The world has changed for so many of us! Working from home with young kids playing – or teens arguing! Zoom meetings with dogs barking! The need to concentrate while the TV is on in the next room! Thank heavens for noise cancelling earbuds and headphones!
Of course, $2 earplugs will block out noise. But it’s hard to take a call and they look pretty dumb in those Zoom meetings. And the sound quality? Well, let’s not go there!
There are many reasons noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones are hot-sellers right now. They’re pretty much essential when you really need to focus on producing something. Maybe you just want to dim the background noise at the office while still being responsive. Or maybe you really do just want to relax and listen to your favourite album without distractions.
Can you really get good active noise cancelling earbuds or headphones for less than $100?
That’s the question we set out to answer. How much do you really have to pay to get quality sound in and out of a headset or set of earbuds? We also considered the advantages of each – headset vs earbuds.
If you’re really, REALLY into the highest highs and deepest bass, you’ll be happy to spend $400, $500 and even $700 for a ‘top of the range’ headset. Audiophiles will and do. But most of us only need good quality speakers and an effective microphone – both using Bluetooth V5 for a strong connection.
Headphones vs Earbuds: Which one should you buy?
If you want something that is compact and portable, that stays in your ears while you’re in the middle of a sweaty exercise or workout session, you’ll probably want a solid pair of true wireless earbuds.
Headphones, on the other hand, are perfect if you are looking for the highest-quality bass sound, or simply want to tune out the noise and distraction around you as efficiently as possible.
Between the two, comparing equivalent cost options, wireless headphones tend to be better if you want the best possible sound quality and noise cancellation.
The wireless headphones we considered generally have a longer battery life than wireless earbuds. They can last for more than a day while earbuds typically only get you around 5 to 8 hours of use on a single charge. The very small size of earbuds obviously limits the size of the battery. That’s much less of a consideration to headphone designers.
The gap in battery life is something you might want to consider, depending on where and when you’re going to use your ANC unit.
Whether you’re looking for unbeatable, audiophile sound quality or budget-friendly (under $100) headphones and earbuds to save you from the distracting background noise, we’ve got you covered.
Budget-Friendly Noise-Cancelling Headphones and Earbuds
Now, let’s deep dive into our list of the best, budget-friendly noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds.
Although it’s not as well known as some other audio brands, the first on our list is the Anker Soundcore Life Q20.
This bass-heavy headphone produces exceptional sound and amplified listening experience. Perfect if you enjoy bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop.
For remote workers, if you need to use it for Zoom or Skype meetings, this headphone has a built-in microphone for convenient hands-free calls. Plus, with Bluetooth 5.0 you can get up to 15 metres away from the source before breaking contact.
The fit is fine with adequate clamping force, and they are nice and light – so if you have weak neck muscles, these are definitely for you.
They also come with a travel pouch in case you want to take them somewhere on your travels or commute. Plus, the unit has great battery life. Practical-wise, it’s one of the most affordable we found on Amazon and perfect if you are just looking for quality noise-cancelling headphones on a tight budget.
OK, so how low can you go and still find value? Well, this pair certainly delivered.
The headphones are very comfortable with softly padded ear cups and headband. The cups cover the ears rather than sit on them which greatly increases the comfort level.
The speaker fidelity ranges from 20 – 20,000 Hz with music being particularly rich and crisp with ANC turned on.
The active noise cancellation is very effective, especially at this price level. In addition to ANC, the design offers what the manufacturer calls Hybrid Noise Cancellation, claiming a 95% reduction in some ambient noises although we were unable to measure this.
The unit uses the latest Bluetooth 5.0 giving good range and excellent connectivity while the 600mAh battery offers up to 30 hours between charges via the USB-C cable that also allows for a passive connection if your headset runs out of power.
The single CVC 8.0 microphone provided crisp audio for calls and online meetings and, while not equal to some of the multi-microphone headsets, it really confirmed the value in this headset.
Another awesome brand and an excellent choice for audio and sound devices is Sony.
