Noise-Canceling Headphone Roundup

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One of the best reasons to put on headphones (besides to hear music that’s truly worth listening to) is to shut out the world around you. However, it's difficult to quiet down noisy environments, like the cabin of an airplane or the chatter in an office. If you're looking for an escape from the drone of a 737’s engines, office building air ducts or the mouths of co-workers, you should definitely give noise-canceling headphones a try.

All active noise-canceling headphones work in a similar fashion. They feature external microphones that “listen” to the noise around you, and send the sound of the external noise into your ears with its phase reversed. Phase can be tricky to comprehend, but it's a little easier to understand if you keep in mind that sound is made up of waves. If a sound wave lines up perfectly with another sound wave that has its phase reversed, it will be canceled out—and you won’t hear it. It's pretty wild stuff, and can best be appreciated when you put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and turn them on.

Active noise-canceling headphones require batteries to operate. Most of them have a battery pack that's incorporated into the cabling, but some have a battery compartment built into the earpiece. It's important to point out that such headphones are most effective at lowering the volume of constant sounds (such as the sound of a jet engine). They're not as adept at reducing more dynamic sounds (such as people's voices, honking horns, etc.), but they do help to quiet these sounds.

We've compiled a roundup of popular noise-canceling headphones that are available at B&H:

Available in both black and white, the Sony MDR-NC7 headphones provide up to 87.4% of ambient-noise reduction when activated. A single AAA battery (included) powers them for up to 50 hours. If you don’t need to cancel the noise around you, the MDR-NC7’s can be used as normal headphones without the battery. They're a nice set of budget-friendly, noise-canceling headphones that include a carrying pouch, an extension cable, an airplane adapter and the ability to fold flat for travel.    

Headphones that cover your ears aren't for everyone. That's why Sony offers the MDR-NC13. They're in-ear headphones that feature active noise-canceling technology, and reduce an impressive 90% of your surrounding ambient noise. They also have a convenient monitor function, which enables you to quickly hear an in-flight announcement or another person. A press of a button mutes the sound and deactivates the noise-canceling feature, so you can hear what's going on around you without having to take them off.

If you want over-the-ear style headphones, but need something compact and lightweight for travel, the Sony MDR-NC40 noise-canceling headphones are a good option. They fold up compactly and fit into an included zippered travel case. They feature the ability to continue working without batteries, and they have the convenient monitor function that lets you momentarily listen in to the world around you (if so desire).

Sony MDR-NC40 Stereo Headphones

Sony MDR-NC200D Stereo Headphones

When you step up to the Sony MDR-NC200D, you get both better quality sound reproduction, and more precise noise canceling. When you press the AI button on the ear cup, it activates an advanced mode that listens to your environment and automatically adjusts the noise-canceling circuitry to best reduce the surrounding noise. The result is up to 98.2% reduction of unwanted ambient sound. They feature a passive mode to operate without batteries, a monitor button to mute the sound, and rich-sounding 40mm drivers.

The Panasonic RP-HC101 phones are compact and affordable, yet offer many desirable functions, such as a mute button for monitoring and a volume control. They're capable of reducing ambient noise by 83%, and an ON/OFF switch is built in to help you save batteries. However, you don't have to worry about batteries often, because the RP-HC101s get up to 54 hours of life from a single AAA. 

The budget-friendly JVC HA-NC80 noise-canceling headphones feature a battery-pack-free design (a battery compartment is built into an ear cup), and two noise-canceling settings, which filter out unwanted sound in different environments. The "Wide" filtering setting is optimized for airplane noise, while the "Low" setting better suits trains and buses.  

JVC gets a bit more involved with the noise-canceling properties of its HA-NC250 headphones. The construction of the ear cups features a double housing to help to physically block out external sounds. They also feature memory foam ear pads that help to reduce outside noise. The audio cable can be detached when you want to use them as noise-reducing earmuffs, and the circuitry can be turned off if you want to use them as passive headphones.

If you prefer larger headphones that have ear cups that completely cover your ears, you should check out the Able Planet Clear Harmony Active Noise-Canceling Headphones, which are available in chrome (NC1000CH) and black (NC1100B). Both sets feature Able Planet's LINX technology, which increases perceived loudness without increasing volume, and both feature a volume control built into the cabling.

If you want excellent performance and you're not interested in feeding batteries into your headphones, you should consider the Sennheiser PXC 310. They feature Sennheiser's acclaimed sound quality, up to 90% of active noise-cancelation, and feature a built-in rechargeable battery. The battery gets up to 20 hours of life from a single charge, and the active circuitry can be turned off when not needed. A multi-country charger is included for the jet set. 

  Style Driver Frequency Response Battery Life Cable Length Controls Noise Reduction Weight
Sony MDR-NC7  Over - Ear 30mm 30 Hz -
20 kHz
Up to 50 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off 87.40% 4.7 oz
(134 g)
Sony MDR-NC13 In - Ear 13.5mm 10 Hz -
22 kHz
Approx 100 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off, Monitor 90% 0.3 oz (7 g) headphones only
Sony MDR-NC40 Over - Ear 30mm 14 Hz -
22 kHz
Up to 40 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off, Monitor 80% 3.8 oz
(107 g)
Sony MDR - NC200D Over - Ear 40mm 8 Hz -
23 kHz
Up to 22 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off, AI, Monitor 98.20% 6.4 oz
(180 g)
Panasonic RP-HC101 Over - Ear 30mm 10 Hz -
20 kHz
Up to 54 hours 2.3'
(0.7 m)
On/Off, Monitor 83% 2.75 oz
(78 g) without battery
JVC HA-NC80 Over - Ear 30mm 10 Hz -
22 kHz
Up to 50 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off, Wide/Low 75% 5.8 oz
(165 g)
JVC HA-NC250 Over - Ear 40mm 8 Hz -
24 kHz
Up to 50 hours 3.94
(1.2 m)
On/Off 85% 5.3 oz
(150 g)
Able Planet NC1000CH Around - Ear N/A N/A N/A N/A On/Off, Vol N/A N/A
Able Planet NC1100B Around - Ear N/A N/A N/A N/A On/Off, Vol N/A N/A
Sennheiser PXC 310 Over - Ear N/A 15 Hz -
22 kHz
Up to 20 hours 4.9'
(1.5 m)
On/Off, Monitor, Vol 90% N/A

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I can't believe you didn't include Bose QuietComfort® 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones in your roundup!