane. The big problem is the noise-cancelling circuitry and methods always seems to introduce problems in sound quality. I’ve put more than 50,000 miles on our in-ear noise-cancelling pick, the Bose QuietComfort 20. Subjectively, with my glasses the in-ear QuietComfort 20 easily offered the most overall reduction.
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 (while not infringing on Bose’s patents) that cancels a lot of noise.
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. Since Bose no longer manufactures that model, we’ve included it only as a reference because of how popular it was across its many-year production run.
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.
Added to the mix were the Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear headphones (as they’re the best noise-cancelling 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). All of the rest were in the 4 to 5 range, which we labeled as “average”—and since we had so many options that were above average, we passed on these as picks. The performance number is the headphones’ average amount of noise reduced in the 100-to-1200-Hz frequency band.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 clear and away offers the most NC, while standouts like the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b offer amounts similar to those of much more expensive headphones. If these headphones were uncomfortable, horrible sounding, or huge and bulky, that might prompt us to look elsewhere. As I write in my other review: “Compared to the QC15s, the overall sound of the QC25s is much tighter, more refined.
Here’s what he found: “It was obvious to me that the QC25 and QC15 are a lot more alike than they are different.
It’s very comfortable, relatively compact, and still capable of making music if the battery dies. If you have a chance to hear the QC25, you can judge whether the change in sound is worth $300.
The sound quality won’t blow you away—neither will that of the Bose—and its noise cancellation isn’t quite as good as on our top pick, but this model is pretty good for the price, especially in the $120 range. At $120 or less, it’s a reasonable option—just know that the Bose model is significantly better.
I thought this model had decent bass but a bit too much of a spike in the upper-mids (think snare drums). All in all, though, these headphones are big, they don’t collapse to as small a bundle as the Bose pair, and they don’t reduce as much noise.
Until this year, you couldn’t really find anything that did all of those things; you could have two, but not all three. So the Momentum’s noise cancellation is better than average but nowhere close to that of the QuietComfort 25.
If you wear glasses, try before you buy, and make sure that you can get a good seal, as without it, the noise cancellation will be even worse (something true of most headphones). Like its predecessor, the N60NC folds up small and offers decent, if not great, noise cancellation.
However, the noise cancellation is only a little above average, and Brent couldn’t get a good seal.
The noise cancellation is a little better than average, the sound quality is decent, the headphones are comfortable, and it’s a Bluetooth model.
The noise cancellation was quite mild, cutting some low end, but with a higher-end hiss to it. A fantastic-sounding pair of headphones, and Lauren’s reference headphones, this set came in a close second in our best $400 headphones guide, as it should. Unlike the rest of the headphones here, the Serenity II is a noise-isolating model, not a noise-cancelling one. It looks good, it folds nicely, it’s very comfortable (for an on-ear), it does Bluetooth like a champ, it does noise canceling nicely for a walking-around headphone, it runs wired, and most importantly it sounds good in every mode. Since this pair is wireless, it’s worth considering if the Parrot Zik and the Samsung Level Over are out of your price range, if you don’t like the sound of those models, or you don’t want to use an app for wired playback.
Resembles the M4u 2 could be the main choice accessible at this time to finish such an accomplishment while likewise supporting inconceivable bass, midrange, and treble reaction. Adjusting the bass and clarity and smoothing out the mid-range, Bose has cut down the clamor levels for low- and high-recurrence reaches to enhance sound on all levels; this can basically be credited to the implicit mics found within the ear mugs.
After a couple of minutes I could feel the weight of the containers on the over of my jaw- -they were much too enormous, and once balanced 5 clicks more diminutive they were greatly agreeable, for those long SFO-LHR flights.
We based this conclusion on objective testing with headphone measurement equipment, subjective listening tests conducted with multiple listeners, and more than 100,000 miles’ worth of in-flight testing. Unfortunately, none of the other less-expensive headphones we tested are a good enough alternative to recommend, so we have no budget pick for now. The Monoprice 10799 Enhanced Active Noise Cancelling Earphones are the new budget option, offering better-than-average noise cancelling and decent sound quality for only around $80. Microphones on the earbuds work with circuitry in an attached dongle to create inverse sound waves that cancel out incoming noise. To measure overall noise isolation, 75 decibels of pink noise are created, then how much sneaks past the headphone is measured.