This Sony MDR-ZX110NC noise-cancelling headphone is wired so offers less flexibility than other headphones featured here. However, Sony delivers well for just $48, featuring a 12–22,000 Hz frequency response for pristine bass, mids, and treble. The audio quality is nice. Not too bass-heavy, highs and mids aren’t mixed up so it is very comfortable to listen to.
These lightweight headphones reduce ambient noise by a claimed 95 percent. The noise-cancelling function is effective in low-frequency ranges but not as effective for higher frequencies. Battery life is 80 hours so it’s perfect for long travels.
This headphone is also compact due to its folding design so you can use it conveniently anywhere. If you are wearing glasses, Sony MDR-ZX110NC has an over-ear design so it fits well and doesn’t fall out.
Sure there are better noise-cancelling headphones available out there, but at this price point, these headphones are excellent value if you want to stick with a better known brand.
These are good headphones for an office environment where you don’t need to move around. They cancel out most of the annoying noises (phone ringing, chatter, AC, keyboard clicking) but you still hear some of the background noises, so you are aware of your environment. Comfort level is good even after 5 to 6 hours.
The price/brand ratio is hard to beat with Sony delivering a solid product for the price.
Moving up the price range, we found that you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars for full, rich sound and wireless freedom. Skullcandy’s Hesh Evo give you all that and much more for far less than other so-called “premium” headphones.
The 4th generation Hesh Evo combines a proven design with all the features you need and none that you don’t. All controls — call, track change, and volume — are right at your fingertips with easy-to-use tactile buttons.
Don’t remember where you left your headphones? Don’t sweat it — Hesh Evo comes with Tile finding technology built-in. Battery life is an impressive 22 hours. Even more impressive, is the Rapid Charge technology which extends the listening time by three hours after just 10 minutes of charging!
The Skullcandy Hesh 3 is travel-ready, too. They fold flat to fit perfectly into the supplied travel case.
Great design and build quality with an amazing sound and a good deal of bass. The music listening experience is amazing on these headphones. Even on high volume, there is clear vocal separation.
Bluetooth V5 ensures rapid pairing and very good connectivity. A must-buy if you are looking for budget-friendly, high quality wireless headphones.
The bottom line is that this model is great value and readily challenges other brands costing considerably more.
Samsung delivers big time with one of the most innovative, value wireless earbuds available. They deliver great sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with a good noise-cancelling feature.
These earbuds offer 11 hours of play time with another 11 hours waiting in the charging/storage case. Still not enough? Then get another 1.7 hrs with a quick (15 minute) wireless recharge.
These Galaxy Buds Plus deliver clear calls, your favourite podcasts and the music you love while keeping you aware of your surroundings when you’re outside.
Once you turn on the noise-cancelling feature, the buds immediately block out the noise in the nearby area so you can be fully immersed in your music or focussed on your project. The buds have 4 levels of ambient sound that you can use (or completely turn off). The 4th level actually even increases the ambient noise louder than you’d usually hear! One reviewer wrote that he could “hear my shoes stick to the floor in ways I never knew they did at the 4th level”!
If you take frequent hands-free calls, this set is worth the investment with almost seamless connectivity over surprisingly long distances. Add the three, yes three, microphones and you get crystal clear conversations.
Of course, being Samsung, these connect as seamlessly to your Apple products as they do to Android or your Windows PC.
Controls are very simple and easy to use while the three different sizes of included ‘eargel’ tips mean that one should be right for your ears.
While we think the Samsung offering is hard to beat in this category, more than 10,000 Amazon buyers voted with their wallet and gave the TOZO NC9 model 5 stars! It might be easier here to quote one of the reviews:
If you are Husband with kids, YOU NEED THIS! Life saver on long car rides. I can hear my wife and kids if I want to, and not if I do not LOL.
These are nice. They are more lightweight then I thought they would be. The best feature is the transparent mode. Yea the Noise cancelling mode is cool, but being able to hear your kids or wife while you are listening to something is very helpful.
Turning on the NC or Transparent mode is very easy, and a woman tells you that you have switched.
