The Sound of Silence: The 12 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones
10-cylinder cars, phones that talk back, and screaming at football games are what make civilization great. They also make it loud. All this noise pollution is enough to drive a person mad. In order to shut it all out and give yourself a bastion of relief, you need to get a solid set of headphones. Equipped with the right headphones, you can tune out the screaming babies, honking horns, and battle cries of your enemies. To help you on your quest for quiet, we’ve compiled the 12 best noise-cancelling headphones on the market.
These have been broken down by price, starting with the most costly “I could buy you and sell you / Don’t you know who I am? / I’ll have your job for this!” ones. Then we move on into the much more reasonable “I don’t have to do my own dentistry / Another round on me, boys! / Go ahead and fill the tank all the way up” group. Then we finish off with the most affordable “Do you want to split this Ramen with me? / How much can I get for a pint of blood? / This is the nicest pawn shop I have ever been in” group. Whatever kind of budget you are working with, there is a pair of headphones out there that will fit your needs. Even the least expensive model on this list will outshine and out perform your average headphones. Whether you want the ultimate in control, the ability to go mobile the minute you hear police sirens, or something that will give you the best music for the least money, you’ll find it here.
PSB M4U 2
Unless you have ever thought to yourself “I need a whole recording studio that fits on my head” then the M4U 2 is probably going to be overkill. They not only block noise, they meet it at the door, look it up and down, and tell the noise that it is not on the list. Then they hit on the noise’s girlfriend right in front of it. They are that damn good. On top of their powerful ability to block sound, they also produce unrivaled bass and treble thanks to their Room Feel™ technology. Their sound is so rich, you can close your eyes and forget that you aren’t in a concert hall. The M4U has jacks on either side, the ability to switch from active to passive sound dampening modes, and comfort that will give you a bona fide eargasm. The downside: Your kids won’t be going to college after you pay the $400 for these beauties. [Purchase]
Bose QuietComfort 15
Arguably the Cadillac of the group, the QC 15 offer comfort and one of the highest rates of decibel reduction you can find without spending a few thousand dollars. They give you not only high-quality sound when it comes to music, but they work well for spoken word. Movies, podcasts, and audio books won’t suffer from some of the muddiness that can plague other headphones. The QC 15 make every sound crisp and clean with the Bose proprietary TriPort feature. The sound is balanced and never overwhelming. The headphones are lightweight, easy to carry, and, it must be said, “absolutely fabulous” for extended wear. The only true drawback is that you can kiss $300 goodbye to join the QuietComfort club. [Purchase]
Bose QuietComfort 20i
When Bose said that they intended to make noise-cancelling, in-ear headphones that could actually block external sound, experts said they were crazy. Actually, experts didn’t say anything because they know better than to sass Bose when it comes to audio, as the 20i proved. These are the only in-ear choice if you want decent noise cancellation. They won’t give you quite the same comfort or high-decibel reduction that you’ll get from the bulky over-ear styles, but they do a remarkable job for being as small as they are. Though the speakers are tiny, they make the most of the space given, giving them a truly impressive sound quality. They also include additional features such as the “Aware Mode” that gives you the option of hearing more of what is happening around you. If you need portability and versatility, the 20i will give it to you, but expect to pay around $300 for the privilege. [Purchase]
Sennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGard
The PXC 450 comes from the “big and bad” school of headphones. These bulky beauties cost a little more than most other models, but they offer much more control for the user. You can switch from active to passive noise dampening with ease, handle most of your needs from right on the body of the headphone, and jump back and forth from phone to music without ever fiddling with your phone, ipod, or music device. The TalkThrough function lets you converse with people around you and then slip back into your music with a flick of your finger. On top of that, the Duofol diaphragm helps increase music clarity while the Sennheiser NoiseGard system drops an estimated 90% of room noise. Expect to pay in excess of $250. [Purchase]
Monster has been hard on the heels of Bose in the home audio industry, and it shows in these beastly headphones. Don’t let the blocky, squared-off, “Hey, Remember the 80’s?” look fool you. They might not be the most stylish, but the Inspiration is easily one of the most comfortable options out there. They are intended for long-term wear, which makes them ideal for the digital DJ who wants to lay down beats for hours at a time. Monster headphones are unique in that they also offer ControlTalk, the Apple feature that works with iPads, iPods, and iPhones. It gives you total power to pause, skip, and play right on the cord of the headphones. Their noise cancellation is right at the top of the pile, though you can expect that golden silence to cost you around $200. The final draw of the Inspiration is the easily swappable headband for those times when you just need to wear a zebra print to blend in with the herd while you mix your tracks. [Purchase]
SMS Audio STREET by 50 Cent
