Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Any Budget | 2019 | BuzzFeed Reviews
ADVERTISEMENT
Anker Soundcore Space NC Headphones Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)

The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

We hope you love the products we recommend! We do a lot of research and testing before making our picks for the best thing to buy in each price-point. Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change. For more info on how we choose products and make money, go here.

Anker Soundcore Space NC Headphones

$99

  • Good overall sound
  • Comfortable, even for extended use
  • A can’t-beat price
Buying Options

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

$199

  • Perfect for the workplace
  • Aesthetically bold
  • Lots of fun features
Buying Options

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)

$349

  • Best-in-class noise cancellation
  • Immediately comfortable
  • Perfectly crisp sound for all
Buying Options

While we could easily recommend the best wireless headphones, nothing kills a listening experience quite like the sound of the outside world. That’s why we’re devoting a separate review looking specifically at the headphones that offer the best noise-cancelling technology. Whether you’re listening to a new bop, catching up on your favorite podcast, or simply want to mute Jim from accounting who won’t stop talking about his standing desk (no one cares, Jim), below you’ll find the best noise-cancelling headphones across three different price points. Happy distraction-free listening!

ADVERTISEMENT

Anker Soundcore Space NC Headphones

Starting from $99

The Details

20 hours of wireless playback

50 hours of wired playback

Bluetooth; cable for wired listening

Foldable design

40mm dynamic drivers

Memory-foam ear cups

What / Who It's Best For

  • Thrifty listeners picky about comfort
  • People who need a soundtrack for long walks (on the beach, or elsewhere)
  • 9-5ers looking for a go-to office pair

Why We Love It

The Soundcore Space headphones are Anker’s first active noise-cancelling (ANC) pair — that is, headphones with a built-in mechanism that block out ambient noise — and you’d almost never know it’s the company’s first foray into this space from listening to them.

We say almost because there’s a decent chance you’re a brand loyalist: Over the years, Anker has attracted a steady fanbase with its catalog of budget-friendly gadgets (a compact portable charger and a 3-foot lightning cable being two of its most popular buys).

Anker Soundcore Space NC headphones in case

We’re happy to report that Soundcore marks yet another victory for Anker — and (to get right to the point here) for your wallet. Finding a solid pair of noise-cancelling headphones for under $100 is no easy task! We know this because we tried out several pairs in this price category — the TaoTronics TT-BH22US, CB3 Hush, and Audio-Technica ATH-ANC, to name a few — and weren’t wowed by any of our options. That is, until these landed in front of us.

Its appearance leaves a bit to be desired: Anker is in the game of doing just enough where style is concerned — but, then again, maybe this kind of pragmatic minimalism is your style. Where these headphones were able to truly shine, though, was in their ANC. According to Anker, they block out up to 96% of high-frequency sounds (like human voices) and 93% of low-frequency noise (think: a subway rumbling underneath you or the murmur of an AC unit).

Anker Soundcore Space NC headphones earcups

While these percentages are difficult to confirm, we can, anecdotally, vouch for the vast improvement these headphones made on busy sidewalks and on public transport. Their overall sound quality, testers agreed, was also good — if not excellent — for this price category. Midrange and high frequencies — the ranges where central melodies and vocals fall — were impressively clear (though slightly less impressive with ANC in use), while the bass hardly overwhelmed the listening experience.

Audiophiles may wax poetic about the Bose QC35 IIs (our $$$ pick) or the Bowers & Wilkins PX, but if you’re like most people — a casual and thrifty music listener — you’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of ANC headphones under $100 that checks as many boxes as the Soundcore Space headphones do. That said, it doesn’t matter how good ANC is if your ears are left bleeding after 30 minutes of use. That’s why you’ll be relieved to learn you can confidently check the “comfort” box with these.

Bottom line: Anker’s Soundcore Space headphones would make excellent commuter headphones, given their ease of wear, and are perfect for the casual listener. Anker is only just starting to dip its toes into the ANC space, and we’re excited to see what the brand has up its sleeve for budget models to come.

