The best noise-cancelling headphones

The best noise-cancelling headphones
From Engadget - November 3, 2017

Who should buy this

We need to be clear up front: Buy noise-cancelling headphones only if you need noise cancellation. If you are just looking for a pair of all-around headphones and you think you might occasionally use the noise cancellation, you will probably be disappointed. No pair of noise-cancelling headphones offers the same sound quality as a similarly priced pair of nonnoise-cancelling headphones. And though noise-cancelling headphones do a great job of reducing low-frequency noises like the drone of an airplane engine, they are not magic. They do little to nothing to reduce voices, baby screams, or similar noises.

How we picked and tested

For the original version of this guide, I interviewed the top headphone reviewers working today, including Steve Guttenberg, Tyll Hertsens, and Brent Butterworth, and asked them to name their top picks. Since then, we have tested many new promising models and several inexpensive models not reviewed elsewhere, including 22 new models just this year.

We objectively measured each model's noise-cancelling performance. If it was anything decent, we gave that pair to a listening panel for a subjective listening test. They also listened to each with airplane-level noise in the background to judge the noise cancelling. Brent helped with our tests using his specialized gear to check for frequency response and noise cancellation.

Our pick

For the third year running, the Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones. The amount of noise reduced is significantly more than the vast majority of noise-cancelling headphones. In our tests, they dropped an average of 24.2 dB of noise, including over 30 dB at some frequencies, and had more low-bass reduction than any headphone we have tested.

Of course, noise cancellation is not the only thing that matters. If these headphones were uncomfortable, horrible sounding, or huge and bulky, that might prompt us to look elsewhere. But thankfully, that is not the case. The QC25 sounds decent, offers exceptional comfort, and folds into a small case. They can also be used in passive mode (without noise-cancelling), which reduces the sound quality but comes in handy when/if the battery dies.

If you want noise cancellation with Bluetooth

These are basically everything we said about the QuietComfort 25, plus wireless. The Bose QuietComfort 35 fold small, they are comfortable, you can still listen to music if the battery dies, and they offer almost as much noise cancelling as the QC25. Really, Bose just kept everything we liked about the QC25, and made them wireless. Except for one thingthe sound.

It seems Bose wanted to make the sound of the QC35 more ... exciting? So it boosted the bass and treble. In our listening tests there was no consensus as to if this was a good thing, with some panelists preferring the QC25 and others leaning toward the QC35.

A (cheaper) runner-up

Budget noise cancelling with Bluetooth

A luxury option


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