50 Cent’s work in headphones is straight out of the studio. The STREET are extremely high-end and fit your head like the perfect armchair as soon as you take them out of the box. They don’t just hug your head; they go beyond that to make sweet, sweet love to your scalp. The sounds are excellent with an emphasis on bass using the THUMPP system. They employ passive noise cancellation which doesn’t completely block sound, instead allowing you to hear things nearby. STREETs use professional grade 40mm drivers which will give music incredible range whether it is classical, speed metal, or whatever freaky new-age Enya track you are rockin’. A detachable cord, a folding headset, and on-cord mic make STREET equally good for going mobile. Fairly reasonably priced at about $180. [Purchase]
Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
There was no way that Dre was going to let 50 Cent hog all the headphone glory on our list (especially considering that Beats came along before Fif’s offering). There was also no way that he would lend his name to anything other than quality. That is why he chose to work with Beats brand when developing a noise canceling option that almost anyone can afford. Like 50 Cent his goal was to put high-grade studio headphones into the hands of the average person at a price that won’t require a second mortgage. Their noise cancellation is decent, but where they really shine is in noise production rather than reduction. Each headphone carries both a bass and a treble speaker for higher highs and lower lows. Join that with on-cord remote controls, the ability to seamlessly switch to phone mode, and $190-ish price tag and they prove why you shouldn’t forget about Dre. [Purchase]
The ATH-M50 is how you get on the go like a pro. If you’ve ever seen a DJ’s mobile gear bag then odds are you have already laid eyes on a set of ATH-M50’s. They aren’t delicate. They aren’t cute. They aren’t going to match your wife’s purse and your daughter won’t want to borrow them. They are is for people serious about canceling out all surrounding sound, and being able to hear their music whether at home, in the club, or standing in a typhoon while listening to “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The ATH-M50 are built with two things in mind: comfort and sound. They use 45 mm large-aperture drivers complete with neodymium magnates to give you richer noise with less bleed from the outside. The hard-back insulated cups cradle your ears like a mother gorilla while the interior speakers wail. If you want something you can strap on to rock out, then pony up the $140 bones and ride on. [Purchase]
V-MODA Crossfade LP
The Crossfade LP comes from the same school of thought as the ATH-M50. They don’t even pretend to fold up for mobility. If you want to travel with them, then you put them in their exoskeleton case and sling it low on your hip like they’re Han Solo’s blaster. They go so far as to come with Kevlar-reinforced cables and armor plating on the sides that make them look like they belong attached to a space marine’s helmet. Not only do they look like the headphones your mama warned you about, they use massive 50mm dual-diaphragm patented drivers to make sure your music hits all the right notes. Despite their appearance they are extremely comfortable, often letting you forget that you are even wearing them thanks to the extra padding on the headband and ear cups. At $130 true badass never came so cheap or sounded so good. [Purchase]
The JVC HANC is slightly above standard for sound, but when it comes to shutting off the outside world for a reasonable price, these are an excellent tithing to the sound gods. They bear layered insulation which not only helps keep the howls of the wolves from reaching your dainty, dainty ears, but also adds comfort to the otherwise sleek design. JVC has made these one of the most mobile over-ear noise-cancelling models available. With a few clicks they fold like an origami swan and can be tucked away safely and securely. They’re technically small enough to be swallowed in the event you need to smuggle them into prison, but it isn’t recommended. The noise cancellation features can be turned off with just the flip of a switch so you can interact with the people around you without missing one precious beat. About $100 is all you need for these slim dames. [Purchase]
The XCS from Solitude are intended for bargain hunters. Since they are a little bit older, they’ve come down from nearly $200. Unlike most technology, they have aged gracefully and are still hot even after having been on the open market for a while. Don’t be lulled in by some of those young upstarts that promise more than they can deliver. With the XCS you get broad spectrum noise reduction that will keep out both highs and lows. They also do more than just drown out or try to block room noise, but offer The Sound of Silence®, a patented technology that not only cancels out noise, but also that makes sounds richer, rather than louder, so that they employ the entire ear, keeping the exterior ruckus at bay. They aren’t as mobile as other models, but for under $100, you won’t hear any criticism. [Purchase]
Creative Aurvana Live!
If you are a virgin in the noise-canceling headphone market, then the Aurvana Live! is where you’ll want to start. At $75 these aren’t going to shut the world out completely, but they still offer a better buffer against shrieking children or overly chatty seatmates. They begin comfortable, but they aren’t nearly as heavily padded as more expensive models, so you’ll want to take periodic breaks if you intend on using them for a long time. The sound is much better than what you would get from standard headphones. If you want to get the most – or in this case, least – bang for your buck then Aurvana Live! will not disappoint. [Purchase]