Active noise cancelling headphones, or ANC headphones for short, work by "canceling" out, or electronically counteracting, external noise by essentially generating a sound wave in your ear that's a mirror image. The audio technology works best in environments with a sustained din to the ear, such as the droning of a jet engine — which is why wearing Bose noise cancelling headphones became a status symbol at airports over the course of the past couple of decades.
Budget-priced noise-canceling headphones aren't as great for listening to music and other audio as premium models from Sony, Bose and others. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But you can find some pretty decent models for far less. Here's a look at some of the best cheap noise cancelling headphones 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.
Looking for the best ANC headphones for audio, regardless of price and style? Check out the Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise canceling headphones. Not only do these over-ear headphones sound quite decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they're also comfortable to wear thanks to the secure ear cups.
No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality pretty good, which is all you can ask for noise canceling headphones 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 with your music). Also, the noise cancellation 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.
Best Bose knock off
Tribit makes one of our favorite budget pair of headphones for sound quality — the Tribit XFree Tune ($40). That's not an active noise-cancelling headphone, however. This model is. You can find similar wireless headphones from other generic headphone companies on Amazon (Taotronics, for example, has a model with a similar design), but this over-ear headset does sound quite decent and its noise-canceling works pretty well and eliminates plenty of ambient noise and background noise. It doesn't sound quite as good as the XFree Tune does with music, but it's among the better sounding budget models in this roundup and also features USB-C charging. Plus, it has a decent battery: Battery life is rated at 30 hours.
Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020
Generic-looking but good
Mixcder has several sub-$100 wireless 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 with cushy ear cups. 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 for music. The noise-cancellation of these over-ear headphones 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 battery life from an 8-minute charge.
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 pair of headphones, the RP-HTX80, this wireless version with active noise canceling is comfortable and lightweight. These are warmer closed-back headphones that lacks some treble clarity and isn't terribly dynamic, but the audio quality is 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.
The noise-canceling is decent though not 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.
Solid under $60
Taotronics SoundSurge 60
Taotronics is one of the better-known budget brands that sells on-ear headphones on Amazon. It has a few different wireless noise-cancelling headphones that have generic designs. I like these Taotronics noise cancellers the best because they seem well-built, they're comfortable to wear, and they have decent if unspectacular sound for their price of around $60 (some colors cost less). It could use a touch more definition in the bass for music, but most people should think the audio quality is pretty good when listening to music thanks partly to decent noise reduction of ambient sound. Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours.
This story was originally published earlier.