The purple line is the similarly-priced (but not noise-cancelling) Marshall Mode EQ in-ear headphones. Reading the comments reveals a trend: Many people are expecting “magic” from their headphones, that suddenly the world will be silent upon switching them on. The QC15s, which previously had the best noise-cancelling Brent had measured, “only” dropped the ambient sound by a maximum of 33 dB. I wrote a full review of the QuietComfort 20s for Forbes that included using them on a round-trip cross-country fight, along with extensive listening tests. I found the QC20s comfortable to wear the whole flight, and they dropped the roar of the engines (Boeing 757-200 out, 737-800 back), to about the level of the average open office. Across 1,778 reviews at time of writing, the average rating for these headphones is an incredibly high 4.5 out of five, with 72 percent of reviewers granting them five stars and 14 percent giving them four.
In addition to many long flights, the Bose have also been on buses, trains, and backpacking through 20-some countries. They haven’t worn at all so far, but they’re definitely the part that feels like the weakest link. The next step up in performance is actually the Bose, which says more about this category than it does about the Monoprice, to be honest. Everything below 75 db is a reduction in the ambient noise, though recall that decibels is a logarithmic scale.
Lauren, Brent, John, and I all listened to them, and figured that against other under-$100 headphones, they’d probably place around mid-pack. There is some mid-range coloration, so vocals sound a little odd, and the bass and treble both lack the clarity and fullness of better like-priced headphones.
If you don’t travel enough to justify the price of the Bose, these will make your next flight a little quieter. As you can see from the charts below, a headphone’s performance isn’t the same across all frequencies.
From this we got the two previous runners-up to the Bose, the HeadTrip and Sony models discussed below.
For this update, we got in three new Phiaton models, the BT 100 NC, PS 202 NC, and BT 220 NC.
If you’re willing to spend $200 on these, save up a bit more and get the Bose, which have even better noise cancelling and far less offensive sound. The 220s have a maximum of 14 dB, which is very mild, with an average in the “airplane band” of approximately 12 dB.
Beautiful build, but it seems all the money went to the looks, rather than the substance.” The noise cancelling was also fairly mild.
Lauren also felt that the lack of a passive mode was a dealbreaker, since the Sonys did have a passive mode for less money. In order to get the sound past the earplugs, you’re going to have to crank the volume on your headphones. In addition, they’re well built and, for most people, an exceptionally comfortable headphone. Now there is a single model number (“20”) but make sure you select the model that matches your gear. When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we earn affiliate commissions that support our work. We select each pick with the utmost care, relying on expert opinion, research, and testing.
This model isn’t perfect—the sound quality is decent enough, just not spectacular—but the main purpose of buying these headphones should be for their noise-cancelling capabilities.
If our pick is out of your price range, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b doesn't sound quite as good or cancel as much noise as the Bose model, but it’s half the price. Sound quality is okay, not great, so the main reason to buy this set is for the superior noise-cancelling capabilities.
We tested a bunch of new models this year, and while some were quite good, none offered as much overall reduction in noise as this Bose pair.
It’s a solid runner-up thanks to a good mix of price, noise-cancelling performance, and sound quality. In addition, I had two other headphone reviewers listen to the top contenders to get multiple opinions. Also, the M4U 2 doesn’t offer the same amount of noise cancellation as the Bose QuietComfort 25 does.
It makes sitting in an airplane (or 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. I found that the QC20 did a little better with lower-midrange frequencies (think whooshing air), but that the QC25 did better with lower and higher frequencies. And if you wear glasses, your frames might prevent you from getting a good seal with the QC25, reducing the effectiveness of its noise reduction.