User Reviews

“I just bought these basically on the strength of Anker's reputation as a company that produces electronics worth about twice what you pay for them. And so far, I'm not disappointed. I've been tempted by over-ear wireless noise-cancelling headphones for a while, and sort of flirting with either Bose QC35, Beats Studio, or Sony WH100MX2. The problem, of course, is that the sticker price for all of those is like $350, even though you can usually gets the Sony and Beats for less — which is a lot to pay for "I've been tempted by this." A hundred bucks, on the other hand...is a hundred bucks. I'll spend a hundred bucks on something I'm not sure I'll like. But I like it! And I'm glad I didn't pull the trigger on the Bose/Beats/Sony. I got all I want from these, for a third of the price.”
— Paul Gowder From Amazon
“Damn. I love these headphones. I wear them every day after work. I wear them every day to the gym. Someone asked me what brand they were, and when I told him, he said ‘Anker. They're awesome. They have customer service as good as LaRue.’ (For the uninitiated, LaRue firearms including the Optimized Battle Rifle, are the pinnacle of warrior geek, so this was a positive response). Zero problems with the headphones. I will gift a pair to my son if he proves worthy of such a purchase by showing me stellar grades at college.”
— Richard Mc From Amazon
“For about two months I have been looking for wireless headphones that sound clear, have deep bass and good battery life, and give me freedom to use a cord or use strictly Bluetooth. I have tried out several sets and either they didn't work while plugged in unless charged, their battery was draining rapidly, or their sound quality was horrible. I even went so far as to buy a premium set from VMODA. Those were great, but they got very uncomfortable after an hour or so of wear. I opted out of buying the extra padded ear cuffs after spending so much on the headphones. So here I am. I have used batteries and car-charging sets from Anker, which were all well made and lasted quite a while. Once I saw these I started to wonder if they would be as high quality, and I was not disappointed. Hearing is completely drowned out by their noise-cancelling technology. Which was awesome! When I compared these headphones to some others, I realized how the others jarred and sacrificed quality in sound for a louder sound. I was impressed when I played some rap, techno, R&B, and rock and the vocals and beats all came through clear and crisp.”
— Anthony Hernandez From Amazon
“I bought these to use at my office. The noise-cancelling when playing music pretty much drowns out all other sounds so I can focus on my work. My coworker, who is an extreme audiophile, listened to them and was very impressed by the sound. I have yet to see a low battery alert during the day. The case is very protective; perfect for travel!”
— Scott From Amazon

Anker

Solid cans that work

Where to buy

$99 at Amazon
ADVERTISEMENT

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

Starting from $199

The Details

24-hour battery life

Up to 330-foot Bluetooth range

Smart sensor technology

Bluetooth; cable for wired listening

Open-listening mode

40 mm dynamic drivers

What / Who It's Best For

  • Working stiffs who rock out at their desks
  • Anyone who wants an eclectic pair to match their eclectic taste
  • Music buffs looking for premium sound sans the premium price

Why We Love It

Not thrilled by the prospect of throwing down $300-plus on a pair of best-in-class ANC headphones? Then meet the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s. At under $200, these cans are more than worth your consideration as a budget-friendly alternative to our splurgy $$$ pick.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 held by headband

This, of course, comes with a few caveats. Looking for a pair of headphones that’ll fold small when stowed away? You might be better off with any of our other picks, because the Pro 2s were made primarily with office use in mind. What do we mean by that? They’re relatively bulky — albeit slimmer and lighter than the first-generation BackBeat Pros — and don’t fold up at all, making them a bit of a hassle to lug around when not in use. Luckily, thanks to the cushioned headband and ergonomic oval ear cup design, they’re also so comfortable you’ll rarely want to take them off.

Then there’s appearance to take into account, which many testers at BuzzFeed felt so-so about. Let’s just say faux-wood, faux-metal, and textured plastic accents do not the harmonious medley make. All of which is to say they’re not for everyone (when is anything ever for everyone, anyway?)

Whatever you think of the Pro 2’s aesthetics, it’s hard to fault any pair of headphones on looks when they sound this good (and ring in under $200 while doing so). Our testers agreed the sound was clear, dynamic, and not too overwhelmed by bass (the BackBeats’ signature bass-heavy sound is even heavier this time around, but is never a deterrent). 

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 earcup

About that ANC: It really gets the job done. Assuming you don’t work in an environment where Hanson might spontaneously pop in for a live set in the cafeteria (relatable?), the Pro 2s will effectively muffle side chatter and the moderate-to-high volume chirps of the outside world. Earth-rattling subway decibels, however? You’re on your own.

What’s especially neat about the Pro 2’s ANC is that it works during wired listening — a feature that, strangely enough, is not more common in ANC headphones, but should be. This helps preserve battery life (though this probably won’t be top of mind, because the Pro 2s have an impressive 24 hours of juice) and allows listeners not as fond of bass to enjoy a more balanced experience.

