It’s well known that the Bose QuietComfort 35 are the best noise cancelling headphones around. But you know that? They also cost $350. Yup - three hundred and friggin’ fifty dollars! Do I look like Mr. Moneybags? Heck no. If I could drop $350 on headphones, I'd already be flying in first class! Methinks the the less pecuniarily blessed travelers among us need some Bose QuietComfort alternatives.
So in that spirit, I decided to round up the best cheap noise cancelling headphones. Because you shouldn’t need to be a millionaire to get a little peace and quiet while you’re travelling.
Summary: For my money, the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B are the best affordable noise cancelling headphones. While they won’t stack up to the overall quality of Bose QuietComfort, they’re also less than a third of the price. Here’s why I like them:
Keep reading to learn more about the other headphones I looked at. If you prefer in-ear headphones or cheaper sound-isolating headphones, I have some good options for you as well.
If you’ve ever been on a bus in Southeast Asia, I don’t need to tell you why noise cancelling headphones are a literal gift from the gods.
But seriously - imagine being able to hop on a plane or a bus, put on your headphones, and completely tune out that chatty couple next to you.
That’s the benefit of noise-cancelling headphones.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I certainly love talking with other travelers...sometimes. But when you’re coming off a 16-hour flight, plus a 7-hour layover, sometimes you just want to block the world out.
Here’s the thing:
All noise-cancelling headphones are not made equal. There are actually two types you’ll run into:
What’s the difference? Let me put it to you this way:
If you want a chance at sleeping when the baby three rows up is crying, then you want active noise-cancelling headphones.
If you want to hear the baby screaming...but a tiny bit quieter, then you want sound-isolating headphones.
Basically, sound-isolating headphones just block out a little bit of sound by creating a tight seal around your ears. They aren’t doing anything else to block out noise. It's just a physical barrier.
On the other hand, active noise-cancelling headphones actually have electronics which output a signal that’s designed to “actively” block soundwaves.
I almost always recommend active noise-cancelling headphones over sound-isolating headphones. The only downsides are that active cancellation requires batteries and is usually a bit more expensive. Luckily, most active noise-cancellation headphones still let you listen to music via the wire even if the batteries are dead.
You will lose the active cancellation without battery power, but it’s not like you’re unable to listen to music without batteries. So, unless your budget is super-duper tight, you’re going to do much better with active noise-cancelling headphones.
There's one more set of terminology that I'm going to sling around in the list below. So I should probably take a minute to explain it before I jump into the noise-cancelling headphones I looked at.
You'll encounter three different types of headphone formats in the list below. Here's what each one means:
Over-ear is the most popular form factor for active noise-cancelling headphones.
The headphones completely surround your ear, which does a great job at preventing sound from coming in and out.
As a result, they can be a bit bulky, though. I tried to find sets that fold down when not in use.
Also known as Supra-aural headphones, on-ear headphones sit on your ear rather than completely surrounding it like over-ear headphones.
They're usually lighter and smaller, though to get those gains, they typically let in more outside sound. Typically, they're not great for noise-cancellation.
Typically, you'll only find on-ear headphones with noise-isolation.
Often called earbuds, in-ear headphones are those tiny little things that actually go inside your ear.
Think of the basic Apple earpods that ship with every iPhone. Those are in-ear headphones.
They can be decent for blocking out noise, but I think they're too uncomfortable for long flights.
For a quick summary, check out the table below. To view detailed thoughts on all of the featured headphones, keep scrolling.
Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B
Audio Technica ATH-ANC23
Paww WaveSound 3
Status Audio HD One
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All of these headphones offer active noise-cancellation. That means they'll use some type of battery powered electronics to actively cancel out incoming soundwaves. I personally think this is the best type of headphones for flying or other forms of travel.
Still want to hear some of the outside world? If so, you might be more interested in noise-isolating headphones. As I've said a few times, they're not for me. But hey, live and let live, right? As a bonus, these noise-isolating headphones are cheaper than the active noise-cancelling headphones above.
What's Your Pick?
As much as I might wish otherwise, I'm not omniscient. So if you know another pair of noise-cancelling headphones which won't completely obliterate my bank account, I'd love if you shared them with me in the comments. I'll give 'em a look, and if they pass muster, add them to the list!
I hope you found this list helpful - now get out there and enjoy travel more now that you can get some peace and quiet when you need it.
Howdy, I'm Colin. I'm the guy behind Nonstop Newcomer. Since 2014, I've been living and working abroad. Currently, I'm living in Hanoi, Vietnam and paying my bills with freelance writing. Stick around for my thoughts on travel, location-independence, and the best gear to make those things happen.