If you can, test a pair of noise-cancelling headphones somewhere loud, and try them with and without your glasses. Since then, we’ve tested many new promising models and several inexpensive models not reviewed elsewhere. 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. 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. 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). This is the range where Brent found airplane noise to be the loudest based on four different in-cabin recordings.
For example, at 150 Hz (a fairly low rumble), the QuietComfort 25 (green) reduces approximately 30 dB of noise.
So as far as our choice for the best noise-cancelling over-ear headphones goes, the Bose QuietComfort 25 is the clear winner. The QC15 goes completely silent—quite a bummer if you’re in the middle of a long flight and you forgot to bring a backup battery.
So this model might be good for someone who wants better sound quality than the Bose provides but better noise cancellation than the PSB M4u 2 produces, or Bluetooth compatibility. If you want great-sounding Bluetooth headphones, with good noise cancellation, that you can wear with glasses, check out the B&O H8 in the competition section below.
The passive noise-isolating Serenity II does basically nothing below 200 Hz (where most airplane engine noise is). 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.


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.
These headphones are comfortable even for people who wear glasses due to the on-ear design, and their noise cancellation is at least as good as the Sennheiser set’s. I found the active noise cancellation to be fairly mild, with most of the overall reduction coming from the passive isolation. This Golzer set offers Bluetooth support, but even for its low price, its performance isn’t good enough to earn an outright recommendation. It comes with a (slow-loading and annoying) app that claims to tune the headphones to your ears.
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. Additionally, she found that this model turned the volume down on noise but didn’t reduce it as much as other options. 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. However, its noise-cancelling performance is so mild compared with that of the new options here that it isn’t a main pick in this category anymore.
The Samsung Level Over is roughly the same price, and it offers both better noise cancellation and Bluetooth support. If you find the Level Over at about the same price, it’s a much better option if you want both noise cancellation and Bluetooth. From my Forbes review: “If you like the look of the Legacy, and can appreciate the solidity of the construction, there’s something to the A-Audios. Given the other options available, the K490 NC is a tough sell, as it isn’t as comfortable and doesn’t block or cancel as much noise. Like earplugs better—on the grounds that you’re listening to your most loved music in a total trance. To say the QC 15s will abandon you feeling cut off from the whole world (or the unsettling swarm on your flight back home) is an understatement. The tight ear glass outline is shockingly powerful, to the point of smothering your natural urge to max out the volume. On the off chance that your head is little however, I am not certain they could be balanced little enough. On the off chance that you are searching for the best commotion diminishment, these are unmatched.
In all, we considered more than two dozen models and tested the best of those, and the QC20 came out on top because it had better active noise cancelling than any other model we tested by far. If you can’t stretch to $300 or travel only occasionally, the Monoprice 10799 Enhanced Active Noise Cancelling Earphones are a great alternate.
I’ve been reviewing audio gear for 13 years, including a seven-year stint as the Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine.
I found that the QC20s did a little better with lower-midrange frequencies (think whooshing air), but the QC25s did better with lower and higher frequencies. And if you wear glasses, the frames might prevent you from getting a good seal on the QC25s, reducing the effectiveness of the noise reduction. Noise isolating is a passive effect—in its most basic form it’s akin to sticking fingers in your ears. As you can see, the active NC reduces more noise at low frequencies, which, for frequent fliers, is where it counts because jet engine noise is mostly low frequencies. Some people will get a great seal, others won’t, so it’s impossible to say what will offer better passive noise isolation since all ears are different. To put this amount in perspective, the average noise levels inside an airplane and a library are roughly 45 dB apart. The new versions of the QC15s, the QC25s, offer a similar amount of reduction to their predecessors. These number have remained remarkably consistent in the two years since our initial review. Some feel it’s excessively large; we find the flat design fits nicely next to a phone or iPod. There are several competitors in the price range above the Monoprice, but below Bose, and none offer the noise-cancelling performance of the Monoprice.
Where the Bose elicit a “WOW” when they’re turned on, the 10799 elicit more of an “okay, neat.” The 10799s take the edge off, but they don’t nearly cancel as much noise as the Bose. I wouldn’t pick them to listen to every day, but for the times I need cheap NC, the sound is not objectionable.