The first time you put these headphones on without music, you might wonder, Wait, why am I able to hear conversations around me…even *more* clearly? That’d be open-listening mode: another unique feature that allows you to tune into the world around you while the cups are covering your ears. This is particularly useful when you’re trying to stealthily eavesdrop on a conversation or, less mischievously, when you need to hear an announcement while you’re riding public transport.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 top view

All of this would have been enough (dayenu!), but, alas, these are feature-heavy cans. In addition to open-mic, the Pro 2s boast smart sensors that detect when you’ve removed the cups from your ears and pause whatever you’re listening to. Then, when they’ve been placed back on your ears, they resume playing. And let’s not forget about all the buttons! The outer right ear cup houses the call button, while a toggle on the left ear cup allows you to activate ANC on the move. The left ear cup also gives you access to a host of playback features, including a nifty jog wheel that controls the volume when twisted back and forth. 

If you can excuse the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2s for the small hiccups — and you should (as most pertain to their physical build rather than performance) — this purchase could very well help you be more productive in the workplace and more zen on your commute home. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better middle-tier ANC headphone on the market right now that checks as many boxes.

User Reviews

“This is one of the best pairs of wireless over-ear headphones on the market. I've used the Bose QC35s, and while they do have better noise cancellation, these sound the same, and they're half the cost. Battery life is great; I flew round-trip across the US on one charge and they’re still half full. If you're looking for a solid pair of wireless headphones that have ANC, before you spring for the Bose QC35s, give these a try. You'll be surprised!”
— Nick From Amazon
“The weight is evenly distributed around my head and the earcups have just the right snugness around the ears, head, and face considering its weight. I wore it for about four hours and did not feel any heat and did not sweat at all.”
— Francis M12 From Amazon
“The noise-cancelling is excellent. In my office, it perfectly covers the sound of the air-conditioning, and on the bus, the sound of the crowd. At the same time, your outdoor microphone will allow you to perceive sounds and conversations well without having to remove your hearing aids. Its Bluetooth connection is fast and simple, and its playback with APTx is great — it allowed me to discover melodies previously hidden in my music.”
— Roarayacr From Amazon
“I didn't want to spend over $300, but I still wanted quality noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones that were comfortable and easy to use. I have had Bose headphones before, and they are the most comfortable headphones ever, but the price point for the high-end Bose headphones was crazy. I did a lot of online research to determine that these headphones had everything I wanted but would not break the bank. I received them around six months ago, and with 2-3x weekly use I've only had to charge them a few times. They are extremely comfortable, the noise-cancelling is solid, and the controls are easy to use. I'm really pleased with this purchase because I think I got a lot of value at a lower price point.”
— Drew M From Amazon

Plantronics

A feature-rich Bose alternative

ADVERTISEMENT

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II)

Starting from $349

The Details

20-hour battery life

30-foot Bluetooth range

Cable for wired listening

VOLUME-OPTIMIZED EQ

GOOGLE ASSISTANT AND SIRI DIGITAL VOICE ASSISTANT INTEGRATION

CORROSION-RESISTANT STAINLESS STEEL

What / Who It's Best For

  • Folks who argue that FLAC sounds better
  • Long-distance flyers
  • Audiophiles looking for best-in-class noise cancellation

Why We Love It

If you’re planning to drop more than $300 on a pair of headphones, you’re going to want a pair that has it all — not only fit, style, and sound quality, but also superior noise-cancellation abilities. Bose’s QuietComfort 35 (Series II) headphones excelled in all these categories (and even a few others we threw in for good measure), making them our $$$ pick.

Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones earcup

We spoke with Alex Laughlin, an audio producer with BuzzFeed’s podcast team. In describing her commute with the Bose QuietComfort headphones, she said, “They’re so effective that I couldn’t hear anything around me. I only knew there was a train coming when I felt the vibrations in my body.” (Editor’s note: Commute in these responsibly!).

For those who prioritize comfort, rest assured that “comfort” is in this model’s name for a very good reason. The QuietComforts offer the most immediate sensation of comfort of any luxury headphone, but what makes them truly outstanding is that they manage to remain comfortable (with varying degrees of good to excellent) after extended use. Style-conscious headphone shoppers might find that the QuietComforts are unable to match the design innovation that models like M&D deliver on, with their chic leather and metal details that complement — rather than overtake — your face. But that’s a comparably small price to pay for best-in-class noise cancellation and, oh yes, reliable Bluetooth pairing.

Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II on head
But did we mention this is a wireless headphone review? Not surprisingly, the biggest issue we bumped up against during testing other models was maintaining a strong wireless bluetooth connection. Bose’s QuietComforts were one of the few models that were able to reliably carry out their one real job — a feat you will only truly appreciate once you’ve screamed at your device after its 15th consecutive failed pairing attempt and jiggled the Bluetooth switch in every imaginable way.

