Dampen the din with these devices that actively block background noise, letting you hear only what you want to.
It's hard to escape noise; the modern world is full of it. Whether it's the drone of jet engines, the low rumble and metallic screech of commuter trains, or merely the distracting muttering crowds, life can be pretty damn loud. You might try to dismiss the din by slapping on a set of regular headphones and cranking up the volume of music, movies, or podcasts. This tactic may get the job done, but you're really only adding extra noise to the equation, and are probably damaging your hearing at the same time.
The best solution to save your sanity and your ears is to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones so you can enjoy your audio at much lower volumes. These devices, rather than merely covering up unwanted noise, actively block it.
We most recently reviewed Sony 's MDR-NC40. Despite this set's relatively low price of $100, it pumped out surprisingly good audio quality with satisfying low bass. If you prefer earphones to larger, more cumbersome headphones, Sony also makes another attractive, affordable option, the MDR-NC22, which is fairly compact and provides a good amount of active and passive noise canceling.
Bose's ubiquitous QuietComfort 3 headphones offer some of the best noise cancellation around—if you can afford the steep $349 price. For those who want to buy into the Bose brand but at a lower price, try the QuietComfort 2. This $299 circumaural model is bigger than the QC3 and uses one standard triple-A cell rather than the QC3's rechargeable battery. Still, the QC2 offers an amazing amount of active and passive noise cancellation along with great sound quality.
Another winner: Creative's Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones. While these 'phones don't fit around the ears quite as well as the QC2, noise-canceling performance is just as pleasing, and they simply sound much better.
If you're willing to make an investment—and a fashion statement, check out the $450 PXC 450 NoiseGard from Sennheiser . With this silver behemoth strapped to your head, you will get noticed. But since NoiseGard trumps Bose when it comes to noise blocking and sound quality, you probably won't care.
In this roundup:
Bose QuietComfort 2
This legendary set of Bose headphones work exceptionally well. Using a comfy circumaural (covering the ear) design, they provide very good active and passive noise canceling whether you're listening to music or not.
Bose QuietComfort 3
The Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones are better than most noise-canceling models in that they're very comfortable, provide good sound and quality noise cancellation. In short: they make ears happy, but you pay through the nose.
Creative Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones
These chunky headphones from Creative could be a bit more cozy, but they eliminate as much noise as the Quiet Comfort 2, sound much better, can operate passively, and are louder.
Sennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGard
Sennheiser's PXC 450 NoiseGard headphones outdo Bose in both killing ambient noise and providing excellent audio performance. They're also pretty dang big.
A rarity among active noise-canceling headphones, Sony's MDR-NC22 model sits inside your ear, is relatively compact, and pumps out pretty good audio.
Though not as effective in eliminating ambient noise as more expensive sets from Bose and Sennheiser, the MDR-NC40 delivers quality audio performance and noise cancellation that's impressive considering its $100 price tag.