There are two types of noise cancellation: passive and active.
Passive noise-cancelling headphones just seal your ears with enough padding to block out noise. Active noise cancellation headphones emit a pitch that cancels out incoming sound, thus letting you hear what’s playing only through headphones. Active noise cancellation is almost always the way to go.
If you want passive noise-cancelling headphones, you can buy a good pair of in-ear headphones like the Panasonic Bluetooth Headphones, which starts at around $40.
But ideally, spend a little more and get a good pair of on-ear or over-ear active noise cancellation headphones. Here are the best noise cancellation headphones that deliver great features and sound on a student-friendly budget.
Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B is one of the best-reviewed, most-recommended noise cancelling headphones out there. It’s an old set of cans, first released back in 2009. But it got the formula right, and after successive price drops, it’s probably the best value-for-money option out there.
Inner Fidelity’s Tyll Hertsens is one of the industry’s most respected audio device reviewers, and he uses an ANC7B. It’s his primary recommendation for budget noise cancelling headphones—an opinion shared by several other sound experts. The headphones can handle high volumes without distortion, has a deep bass, and excels with mid-range audio.
The ear padding has memory foam coated with leather, which holds its closed-back 40mm drivers. The ANC7B has a removable 3.5 mm cord, which is excellent since that’s what breaks headphones. So if your wire breaks, just buy a new one.
An AAA battery powers the noise cancellation unit, which lasts for about 40 hours of usage. The ANC7B continues playing with passive noise cancellation even when the battery dies, which is a major bonus.
If you prefer earphones to headphones, then the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint will wow you with its bang for the bucks. Again, this is an older set of headphones, but price drops over the years have made it possibly the best sub-$50 noise cancelling headphones around today.
Unlike most headphones, noise-cancelling earphones have a little adapter-like attachment. The attachment is where noise cancellation happens. The feature does make the device a bit more cumbersome, but the elimination of background noise is worth it. And, no, it’s not a headphone amp to improve sound quality.
Wearing these, you can listen to music at the normal volume you prefer, without having to pump it up to cut out the frat party outside your room. Which is a good thing anyway, since the ANC23 struggles with sound quality at high volumes.
But otherwise, with normal usage, these in-ear headphones pump out a stable, detailed sound. In fact, it’s quite adept at playing live concerts and bringing alive the ambient sound in the venue.
If I had to pick a pair of active noise cancellation headphones to buy today, I’d go with the Bohm B66. This is a pair of fantastic Bluetooth headphones that comes packed with features. Active noise cancellation, Bluetooth, good sound quality, and a sub-$100 price tag isn’t something you’ll see often.
The B66 has decent bass but it’s not exactly punchy. You’ll do better with pop songs and movies than dubstep or rock here. Not that it sounds bad, just that it’s not great. Multiple buyers noted how good they are for watching dialogue-heavy movies.
Naturally, Bluetooth is a big deal. Since the iPhone 7 has ditched the 3.5mm stereo jack, you can expect others to follow suit, so a wireless connection is good to have. But if you do want to go wired, there’s a simple stereo jack on the B66 to connect it to any device.
The most noticeable aspect about the B66 is its looks. It has a clean aluminum body, plush faux leather padding on the cans and the headband, and it comes in gorgeous colors. You’ll be proud to be seen with these on your ears.
I should note, though, that Bohm doesn’t produce or design the B66. The B66 is a rebranded headphone from an unknown white-label manufacturer. You can find identical headphones from Diskin, which cost less than Bohm’s offering.
A Few Other Cheap Options to Consider
These aren’t the cheapest noise-cancelling headphones you’ll find, but there’s a reason we’re recommending these: based on headphones we have tried, reading far too many reviews, and looking at customer feedback on Amazon, we’re confident about the above recommendations over cheaper options.
For example, the Sony MDR-ZX110 has the big-name Sony brand and retails at around $30. That sounds tempting, but the sound profile of those headphones is something we simply can’t recommend. Its noise cancellation also isn’t that great.
In our opinion, your money is better spent on quality headphones at that price while sacrificing noise cancellation. Otherwise, save up another $20 and buy the Audio Technica ATH-ANC23.
And as much as we like Audio-Technica, its ANC27x headphones should be avoided. Once again, it’s noise cancellation just in name. Multiple users have noted that this is a case of “you get what you pay for” and ended up upgrading to a better pair soon, so just save yourself the money and invest in something better.
In the case of active noise cancellation headphones, you need to stop buying cheap junk and spend on quality. The good ones are worth the extra cost!