It should also be noted: The only remarkable upgrade from the Series I (that you’re paying roughly $20 extra for) is an “action” button that connects the headphones to Google Assistant via Android or iOS. This is a relatively unexplored territory in the headphone world, and allows you to access to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant without taking out your phone. Just don’t ask it to play “Free Bird.” Not your spiritual headphone journey? Fine! The Series I, while technically discontinued, is still available for purchase on Amazon and subject to occasional price drops.

Bose QuietComfort 25 II in case

Now, the Series II headphones are not without some shortcomings. Take, for example, the headphones’ idle noise leakage (the sound that escapes the headphones when they’re at rest). The Bowers & Wilkins PX have a leg up here, as they come with proximity sensors that stop music from playing when removed from your ears. Also, there’s the QuietComfort’s absurdly short USB charging cable (hardly a deal breaker, but baffling nonetheless), and what many of our testers described in so many words as “excessive bulk.”

And here’s where things get tricky: Sure, the QuietComforts are crisp and will sound great to most people, but they are not actually the best-sounding cans available right now at this price point. That title, in our very humble opinion, is bestowed upon the PX. We found these headphones to be top-of-the-line for music listening — particularly for upbeat, contemporary music where their immersive and vibrant sound could really shine.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones top view

So why aren’t we just going with the PX as our pick? Well, it is our firm belief in this house that no one should have to suffer for an optimal listening experience. And to be honest, the PX hurt, even after a few minutes of listening. Plus, they are hellishly difficult to pair with Bluetooth. In other words: Bose was the kid in high school who did just enough to earn straight As, while B&W was the overzealous kid (probably pictured in several yearbook photos) who burnt out and peaked junior year.

The bottom line is this: We believe comfort shouldn’t be treated as a footnote, especially for something you put around your skull. The Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs might not have the trendiest design or best quality sound, but they are extremely easy to use and pair, and they over-deliver on their two namesake promises: being comfortable AF and having the best noise-cancelling technology on the market.

User Reviews

“These are amazing and Bose is great! I purchased these headphones for their noise-cancellation abilities. I am an application developer and wear them at work because I am easily distracted. I don't even listen to music with them... they just cancel just about all background noise, including random chatter from the annoying marketing department. I also use them for WebEx and Skype calls with clients. The built-in microphone is great and the noise cancellation is helpful during those calls as well. Battery life is extremely good. I can go an entire week without having to charge the headset. It comes with an 1/8-inch cable that will allow you to listen to music even when the batteries are dead. An added feature is that the bluetooth feature will allow you to connect to and hear audio from two sources at the same time. This is great if you want to connect to your iPhone and laptop at the same time.”
— John S From Amazon
“So far, wearing these have given me the best wearing experience out of any of the headphones I've tried previously. I can go hours with them on without feeling much discomfort and because they are so lightweight, sometimes I forget that they're even on. What's also great about these in particular is that they cover your entire ear. The plush for the L/R ears actually sits around your ears instead of sitting partly on your ears. When I tested the Sony headphones at Best Buy, the headphones sat partly on my ears and after ten minutes of testing them, I had the sense that they might become uncomfortable after some time. This was also one of the big reasons I chose to go with Bose instead of Sony.”
— Jeffrey Wang From Amazon
“These headphones are amazing! I might have been perfectly satisfied with the first version of the QC35s, but I luckily stumbled on the second generation, which includes the Google Assistant integration. I initially thought it would be a small bonus, but I totally underestimated how powerful and convenient this could be. It's more than just a trigger for voice commands. It's a surprisingly flawless implementation that allows Google Assistant to turn you into a much more productive multitasker.”
— Jordan T From Amazon
“Nobody on Amazon owns more Bluetooth headphones than me. This is my 12th pair and I think I've finally found what I'm looking for. I use this pair strictly for my noisy office building. Although you still can hear the subtle, muffled murmurs here and there, it eliminates 80 percent of the background noise when the music goes silent. It drowns out our servers almost completely. The sound quality is nine out of ten. Soft music, pop, and top-40 genre music it handles really well. Dubstep, techno, and electronic music sound great. Heavy metal and death metal are fair. . . . Having it off will give the highest quality, but i have it set to high because of my noisy environment and I’m perfectly OK with it.”
— Vader From Amazon

Bose

Premium jack-of-all-trades

ADVERTISEMENT