Noise cancellation comes in two types: 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 only letting you hear what’s playing 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 for as little as $20, or even use the pair that came with your phone. 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.
The best headphones with active noise cancellation under $100.
The 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 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, have a deep bass, and excel 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. The ANC7B continues playing with passive noise cancellation even when the battery dies, which is a major bonus.
The cheapest good earphones with active noise cancellation.
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. This is a positive, especially 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. We’ve covered other cheap Bluetooth earbuds if you’re interested.
3. CB3 Hush
Cheap Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation.
The CB3 Hush is excellent for people who need a set of Bluetooth headphones for travel. Whether you want to cut out the background sounds of your daily commute or the continuous low hum during a flight, the Hush does it with aplomb. It has made several audio reviewers into fans.
The audio quality is a hit-or-miss affair though. The CB3 Hush is fine for pop songs, classical music, or movies and podcasts. But if you listen to songs that require rich reproduction, these headphones can’t do it.
This pair is more about giving you active noise cancellation, Bluetooth, a long battery life (over 12 hours), and decent audio, while keeping it all under $100. That’s what makes it among the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy today.
Other Cheap Noise-Cancelling Headphones
The above aren’t the absolute cheapest noise-cancelling headphones you’ll find, but we do recommend them for their quality and satisfaction. However, there are a couple of other cheaper options worth considering.
The Sony MDR-ZX110 has the big-name Sony brand and a low retail price. That sounds tempting, but the sound profile of those headphones leaves a lot to be desired. Its noise cancellation also isn’t that great, but it works for regular commutes.
You want Bluetooth and active noise cancellation, but you don’t want the big cans of headphones? Get the Phiaton BT 100 NC. It doesn’t sound as good as the CB3 Hush, but it gets the job done for a pair of earphones. Plus, since it’s in-ear, you get some additional passive noise cancellation.
The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones to Buy
The bottom line is, 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, such as the best wireless earbuds.