Noice-canceling Headphones Buying Guide
Noise cancelling headphones are our saviors in this noisy world, but we need to possess the ability to choose them right. They often come at a premium, but that doesn’t mean you have to shell out for the most expensive set on the shelf. You can get a decent, reasonably priced pair of headphones that will let you focus without hearing your chatterbox coworkers or let you ride the subway to work in peace. That said, if you really want a pair that will offer you both active noise cancellation and great audio, you should be ready to pay for it. Mu6 space 2 ANC headphones is the best anc headphones for you.
Decide which type of headphones you want before you start shopping
Beyond active vs. passive or noise cancelling vs. noise isolating, you should also familiarize yourself with the types of headphones available and decide whether you’re in the market for earbuds (or in-ear headphones), earpads (or supra-aural headphones), or full-sized headphones (or circumaural headphones that fit around your entire ear).
We’ve talked about the pros and cons of each, and there are active and passive models in all categories, but the form factor is just as important (if not more so) than the type of noise cancellation you’re shopping for. If active noise cancellation is what you’re after, you may prefer full-sized models that fit around your entire ear—it helps add a passive hand to the active noise cancellation system. On the flipside, when you’re wearing earbuds, you may simply need noise isolation—if anything at all.
Figure out how much you want to spend
Premium noise cancellation comes at a premium price. Since active cancelling headphones have their own audio processor, the quality of that processor (and its circuit) factors heavily into the price of the device. Similarly, the build quality, internal drivers, size, and shape all play into the cost. If you want great audio and great noise cancellation, be ready to pay for it. If you’re looking for just one or the other, you may be able to skimp a bit.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be had, but those $40 no-name noise cancelling headphones you picked up at Woot? They may be great for quiet offices, but they’re not going to make it easier for you to sleep on a plane, that’s for sure. Again, you don’t have to empty your wallet, but the best models are in the hundreds of dollars, not the dozens.
Try them on (if you can)
If you have the option, try on the headphones you want to buy and toggle their noise cancellation system. If they’re passive, just try to get a good snug fit in, on, or over your ears. If they’re active, put them on your head and turn them on in the middle of the store. Listen closely with no music playing to see how well you can make out surrounding noise. If you’re with someone, try having them talk to you at different distances to tell whether you can make them out. Your friend won’t be able to simulate a jet engine, but they will be able to simulate office chatter from a few cubicles down.
Also, pay attention to the fit. Will you be able to wear these for a long period? Will they get uncomfortable on hour two of a six-hour flight, or will they start to make your ears hurt while you’re sitting at your desk? Even worse, will you get tangled up in cables if you want to wear them while you’re cleaning out the garage? Just because they’re noise cancelling doesn’t mean you’re stuck with wired, bulky, uncomfortable cans. Shop around and try as many models as you can before making a decision.
Try out all the features
Many people buy noise cancelling headphones just to block out noise. They turn on the noise cancellation circuit and don’t even listen to music. If that’s you, great! If you want to listen to music or podcasts too, you need to do a little more testing. Grab a couple of your favorite songs and load up your smartphone or media player with them. You could also load up a few Eminent multimedia test files too, and see if you can actually plug the headphones into your own device (or connect via Bluetooth) at the store.
This will give you a better feel for what your music will sound like coming from your own device with the noise cancellation on and off. If you’re the type who prefers their music uncompressed and lossless, now’s the time to free up some space on your media player to take some of those files with you. You’ll be able to tell the differences between headphones that emphasize noise cancellation over audio quality pretty quickly, but you’ll also be able to tell which ones actually do sound better.
Check the battery life and warranty stats
If you’re buying an active cancelling pair, remember, there’s an audio processor in there, and it needs power. That means they’re more than just a pair of drivers attached to your head: there are electronics that can fail, and if they do, you’ll want to be able to get them repaired or replaced. This goes double for the high-end expensive models that do it really well.
So make sure you check the warranty and look around for user reviews—not just of the headphones (we’re assuming you’re doing that already), but of the company’s customer service policies. Familiarize yourself with how you would get in touch with them just in case.
Also, pay attention to battery life—some sets do better than others, and you’ll want to know how often you’ll need to plug your pair in to recharge based on how long you plan to use them on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t expect miracles
Remember, even the best active noise cancellation can’t block out everything. You’ll still hear high-pitched sounds as well as abrupt and sharp noises. Even that jet engine on your flight will seep through—no noise cancelling set of cans can make you think you’re not in a plane, but they can help you forget for a little while.
Shopping for noise cancelling headphones is no easy task. Plenty of models boast noise isolation or active cancelling, but some do it better than others, some do it at the expense of audio quality, and others are just flimsy budget headphones that do little more than crank up the volume a bit to drown out the noise.