The Bose QuiteComfort 20 is the best noise cancelling earbuds in ear headphones on the market right now. It was rated so by solid sound performance and great noise-cancellation capacity. But in term of passive noise-cancelling, it is not positive because by design the eartips let the ambient sound in. That means when you turn the noise cancelling off, this in ear headphones don’t provide tight seal like regular in ear headphones. After all, they are very comfortable to wear in a less intrusive manner to your ears.
“Most ANC earbuds work for their functionality rather than the sound. Actually Bose did its best for the sound of QC20, but you may find many $150 earbuds that sound even better. So you are going to pay extra money for this function, which is not very convenient with an inline-battery pack. If not neccessary, go for a pair of earbuds with great passive sound isolation.”
The Bose QC20 offers solid sound performance for a NC headphone. The bass of QC20 reasonably crisp and has an extension. Bass quality is not too plentiful or powerful enough fo basshead earbuds, though some people prefer this low-end. This bass a long with well balanced mid-range rewarded them by Inearfidelity for neutral sounding, and we agreed. For the treble, it wouldn’t be fair if you compare these noise cancelling sets to some equally priced in ear headphones, where Bose QC20 fails to compete for extremely smooth and airy sounds, but it sounds good and pleasant.
The Bose QC20 sounds decent with a push in bass, which is not very tight and deep compared to AKG K391 NC. Its sound is also not as clean as other sets without noise cancelling circuitry. Lastly, for music which requires high-level of detail, these in ear headphones are not capable of providing that realm of sound.
If you forgot to recharge it, and now it runs out of battery you listen to the music without NC turning on (similarly in passive mode when you turn off the NC), the Bose QC20 will sound different, for the better or worse? I would say the latter, but not that bad.
Tested on flights, arguably the Bose QC20 is slightly less effective than the full size wired headphones, the Bose QC25 (with the same price)–perhaps it is the best ANC full size headphones on the market or Bluetooth over ear models Sony MDR1000x. But the QC20 is earbud in ear style, so it is apparently more comfortable and portable than any full size headphones.
The QC20 is able to capture well a wide range of sound, and crucially they reproduce the sound with the same frequencies but in the inverted form.
Bose QC20 features Aware Mode, which will reduce the ANC effectiveness and let users hear the outside world.
There are just 2 downsides, one is that if you forget to turn the ACN off, NC continues to function, meaning the battery is going to continuously drain. The other is the integrated battery is not replaceable, so after several years it is going to deteriorate, you won’t be able to recharge it.
Since it was first released on the market, Bose QC has been the winner for 3 consecutive years.
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While the noise cancellation of Bose QC20 is great, it is pricey. If you are looking for more affordable options, the AKG K391 NC is one of promising alternatives.
AKG K391 NC–#2.
Aside from high performance noise-cancelling capacity, the AKG K391 is ranked at second place for its bass boost, decent treble and clear sound. The AKG K391’s bass is deep and has more impact than Bose. The treble is just slightly extended, fortunately I wouldn’t say it was bright. While Bose QC20’s mid-range tends to be flat, of K391 it represents fully but not forwarded to highs to make a fine transaction point. Considering the sound, the K391 seems to be a promising choice than Bose, but the latter is the winner for functionality and comfort.
Though, it is a well-build and decent sounding earphone, when the ANC is ON, you still hear the audible hiss sound caused by noise cancelling circuitry.
The AKG K391 is well built and has rugged design with aluminum earbuds. The battery box may be a nuisance, but it is conveniently recharged through USB and the cable with straight-plug is detachable.
For under $50 you get moderate noise cancelling performance. The ANC23, a decent noise canceler, comes with comply foam and silicon ear tips, which is soft and really comfortable, and the noise isolation of these earbud tips is great, adding more capacity to block the outside noises.
As advertised, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 effectively eliminates the ambient noise up to 90%. That said, it only works out for noises with consistent frequencies, noises from baby shouting or wind blowing they may not absolutely cancel out. When you turn the ANC function off, the ANC23 works just like a regular earbuds, with noticeable bass and the mid-range is sweet and nice. Its sound you can feel similar to some typical budget earbuds like CX300 or Panasonic Ergofit.