If you’re the same way, a pair of Comply foam tips might be a good alternate and might even give you a better seal.
There really isn’t anything cheaper worth spending money on, nor anything more expensive other than the Bose. For the full explanation, check out his article How to Measure Noise Cancelling in Headphones. A noise-cancelling headphone can perform well on the objective test but still not sound very good. For that test I took the finalists (along with the Bose and my trusty B&W C5s) with me on a flight from LA to Hawaii.
Those with multiple reviews and an average score well below 3.5 were discarded (more on those later). Unfortunately, most of the headphones I tested were not able to pass this low threshold of acceptable sound quality.
You can see how mild the NC performance of the PS 202 NC is in chart in the Monoprice section above. In addition to draining your portable’s battery faster, you’ll be annoying the crap out of anyone next to you on the plane or train. We expect more headphones that run over USB-C (or Apple’s Lightning connector) to debut this year, but we’ll have to see how in demand they are before testing any. If you want noise cancellation with Bluetooth capabilities, we recommend the Samsung Level Over. These headphones sound fantastic, look great, and support Bluetooth, and they’re really comfortable. And lastly, I asked expert audio reviewer Brent Butterworth to measure the picks using headphone test gear to get objective numbers when it comes to noise cancellation. However, if you fly or take the train a lot, or if you sit near a noisy air conditioner at work, that kind of thing, noise-cancelling headphones can offer a bit of relief. 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. 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 over-ear design is a lot harder to sleep on, too, compared with the more-or-less in-ear design of the QC20.
This amount is the difference between a quiet office and a noisy city street—but only at that specific frequency. 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.” Brent was on the fence as to which model sounded better, though.
Lauren and I thought the sound quality from the QC25 was a little better, while Brent felt that the two models were just differently mediocre.
To get something that does everything the Samsung pair does and performs as well if not better, you’ll have to spend more money.
It has fantastic sound quality (it’s also the luxury option in our best Bluetooth headphones guide), and the noise cancellation is good, but—and here’s the catch—it’s still not as good as that of the Bose QuietComfort 25. The K490NC is still available, though, and currently it’s priced at only $100, half what it used to be and quite a steal.
Lauren and Brent have small and large heads, respectively, and they ranked the Studio in the middle of the pack. But even so tuned, the sound isn’t that much better than what we heard from other models here.
The biggest issue, however, was the sound quality with the noise cancellation turned off, which was exceptionally bad: “Suddenly everything sounds like it’s coming through cupped hands, with this weird hole in the mids,” Lauren said. Basically, if you’re looking for great headphones, and you plan on using the noise cancellation only occasionally, the PSB pair is a fantastic option. It even reduces a few more midrange and upper-midrange frequencies than the Bose QuietComfort 25 does.
If you don’t mind having to use an app to toggle features (and you can tolerate jumping through the ridiculous hoops Parrot sets up for you to use the app), the Zik 2.0 is worth a look. The sound quality of the BackBeat PRO is acceptable but not outstanding enough to counter its below-average noise-cancelling performance. While bass is bloated in passive mode, it nearly disappears in ANC mode, and there’s a vicious 3K spike—really bad.
They’ve got good passive sound and they’re fairly comfortable.” But the sound is pretty mediocre while the noise cancellation is on. The [HK] NC nicely reduced the low-frequency drone of the jet engines, but the QC-15 reduced it even more, and also cut out most of the noise from the cabin ventilation system and the other passengers’ chatter.“ In the end, this set is bulky, designed to use a special cable for charging, and not as good as a Bose pair.
The Canadian speaker producer additionally coordinates its Tri-Mode paradigm and offers three listening modes: dynamic, aloof, and animated commotion dropping. Stylishly, this model dons a robust shell and makes for an unwinding on-ear fit when napping over the mists. Actually, the listening background is so rich and settled that execution quality is barely changed by empowering or handicapping the commotion retraction characteristic. The Qc2s misrepresent bass (a bose consistent) yet for some (counting me) we lean toward more bass. The QC20 even offers better active noise cancelling than the much-bigger over-ear QuietComfort 25, which is our pick for the best noise-cancelling headphones (though the QC25 has additional passive isolation the QC20 lacks; more on this later). Subjectively, they offer about half the noise cancelling of the Bose, but currently only cost a little more than 25 percent of the price.