The microphone is really good. I have had no issue with people hearing me on phone conversations. But the Bass… dang these have the best bass. I have a big bulky set of headphones that I use, and I put them on after I tried these, and no joke I could not tell a difference.Five Stars!
All that for just $59.98 makes it hard to argue with the old ‘bang for buck’ equation!
And for those with a bigger-budget!
For true audiophiles and those who are looking for premium noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds, there’s one popular brand that you’re surely familiar with. Maybe, it’s a bit expensive but the quality is really outstanding.
Bose is a brand that immediately pops to mind when you think of noise-cancelling wireless headphones and earbuds. It’s truly an excellent choice for all things sound and audio.
Crisp, deep, and full bass. The Bose 700 feels lightweight and produces an exciting and premium sound that is full and balanced at every volume level.
It has redefined what wireless headphones can do such as allowing easy access to voice assistants. You can keep track of the weather, navigation and stay connected without reaching for your phone. It even allows you to conveniently take calls or speak to Alexa anywhere.
It has a four-microphone system for picking up and isolating your voice while cancelling the noise around you. It does a great job at controlling ambient noise while providing great sound.
Whether you’re relaxing with quiet music or really blasting it, your music sounds like it should. These touch-sensitive wireless headphones are also designed with a streamlined stainless steel headband, and a lightweight, comfortable fit.
The intuitive controls keep everything simple — manage volume, calls, and music just by touching the earcup. One-touch is all you need to reach Spotify — instantly open your last session by tapping and holding the right earcup. You can repeat this step to discover brand-new content. The Bose Music app gives you even more control.
The Bluetooth V5 headphones give up to 20 hours of wireless battery life.
What’s really cool about the noise cancelling feature is that you have levels on how much you want to block the outside world. This is a great treat to have because there were times that I needed to forget the world when I was on my break, and there were times that I was waiting for someone to call me.
The layout is high, medium, to full transparency. I always stick to medium when I’m not at home, and go to the high levels when I know I won’t be needed. My advice is to use full transparency when walking because this headphone’s noise cancelling system is so good that it can be dangerous if you don’t know your surroundings.
If you have a bigger budget, another alternative to the Bose is the Sony MX1000. Dynamically, they are both great but Sony has a better bass-heavy profile and active noise cancellation feature than the Bose.
It does a great job at controlling the background noise and it outperforms Bose’s flagship headphones when cancelling out mid-low frequencies between 200 to 1,000 Hz. This means that lower frequency sounds like jet engine rumbles and air conditioner hums are less likely to interfere with your content.
Battery life is a class-leading 30 hours backed up by quick charging capabilities. This is an enclosed over the ears headset which is a prime choice for comfortable and crisp sound. Design-wise, the pads fit comfortably as well, without feeling tight.
Bluetooth V5 pairing is to two devices, and you can switch using a phone app from one to the other. Switching is a little funky, but not bad. If you are pairing to a single device such as an iPhone, then this is trouble-free. The app lets you modify the sound profile of the headset.
This model comes with a dynamic sound format using music services that I have not sampled.
It has excellent battery life and would be a good headset to travel with. It’s got features that are particularly useful when paired with a phone. Touch the earpiece to talk through, remove touch and sound resumes. Swipes up/down/left-right for vol and track control. When making phone calls the sound was excellent and those on the other end assured me my transmissions were crystal clear..
This is a near audiophile headset with many features for phone users. Based on sound quality, quietness, build quality and features this headset cannot be beaten in its price point. It is a great piece of kit.
Thanks to these excellent audio and sound brands for continuing to deliver the best possible audio quality and noise cancellation and ultimate amplified experience. While we are not going to argue that a $40 headset is the equal of a $400 set, we would argue in favour of the Law of Diminishing Returns…
Is a $400 headset 10x better than the $40 set? Of course not. It is certainly 40% better and, for a true audiophile that extra $360 is worth every cent.
But for the rest of us?
Finding the best noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds comes down to specifications and features, brand, comfort and of course, the price. As we’ve shown here, a quality active noise cancelling headsphone or set of earbuds needn’t break the bank.
How much are you prepared to spend?