The ANC23’s inline battery box use replaceable AAA, so it is bulkier and heavier than the one with integrated battery of Bose QC 20. It doesn’t feature mic and controls for calls and track navigating.
With wired NC earbuds, you have battery box, phone and earbuds all in a line. Bluetooth cuts off the line between your phone and battery box, making your travelling time more relaxed, though they have a short cable to attach earbuds to the base. The Phiaton BT 220 is the combination of Bluetooth 4.0 with a noise silencer. It is a solidly built and well designed Bluetooth headphone. Supported by Near Field Communication (NFC) Technology, it can instantly pair with your phone. The multiple point tech also allows you switch back and forth between two connected devices.
Though the BT 220 doesn’t not work as efficiently as Bose QC 20 for actively blocking noises, it offers a better noise isolation, in which the eartips enter deeply into the ear canal. The angled nozzle and silicon eartips also keep earbuds stay well in the ear. If you would like to have a more comfortable wear, Comply Tx-400 eartips are available to order and compatible with this model.
The Phiaton BT220 is a well-balanced sounding headphone. It just focuses a little bit on bass, which is present but not really rumbling. So if you are dance, Hip-hop, or R&B music lovers, its bass won’t be not satisfactory.
It also works as a headset, if you frequently make calls it will enrich your calling experience with clear voice capture capacity–you easily hear the caller’s voice in a noise bus or train.
For design, the battery compartment appears to be bulkier and heavier and the headphones are not totally cordless–there is a cable attached to the base. The metal clip on the base is not ergonomically designed, and so are controls that you cann’t feel to tough it right.
If you like a truly wireless experience–totally cordless earbuds check out some wireless earbuds with noise cancelling feature.
Bose QC30 appears in sporty design with sweatproof feature and secure fit in an around-the-neck style. Possibly, it can be a rare NC earbuds that you can bring to the gym, but take care of $300 items, the initial price for Bose QC30.
Unlike other Bose models are somewhat customized for use on train or airplane, the QC30 is for daily-use for calls or any situations that you can virtually control how much the noise you want the in-ear set to cancel out. Provided 12 levels for you to choose, from passive to active like Bose QC20. You can enjoy music without cranking up the volume and still be aware of the surroudings
Bose keeps its particular design that Adhere tips and housings are identical to the Bose QC20, and the tips with wings don’t completely seal in the ear, for most people this design is more comfortalbe then the ones that fit deeply in the ear.
Early reviews suggest that Bose QC30 sounded good with present bass and the sound seems to be natural and balanced. But the NC performance is not as affective as the wired Bose QC20, but compared to LG Tone Ultra (HBS800) it is much better.
Sony is always innovative for adding new features to their products. No exception for headphones, where the MDR-NC31EM does the job for their companion handsets. These noise cancelling earbuds are ONLY compatible with Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3. There is a shift of sound quality, when the NC turned off. With NC turned on, the sound become clearer and more balanced. Being an accessory for these handsets, the NC31EM lets you control how the NC works in 3 modes–3 most common noisy environments, including Office, Bus/Train and Flight.
How Active Noise Cancelling In Ear Headphones Work?
Passive noise cancelling (noise isolating performance) means that the ear tips of earbuds give the tight seal, which in turn will block out the noise. So how active noise cancelling (ANC) is different? It is a process where a microphone located on the ear pieces works in conjunction with circuits in a dongle to generate sound waves from NC speakers. These sound waves have the same amplitude with ambient sound that microphones have picked up, but phase is inverted. The interference between sound waves from environment and NC speakers is inevitable, in shorts, the NC earbuds block out environmental noises. The effectiveness of this process is based on how well the microphone picks up the ambient sounds and the NC speakers, which reproduce the inverted waves.
In order to do this successfully, the noise cancelling feature has to be powered by a battery that is integrated into the earbuds in ear headphone. The battery is AAA-type or integrated and is supposed to be recharged every day depending on how much long your earbuds in ear headphones are ON. The average battery life for active noise cancelling is forty hours. One of the best noise-cancelling in ear headphones is the Bose Quiet Comfort 2.0.