The over-ear design is also a lot harder to sleep in compared to the more-or-less in-ear design of the QC20s.
From my previous review: “For example, if you have a noisy air conditioner in your room, it will practically disappear.
In my office, where I’ve got an air conditioner practically next to my head, it drops the AC down to the point where it’s barely noticeable.
Because of their flat-ish design, the QC20s are far more comfortable to sleep in than most other headphones. It’s worth noting that “not objectionable” is pretty much as high a praise as we lavished on the Bose’s sound quality, so there’s that.
For this test, I brought the Bose, Monoprice, and the C5 S2s with me on the flights and trains mentioned above.
I suppose you could get a NC headphone just for the NC, but since there are options here that offer some degree of both (i.e.
Brent gave them a listen and said, “Just the perfect amount of bass and it strikes a good balance between fat and tight. Remember decibels are a logarithmic scale, so even these seemingly small differences are significant. You’ll be cutting out some frequencies more than others, which defeats the purpose of decent headphones.
As I said before, I fly a lot, and if my seatmate were playing music loud enough for me to hear, I’d certainly cause a ruckus worthy of an air marshal’s attention. And if you’re looking for headphones that do it all, we've added a luxury pick, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless. 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. The Samsung Level Over is similar, and offers better noise cancellation, though I like the sound of the JBL pair better.
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.
Bass mode brings some of the bass back but leaves the 3K spike. The noise cancellation is okay in some frequencies, but it doesn’t offer much in the bass region. This pair also has the exact same noise-cancelling circuit as the Brookstone set does (right down to the button design and mode names). I’ve spent most of the last two years on the road, chalking up more than 100,000 miles in the air and visiting and living in 20 different countries. It’s worth noting that while we call these “in-ear” headphones, they’re more on-the-inner-ear. My pick is the B&W C5 S2, but any of the top picks from the $200 in-ear guide will sound better than the Bose. The price of the headphones turned out to have absolutely no correlation to their overall performance. There are subjective aspects that mean this chart isn’t absolute, but it should give you a general idea. A trace of extra sizzle around 3 or 4 kHz but it’s like maybe +2 dB too hot, not really objectionable. This pair is exceptionally pricy, but it offers above-average noise cancellation, Bluetooth support, and great sound.
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. Brent, Lauren, and I all liked the H8, but we all said we’d pick the Momentum Wireless if given the choice between the two. The B&O pair costs only a little more, offers better overall noise cancellation, and is significantly smaller. If in the future Direct Sound were to make a noise-cancelling version that sounds as good as this pair does—now, that might be interesting.
It’s a unique design that presses against the opening to your inner ear but doesn’t actually stick inside like traditional in-ear headphones. You can get custom-fitted earplugs that reduce all sound equally, but they cost as much or more than some of the NC headphones in this article. If there’s something about this model that you like better, or if you wear glasses, or if you want to save a little money (about 10 percent at the time of this writing), the H8 is a great choice. We didn’t get a chance to try this model’s baby brother, the on-ear Everest 300 Elite, but we expect the performance to be similar. Still a touch hot in 2-3k range (think snare drums) and lacking in soundstage, but the sound is far more even than the 15s.
The extent that NC, there are a couple of expert audits, one that says, they don’t have any NC, that is a distortion.
I’ll gladly wear earplugs for the length of a concert, but even after those few hours, I’m ready to get them out. On the off chance that the Bose detach around 88% of surrounding commotion, these do something like 65%; most normal about 55% for Noise cancelers.
Keep in mind some shut telephone, with no animated wiping out, really confine superior to any electronic Ncs. So + and short, Iems confine the best however not everybody, needs things in their ears constantly.



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