Noise canceling headphones work their magic by producing sound frequencies that directly counter the sounds of ambient noise, while still allowing desired sounds (such as music) to come through crystal clear. Full-size noise canceling headphones can offer fantastic sound quality, but sometimes users need a smaller, more portable package for traveling or working out. To allow a streamlined in-ear design, these earbuds typically feature a small housing on the cable for the noise canceling circuitry. Read on to check out our reviews of 2011’s best noise canceling earphones.
Note: Active noise cancellation shouldn’t be confused with “noise isolation” (blocking noise with headset padding or snug-fitting earbuds), although many noise canceling headphones utilize noise isolating designs as well.
Denon AH-NC600 Noise Canceling Earphones
The Denon AH-NC600 earphones feature foam and silicone tips for superb comfort and sound isolation, and they also feature Denon’s Compressed Audio Restorer technology to restore the fidelity of digital music sources like MP3s. An extra-long cable extension and airline adapter make the Denon headphones a great travel companion.
The Denon AH-NC600 was well-rated by PC Magazine, which (although not overly impressed by some of its extra features) absolutely loved its excellent sound quality – and isn’t that the most important factor for headphones? These earphones can be used in both “active” and “passive” modes, and the most detailed review from Amazon described their sound as “very good with deep bass, clear mids and highs… pleasingly neutral with no colouration”.
AKG by Harman K390 NC Noise Canceling Earphones
The AKG by Harman K390 NC is a Consumer Reports favorite, thanks to its warm sound, solid bass, and excellent noise reduction. These earphones can be used with or without the noise cancelation engaged, and they offer a call connect control and microphone so they be used with phones (including Blackberry and iPhone models) as well as with music players.
The AKG earphones also received praise from Cnet for their sound quality and sleek design, as well as the earphones’ effective combination of active noise cancelation and passive sound isolation. Users’ only real complaint seems to be the bulkiness and weight of the noise-canceling module on the cable.
The AKG by Harman K390 NC earbuds are available for $199.95 at Amazon.
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 Noise Canceling Earphones
In a nutshell, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 earphones deliver solid performance without breaking the bank. These earphones forego some of the bells & whistles found on pricier models (like compatibility with cell phones or integrated volume controls) and simply focus on offering high-end sound. Consumer Reports rated the Audio-Technica “Very Good” in both sound quality and noise reduction.
These earphones function with the noise reduction “on” or “off” (a plus, since users may not always need or want the added active noise cancellation). An airline adapter and travel case are included, and their light weight makes these headphones a great option for travelers. Amazon reviewers award these 4 out of 5 stars (over 150 reviews) praising their portability and acoustics, especially their deep bass response.
The Audio-Technica ATH-ANC3 earbuds are available for around $60 at Amazon.
Sony MDR-NC300D Noise Canceling Earphones
The MDR-NC300D earphones are the high-end entry in Sony’s line of noise canceling earphones. They deliver performance to compete with some of the offerings from the audiophile/boutique brands, and users love the sound quality and sleek aluminum design. The Sony earphones offer wide frequency response, and users can select different sound modes (movie, bass, or normal) for particular types of listening.
Reviewers from electronics superstore B&H awarded the Sony earphones a 4 out of 5 star rating, including one user who prefers the MDR-NC300D to the much-loved Bose Quiet Comfort models and to any of Sony’s earlier models. Eight out of twelve Amazon reviewers give the Sony a perfect 5/5 score, in particular raving about the performance during air travel.
You can find the Sony MDR-NC300D earbuds at Amazon for $179.99.
Readers might also be interested in MetaEfficient’s earlier earbud reviews, found here.