There are microphones that will capture the audible frequencies from ambient noise. Those microphones are built in each earpieces for noise cancellation. The signal from microphones is processed by circuitry, which inverse the frequencies.
Why Noise Cancelling Earbuds In Ear Headphones Are Great?
Are noise cancelling earbuds worth it? Like regular earbuds, almost active noise cancelling in ear headphones are very comfortable to wear (housings are lightweight an designed for sit snugly in your ears). Indeed, they sound good but not great, but certainly you will find a pair matched your taste of sound. Since there is a electric circuitry, they still produce very little white noise.
Interestingly, this natural noise, when you pause your tracks you will hear so as fall asleep with-the noise may make you feel sleepy. For the most parts, the NC circuitry reduces outside noises interfering with your enjoyment of music while you are in the noisy places. They are able to cancel external sounds with consistent frequency ranges such as telephones ringing, people talking, cars hooting, and the like. Although, they are limited by sounds from some sources, but truly they work for what they are supposed to be.
You don’t have to crank up the volume. A lot people have to turn their music loud either for detail in sound or preference, which potentially may cause hearing damage. A study published by ncbi.nlm.nih.gov shows that if you choose the right NC earbuds, you get benefit from reducing the risk of hearing damage since people tend to crank up volume if the background noise is present. With NC earbuds, they don’t have to do so, blocking external noises, meaning to creating a silent room in the ear canal for music going through.
No hardness and calm listening music experience. While Pop, Rocks or Dance requires users to play loud, most music genres don’t, you just play at average volume to extract the most out of your favorite tracks.
Ideal items for travelling, yard cleanup, mowing, noisy offices or libraries. Does the noise annoy you on flights or trains? a lot of people are not comfortable with those noises. A noise canceler also assists you to focus on your work or study even sleep in environments.
Disadvantages of ANC in ear headphones:
Since ambient noises fall within the range of 1 Hz to 20 kHz and ANC earbuds in ear headphones can only nullify certain frequencies–reproduced consistently, then it eventually means that some ambient sounds cannot be effectively cancelled out. Sound isolation earbuds, on the other hand, works for full ranges of sound.
NC earbuds are expensive by adding this functionality.
The downsides associated with ANC in ear headphones is the presence of an awkward battery box and having to recharge the battery often. Audio makers like JBL and Sony have been developing NC earbuds without battery, and the NC is fueled and controlled by the phone they plug in. They also do not actually cancel out all external sounds, just those that have a consistent frequency, for instance jet engines and air conditioning sounds. ANC in ear headphones do not seem to be able to cancel out high frequencies such as baby cries or dog barks.
As I mentioned above, NC headphones are not just engineered for their functionality, but sound quality. But there is a good reason not to buy best noise cancelling earbuds like Blose QC20, that If you only listen music in quite environments like a calm office or room, you can get a pair with better sound quality for under $150, significanlty cheaper. Their noise isolation and comfort is good enough, even comparable to the QC20.
Types of Active Noise Cancelling in ear headphones Wire vs Wireless
- Wired noise cancelling in ear headphones – These earbuds have a long cable to connect your devices through a 3.5 mm Jack. The jack can be a Straight-Jack or L-shaped, with three or four poles. They also need to a inline battery pack to power the ANC circuitry.
- Wireless/Bluetooth noise cancelling in ear headphones – Instead of plugging into your device, the wireless earbuds are able to connect to your devices wirelessly via Bluetooth. Since their battery is used to power both Bluetooth and noise cancelling, it is supposed to be short.
How to pick the right noise cancelling headphones for you?
A lot you may think about before buying, whether it is around the neck design or Bluetooth, here are some deciding factors we put all together in a comparison chart ( will be updated).
