Active noise cancellation (ANC) has long been the pinnacle of ear and headphone technology.Â ANC headphonesÂ electronically counteract (or “cancel” out) external noise by producing a mirror image sound wave in your ear. The technology works best in environments with a sustained din to the ear, like the droning of a jet engine — which is why havingÂ BoseÂ ANC earphones in your ear became a status symbol at airports over the course of the past couple of decades.
I’m not going to lie to you: Budget-priced noise-canceling headphones aren’t as good as premium models from Bose, Sony and others. But you can find some fairly decent models for far less. Here’s a look at some of the top affordable models I’ve tried, most of which cost less than $100 and a few even come in around $50. I expect more budget noise-canceling headphones to be released throughout the year and will update this list as I find new, recommendable models. Â
Looking for the best ANC headphones, regardless of price and style? Check out theÂ.Â
Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise-canceling headphones. Not only does it sound quite decent for its regular list price of $60 (it often sells for $10 less), but it’s also comfortable to wear.
No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium models such as theÂ Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds pretty good, which is all you can ask for at this price. It’s fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that’s not bloated or muddy (there’s a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass). Also, the noise-canceling is acceptably effective and it’s solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.
Tribit makes one of our favorite budget headphones for sound quality — the Tribit XFree TuneÂ ($40). That’s not an active noise-canceling headphone, however. This model is. You can find similar headphone designs from other generic headphone companies on Amazon (Taotronics, for example, has a model with a similar design), but this Tribit does sound quite decent and its noise-canceling works pretty well. It doesn’t sound quite as good as the XFree Tune, but it’s among the better sounding budget models in this roundup and also features USB-C charging. Battery life is rated at 30 hours. Â
Mixcder has several sub-$100 headphones, and the E10 is its current top-of-the-line model and has the best sound and build quality with the most comfortable fit. Some of the step-down models lack definition (clarity and detail), but the E10 sounds pretty decent, with a reasonable amount of definition in its bass. The noise-cancellation is fairly effective (good, not great) and battery life is rated at around 30 hours with a quick charge feature that gives you 3 hours of juice from an 8-minute charge.Â Â
Panasonic calls the style of its RP-HTX90N “retro-modern,” and that’s exactly what it is. Based on one of our favorite budget wired headphones, the RP-HTX80, this wireless version with active noise canceling is comfortable and lightweight. It’s a warmer headphone that lacks some treble clarity and isn’t terribly dynamic, but it sounds pleasant overall with decent enough noise-canceling. Battery life is rated at 24 hours of playback, and a 15-minute quick charge gives you 2.5 hours juice.Â
The noise-canceling is decent though notÂ stellar. Ultimately, for its slightly higher price tag, the biggest reason to buy this model is for its design and comfort level. It usually sells for around $120, but some colors, including the blue shown here, sometimes cost less than $100. Â Â
Taotronics is one of the better-known budget brands that sells headphones on Amazon. It has a few different noise-canceling models that have generic designs. I like this model the best because it seems well-built, is comfortable to wear and has decent if unspectacular sound for its price of around $55 (some colors cost less). It could use a touch more definition in the bass, but most people should think it sounds pretty good. Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours. Â Â
This story was originally published earlier.