The Effectiveness Of Noise Cancelling: Rated as 10 for highest capacity to cancel out the noises. The 3 most popular places, which NC earbuds are tested, are on flights, train and noisy offices. That’s said a noise canceler don’t work well with natural noises like dog barking, baby crying or wind blowing, but for sounds reproduced by the sources like air conditions, engines, pans, lawnmowers they do work out. The factor differentiates a noise canceler from others is the range of ambient their mic can pick and how the circuitry can re-make that sound.
How The Effectiveness of A Noise Canceler Is Measured?
It can be measured by Probe Microphone method, in which a microphone is placed deep in the ear canal and the source–noises is generated in a reverberation room. A number of noise sources combine to make up the sound source. The noise reduction of a ANC earbuds was rated by the difference the noise that the mic capture inside the ear canal and the noise level just outside the earbuds.
Style: Most NC earbuds are following the same design, except that the LG-Tone HBS-800 has behind the neck design.
Connectivity: Wired or wireless. Compressed vs uncompressed audio, the latter is always better, but wireless NC earbuds are more convenient.
Battery: Inline-battery box with internal battery (not removable) is lighter than those with AAA battery. A noise canceler with longest battery life is AKG K391.
Sound signature and soundstage
|Battery||Noise Cancelling Performance||Sound Quality||
|Bose QC20||Integrated Lithium, 16 hours||9/10||8/10||Aware Mode|
|AKG K391 NC||Integrated Lithium ion, 35 hours||7/10||7/10|
|Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23||Removable Battery, AAA||6/10||7/10|
|MDR-NC31EM||AAA||6.6/10||6/10||Only work with Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3|
|Phiaton BT 220 NC||Integrated, 16 hours||8/10||7/10||Bluetooth AptX|
New Noise Cancelling Earbuds Will Be Coming Soon
JBL Reflect Aware C
Last year, in 2015, JBL announced their latest NC sports earbuds, the JBL Reflect Aware. The headphones feature a USB type-C connection rather than 3.5 mm plug. It doesn’t have a bulky battery box like all models recommended here, since the active noise silencer is directly powered by the phone via micro USB port (the lightning connector on Apple devices). This possibly will be the trend for most noise cancelling headphones in the future. And one more great thing is that you can control how much noise you want to nullify. The adjustment is done via a free companion app, which is only available for Apple devices. You can customize the sound via equalizer on app. The Android users may have to wait for the compatible model. We will update the price and availability when they are available for order.
The Reflect Aware currently sells for $159 on Amazon or JBL website.
A noise cancelling lightning earubds has several advantages over 3.5mm headphones. It requires no-battery, and because of built without bulky battery box, they can be used for workout. You can easily to turn on/off NC by pressing a button on the in-line remote. Connecting through lightning port may improve sound and NC performance. The Refect Aware includes silicone tips with wings for sports and tips for regular use.
Wonder how this lightning earbuds work for audio? it sound solid with a little bit focusing on low-end, and clear treble.
The NC headset features an inline-remote control for taking call and volume adjustment as well as track navigation. It is also sweat-proof and has tangle-free cable.
The company promised these earbuds are perfect for workouts, not only do they provide comfortable, secure fit , but also they deliver quality audio without ambient noises kicking in.
Apple are most likely to kill the headphone jack in their next GEN of iPhone and many audio manufacturers have been developing their products to use power from lighting port instead of inline, bulky battery compartment or Bluetooth headphones with ANC. One of those is Thunder noise-canceling Lightning earbuds, indiegogo campaign by Besound. They will sell for $149, cheaper than Bose, you can customize the sound by app and they also feature aware mode. Another active noise-canceling earbuds is Libratone, which you can adjust how much noise you want to cancel out in 4 levels. I would aslo mention the Linner $69, the affordable lighting earbuds with ANC.
Currently there is only a company named Doppler Labs that make totally wireless earbuds–2 earbuds with noise cancelling feature. Their first pair is the Hear One that have 5 hours of battery with active listening feature. There are some kickstarters aiming to develop products but most of them fails to deliver the expectations, to be counted the Dash.
Related news about noise cancelling headphones:
Bose releases wireless over ear noise cancelling headphones: Bose QC35 and the around-the-neck, Bose QC30, we will update this post after tesing them.
Updated on 10/06/2016